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Decade’s best No. 4: Garrett Shnyder helped propel Montgomery’s baseball program

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the latest in a series looking back at the top 10 baseball teams, coaches, games and players from last decade

Five innings into his high school baseball career, Garrett Shnyder already appeared abnormal. Pitching five no-hit innings in your varsity debut against a tough South Williamsport team coming off a league championship? That just does not happen.

But it did happen in the 2009 season opener. One game hardly can predict the future, but in this case it did. Shnyder remained different throughout his scholastic days and concluded them by delivering one of the more extraordinary performances in recent area history. Normal, he was not.

Shnyder went 25-5 from 2009-12, stifling opponents, becoming a feared hitter and playing stellar defense at shortstop. Shnyder seemingly could do no wrong in 2012 when he won nine straight games, threw three consecutive playoff shutouts and led Montgomery to its first and only Class A state championship appearance. Like Tripp Breen seven years later, Shnyder had a strong team behind him, but he often willed it to big victories while becoming one of the area’s most valuable players in any sport.

“Without him, I don’t know where we’d be,” Montgomery senior third baseman John Goetz said following the 2012 district championship win against Canton. “But we sure wouldn’t be here.”

“He throws great and he does everything he can to help us,” shortstop/pitcher Alex Worthington said. “It’s just fun to be in the same ball park as him.”

Montgomery had a lot of fun having Shynder on its team for four years. He went 12-1 over his first two seasons, going unbeaten as a freshman and 7-1 with 64 strikeouts in 52 innings a year later. Shnyder also improved offensively and defensively each season. The hitting caught up to the strong pitching in 2011 when Shnyder batted .418 with a .500 on-base percentage, 19 RBIs, 21 runs and eight stolen bases. A super big-game player, Shnyder ended Sayre’s three-year District 4 championship reign when he threw dazzling complete-game three-hitter in the district semifinals and he also twice overpowered South that season, allowing just two runs in 14 innings.

But those three years were just a prelude. The best was still coming. Looking back, others may have produced more eye-popping stats in a season, but no Montgomery player has ever made the single-season impact that Shnyder did in 2012.

Before he could put together a remarkable pitching streak, Shynder had to endure adversity, suffering an early-season arm injury which prevented him from pitching much throughout the season’s first half. Still, he was a defensive anchor at shortstop and hit .422 with two home runs, 11 doubles, four triples, 20 RBIs and 26 runs. And once Shynder’s arm healed and he could pitch again, Montgomery started its journey toward a goal which once upon a time seemed so far-fetched there. Shnyder went two months between losses, winning nine straight games and overwhelming strong opponents along the way. The right-hander with a bulldog-mentality finished 9-2 with a 1.20 ERA, seven complete games, three shutouts and 90 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings.

It was Shnyder who provided the season’s turning point as well. A day after Montgomery lost at St. John Neumann, it returned home to play undefeated South Williamsport (15-0). Shynder started against a team which had defeated Montgomery 15-0 earlier in the season and which led the area in runs scored at the time. The Mounties took a 1-0 first-inning lead, but Shynder mowed through them from there, throwing a nine-inning five-hitter as the Raiders won, 2-1. Montgomery did not lose again until the state championship and starting in that second inning against South, Shnyder would throw 28 straight scoreless innings and ignite the best run in program history.

“Nothing lasts forever so if somebody had to beat them I’m happy it was us,” Shnyder said afterward. “This is probably one of the best I’ve ever pitched. Nine innings, not giving up a lot of hits and I made my strikeouts when I had to… I just found my groove.”

“It doesn’t get much better than that. You beat a team that’s 15-0 and 10-running everybody through the whole year, including us and you shut them down and go nine innings, that’s just a great performance,” former Montgomery coach Tom Persing said afterward. “He’s just a good athlete and good things happen to people who put time in and work. He just didn’t come off the bench and learn to pitch like that. He put time in growing up and that’s why he is one of the top pitchers in the area.”

Shynder showed he was one of the best pitchers in the state throughout the postseason. He earned a district semifinal win in relief against Sullivan County, striking out all three batters he faced before shutting out three straight opponents as Montgomery made history.

The pitching was other-worldly, but there was more to Shnyder’s impact than just his arm. He had become the consummate teammate and leader, too. Shnyder talked the talk, then walked the walk. Whether it was understanding all in-game scenarios, setting a hard-working tone at practice or offering hitting advice to younger players, Shnyder checked all the leadership boxes and helped bring out the best in both himself and his teammates.

“He’s a leader to everybody,” center fielder Cameron McHenry said. “He’s helping everybody out and that’s what it’s all about, everybody helping each other. Sometimes it takes another kid your age to show you something so you get it.”

“He’s played ball his whole life and he knows the situations,” Persing said. “We go over in practice what we might want to do and he is kind of the guy right in the middle so everybody can see him. He directs a little bit here and there and it’s good to have him out there doing that.”

Shnyder played the best baseball of his life at the the perfect time and lifted Montgomery to the second district championship in program history when he threw a masterful three-hit shutout against 2013 state finalist Canton. After Worthington threw a gem in a 2-1 first-round state tournament victory, Shnyder dazzled again and threw a five-inning shutout against Camp Hill in the quarterfinals as Montgomery won, 10-0. Fittingly, Shynder ended the game, slamming a walk-off double.

“Zero runs looks like a lot when Garrett is on the mound. He’s been dominant,” Goetz said. “He’s filling in all the gaps. We might let a runner on with an error or miscue but he’ll come right back and make the next guy pay. He’ll erase that.”

Shnyder erased Lancaster County Christian and its state championship dreams four days later. It was not just that Shnyder on his fifth consecutive postseason decision, it was how he did it. LCC never had a chance. He had the District 3 champions guessing all afternoon, mixing all his pitches well, hitting all his spots and taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Only one runner made it past third and Shnyder finished with a two-hitter as Montgomery won, 5-0. The game was scoreless until the fifth inning and when Montgomery scored two sixth-inning runs it might as well have been 20.

Not that LCC felt any different than most Shnyder opponents did that season. His arm was injured earlier that season, but when it mattered most, Shnyder was in peak condition and carried his team to high school immortality.

“It’s comfortable to know that you as a player can make a play and then your pitcher is going to go back and complement that play with a pitch that’s going to bring you a better ball,” Goetz said. “I’m enjoying every single pitch. When Garrett is on the mound it’s something special.”

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