Muncy baseball off and running
Muncy had no idea when high school sports were shut down for two weeks starting March 13 last year that its season was over. As with every team last spring, the shutdown was a cruel blow.
Unfortunately, the Muncy seniors cannot get that year back. The returning players, however, are doing their best to make its return well worth the wait. Although young and starting mostly underclassmen, Muncy certainly started making up for lost time last week, thumping Sullivan County and defending Mid-Penn champion Millville by a 25-0 margin.
“I remember walking off this field March 13 on a nice day and remember saying to (assistant coach) Mark (Evans), ‘I can’t believe we’re leaving here for two weeks,’ and then we didn’t come back again,” Muncy coach Chris Persing said following Monday’s 15-0 win against Sullivan. “Hopefully they’re appreciative of the chance because you only have four years to do this stuff and they had one year taken away.”
The Indians certainly embraced the first two opportunities, playing strong all-around baseball and having fun while doing so. The dugout was loud, the offense balanced and the pitching strong. Max Rymsza, the only senior starter, and Ross Eyer allowed just three hits and Muncy produced 23 hits, imposing the mercy rule each time.
Yes, it is extremely early but considering the team’s youth, this was just the kind of start Muncy needed. It also could point to promising things to come.
“I definitely think after taking my freshman year off and then not playing last year definitely hindered some things, but it just made the drive to play even bigger because I missed it more than ever,” catcher Gio Persun said after going 3 for 3 with two doubles in the Sullivan win. “I think this is going to be a great team. We have a young core, but all these young players are really shelling out, so I’m not worried about it.”
“It’s great,” freshman first baseman Noah Confer said. “The atmosphere is a whole lot better, and it just helps you feel confident.”
Confidence is more key than ever in this unprecedented season. Like so many other teams, Muncy is featuring a roster on which the majority of athletes are playing high school and/or varsity baseball for the first time. Every team is in catch-up mode after losing a year of development but being able to scrimmage a good AAAA team like Danville and getting two game in before most teams have played any could have Muncy ahead of the curve.
It helps having a talented foundation as well. Muncy has a lot of well-rounded baseball players, and freshmen Confer, Kadyn Berry and Boe Steele went a combined 4 for 6 with four RBIs against Sullivan. Eyer, a sophomore, struck out nine and threw a one-hitter against Millville, and Persun, playing for the first time as a junior, is 4 for 5 in two games.
Right now, it’s mostly a matter of them becoming acclimated and putting them in the right spots. So far, so good on that front.
“As the year goes on, I think we’ll get better. I think our pitching will get better as we get more reps in,” Persing said. “The offseason obviously was really late, and we really didn’t have anything early because we didn’t want to be the team that got basketball or wrestling shut down. Right now, it’s exciting just to see them enjoy it.”
Following last year’s nightmare, that enjoyment is paramount. Obviously, Muncy wants to win every game it plays. But it also understands that simply playing again already feels like a victory. If the first two games are a harbinger, then Muncy could be combining winning and fun pretty well this season.
“I’ve been doing this a long time as a player and coach, so I know I was excited just because I love doing it,” Persing said. “When you get a nice day and get to play another team, I think that got those kids going a little bit and then once a couple kids start doing it the rest jump on board. Then it starts to happen and next thing you now, have 14 guys enjoying it and it’s fun to be around.”
Canton (3-0) stayed undefeated last week after making late-game rallies against Cowanesque Valley and Wellsboro. Each time the Warriors trailed in the fifth inning or beyond and won, 8-6 and 7-6, respectively. That included Canton erasing a 6-1, fifth-inning deficit against the Green Hornets by scoring three runs in both the fifth and sixth innings. The bullpen was outstanding each time with relievers Cooper Kitchen and Joel Schoonover combining to allow one hit and strike out 10 in 7 2/3 innings.
Canton produced 24 hits in the victories and is receiving steady contributions throughout the lineup. Weston Bellows and freshman Hudson Ward each delivered three-hit performances and six players collected at least two hits in a game. Cameron Bellows stole seven bases against CV and Hayden Ward went 4 for 8 with two doubles.
Sullivan County bounced back in strong fashion against Northwest as Evan Cummings hit a grand slam and it won, 11-6. Colby Hottenstein went 2 for 3 and Bryon Fitzgerald struck out in 5 1/3 innings, earning the victory … Galeton pitcher Tre Slawson was overpowering in a 10-2 victory against Bucktail. Slawson struck out 16, recording every out in his 5 1/3 innings via strikeout … Lewisburg’s Max Mitchell slammed a three-run home run Saturday in a 7-5 loss at Shikellamy. West Virginia-bound Josh Heath went 2 for 3 with a double and Jackson Landis added two hits.
Dr. Masse’s Top 5
1. Hughesville (2-0)
It did not take long for Hughesville’s offense to make a statement. The Spartans scored 33 runs in wins against North Penn-Mansfield and Warrior Run, slamming five home runs and collecting 35 hits. Devin Swank homered twice in a 22-3 win against Warrior Run, Clayton Poust homered in both games and drove in seven runs, and nearly every starter produced a multi-hit performance. Just as impressive, Hughesville did all that despite missing six players due to contact tracing. The pitching was equally strong as Carter Cowburn, Dylon Pequignot, Eli Olshefskie and Swank surrendered just two hits and struck out 27 in 11 innings.
2. Williamsport (0-1)
It seems unfair to drop Williamsport too far from its previous top spot since it was playing without 10 players in Saturday’s 15-4 loss against State College. The Millionaires started four freshmen and no pitcher had thrown a varsity inning before. Williamsport should be full strength when it hosts defending Class AAAA state champion Selinsgrove, so that could provide a better barometer of where it is at early this season. Freshman Deacon Brown made the most of his first high school game and went 2 for 3 with a run scored while fellow freshman Cayden Robertson was 1 for 2 with an RBI.
3. Montoursville (0-0)
Mother Nature prevented Montoursville from opening its season last Wednesday so it will do so today against Lewisburg. This game was moved from Lewisburg to Giles Field as Lewisburg continues working on its new field. The Warriors have captured consecutive district and league championships but have a much different look this year.
4. Loyalsock (0-0)
Speaking of excellent baseball traditions, Loyalsock is hoping to build on its in 2021 and opens at Central Columbia this afternoon. Central reached the 2019 District 4 Class AAA final so this could be a good early-season test for a team with a nice mix of returning starters from two years ago, as well as some promising newcomers.
5. South Williamsport (0-0)
It feels like such a long time ago, but South is still the defending District 4 Class AA champion after reaching the 2019 state semifinals. The Mounties hope they finally get to play again Wednesday against Montgomery. South potentially could have one of the area’s deeper pitching staffs and coach Casey Waller has led his teams to district championships at Loyalsock and Hughesville.
Players of the Week
Noah Confer, Muncy and Carter Cowburn, Hughesville
So much for an adjustment period for these two. Confer launched a three-run home run in his first high school at-bat and went 4 for 6 in two wins with seven RBIs. Cowburn was untouchable in his first high school pitching start, throwing five one-hit innings with 12 strikeouts in an 11-0, five-inning win at North Penn-Mansfield. The next day the sophomore showed off his hitting prowess, going 4 for 4 with a first-inning three-run home run, four RBIs and four runs.
Game of the Week
South Williamsport at Montgomery
Wednesday’s game features a showdown of 2019 District 4 champions with South winning the AA title and Montgomery the Class A crown. Both are AA this season, adding intrigue to this game. Both are perennial winners and, combined, have missed the postseason just once since 2005.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.