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Hughesville claims 5th title in past 8 years in North Branch League

PHOTO PROVIDED Members of the Hughesville Travelers pose together after defeating the Northumberland Renegades, 2-1, in a best-of-three championship series in the North Branch League. Hughesville won the title-clinching game, 4-3. The league is an adult baseball league and the Hughesville Travelers have become a dynasty, winning five championships in eight years and three of the past five.

Former Montoursville and LaSalle catcher Marc Schoch once played for the Hughesville Travelers Adult League baseball team. He has since become quite a traveler, now living in Alaska. But while he may be so far away, Schoch still closely follows the Travelers.

There is no distance which breaks this team’s bond.

“That’s the atmosphere we wanted to create with the team. A lot of guys on this team are life-long friends,” Hugehsville co-manager Matt Balliet said. “We’ve always been really close. We’re a brotherhood.”

And the brothers keep winning North Branch League championships.

The latest came last weekend when the Travelers defeated the Northumberland Renegades, 2-1, in a best-of-three championship series with Loyalsock alum Ryan Wyland throwing a complete game in a 4-3 title-clinching victory.

The brotherhood has become a North Branch League dynasty. Hughesville captured its fifth championship in eight years and its third in the five last Saturday. It has either won the championship and/or posted the league’s best regular-season record in eight straight seasons. This was the fourth time during this run that the Travelers won both the championship and compiled the league’s best record.

The Travelers have built some great friendships and they also have built quite a powerhouse.

“It’s a fun tradition. We all share a passion for the game and are connected by our baseball experiences,” said Wyland, who was a high school and collegiate all-star before playing professionally in the Northern League. “It’s fun being around the game and being around guys that love the game and are out there for the right reasons.”

Wyland, Balliet, co-manager Ethan Showers, Mike Laychur, Mike Earnest, Mike Shipman and Ryan Miller are among a strong group of veterans who have helped form the foundation of the team’s success. Each year the team features former college players, high school graduates and current high school players.

As talent-laden as this area has been over the years, the ever-changing composition of this team consistently is dynamic. This year’s roster reads like a who’s who of past and current area/District 4 all-stars. Players included: Balliet, Showers, Wyland, Laychur, Earnest, Shipman, Miller, Christian Fish, Ryan McClain, Jaret Stroup, Jacob Corson, Ian Gagliano, Landon Earnest, Mat Taylor, Adam Hook, Joel Verrico, Taylor Hill, Andew Malone, Eric Holz, Joel Worthington, Kelly Holdren, Evan Steele and Michael Collyer.

Corson and Gagliano, recent Hughesville graduates have won two championships in the past two weeks, after also helping Hughesville capture the Independent Summer League title.

“It’s a really good mix of players and one of the most fun seasons I’ve had since being in the league,” Balliet, a 2008 Hughesville graduate, said. “Getting all those kids who missed out on their high school and college seasons time on the field and having them get to work with the older guys was great. We had a lot of fun playing and enjoying the game of baseball.”

That went double this summer after the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything, starting this past March. The high school players had their seasons completely erased while college players like McClain, Malone, Holz and Holdren only played a handful of games before their seasons were canceled.

There was a time when any baseball being played this summer appeared in doubt with parks closed throughout the state. That wait, uncertainty and anxiety has given the Travelers an even greater appreciation for the game they love.

“You have a single game Thursdays, a doubleheader Saturdays and you forget about all the COVID stuff going on and just play baseball and enjoy yourself and that’s what we did,” Balliet said. “It shows that if you put the proper protocols in place and be careful about things it can be done. It was a great release and it was just great to be at the park playing outside.”

Balliet and Showers were teammates at Hughesville in 2008 when coaches Nick and Scott Grove arrived and helped usher in a baseball resurgence at Hughesville, which is still going strong. Balliet still plays, but primarily was coaching this year. Showers helped anchor the infield and was the team’s Triple Crown winner, hitting a team-high .472 with four home runs and 26 RBIs. Corson also hit four home runs, McClain hit three and Wyland produced 21 RBIs. Showers, Corson (heading to Bucknell), McClain and Laychur all hit .400 or better.

Millville graduate and current Elizabethtown pitcher Kelly Holdren was the staff ace, going 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 51 innings. Wyland, Corson, Steele and Verrico also were among team leaders in innings pitched. Miller, whose 2006 senior season at Montoursville ranks among the best among area players in the 2000s, came up big in a Game 3 semifinal victory against Millville.

Holdren and Corson combined on a six-hitter in a 6-4 Game 1 championship victory with McClain, Miller and Taylor all delivering two hits. Following a 6-5 loss in Game 2, the Travelers were debating who to pitch in the winner-take-all third game.

Wyland asked for the ball, took the ball and then pointed the way toward another championship. The 2003 Loyalsock graduate threw a complete game six-hitter, struck out the game’s final two hitters and led Hughesville to a 4-3 victory. Showers, Earnest and Corson all delivered big hits as well.

“If we’re running low on arms some of the older guys like Ryan Miller and Joel Worthington have done that in similar situations. If we’re running low on pitching sometimes the older guys step in and fill the need,” Wyland said. “They played great defense behind me. It’s easy when you have good people around you that love the game and do the job.”

Year after year the Travelers continue exhibiting that passion and camaraderie as the championships follow. Some of the names might change, but the results do not.

And whether a current or past Traveler, a universal connection runs deep.

“It goes back to us being a brotherhood,” Balliet said. “Once you’re a Traveler, you’re a Traveler for life.”

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