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South playing well despite late start

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent South Williamsport starting pitcher Makai Day.

South Williamsport waited two years to play a high school baseball game again. And then it waited some more.

COVID issues had South starting its season later than any other District 4 team, playing its opener on April 9. Add in a quality schedule and so many players starting varsity for the first time and South had plenty of reasons it could list if it started slow.

Instead of making excuses, South went to work. Two years after capturing a second straight District 4 Class AA championship and reaching the state semifinals, the expectations have not changed. The Mounties capped a six-games-in-eight-days stretch Saturday when it split two at the Don Engle Tournament and handed District 4 Class AAA-leading Central Columbia its first loss.

Yes, South wanted to win all six games, but being 4-2 considering everything it has encountered is pretty good. It also provides a strong foundation to build upon as the Mounties move forward.

“That (delay) definitely threw us off track. It took out about half the team but we’re finding the groove,” senior right fielder Ryan Rishcoff said after going 2 for 3 in a 3-1 win against Canton last Wednesday. “With the complications of last year not being able to play, this year we’re really fired up and really desperate so we’re going to be fighting as hard as we can every game to get to that point again like we did two years ago.”

Rishcoff and shortstop/pitcher Landon Lorson are the lone starters back from that 2019 team. While the team is short on experience, South is not lacking talent. Lorson, Sam Hostrander, Makai Day, Grant Bachman and Ian Rhea all threw well last week and are forming one of the deeper area staffs. The offense also broke out against Central, producing nine hits in a 7-4 win with Connor Sauers going 3 for 3.

It’s been a process, starting late and playing so many games in a short time. It says a lot, though, that South was three outs from winning the Engle Tournament, taking a one-run lead against Blue Mountain into the seventh before losing, 7-1. Coach Casey Waller has won state and district championships at Loyalsock and Hughesville and he like this team’s potential as it pursues similar goals.

“We got behind with two weeks of no practicing because of COVID, so we have a lot of work to do to clean up some things but I’m excited,” Waller said. “We’ll get better each day and by the end of the season I feel like we’ll have a pretty good product out on the field, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Waller has his eye toward the postseason and that is why he developed a challenging schedule. The Mounties are not in a league, so they were free to schedule as they liked and have games yet against teams like 2019 Class AAAA state champion Selinsgrove, Danville, Wellsboro, Shikellamy, Wyalusing and St. John Neumann. South also will be playing at the Backyard Brawl and already has played Sayre, Canton and Central, teams that are a combined 16-3.

South will play to win each game, but the goal is to get better each day and be as ready as possible when the playoffs come if it qualifies again. With everything that has happened over the last year, nobody would have blamed South if it built a softer schedule.

But that is not how Waller or this program operates. The goal is to be the best and to reach that goal one often has to play the best.

“These games help us,” Rishcoff said after South handed Canton its second loss in seven games. “This game is definitely going to shape us for the grind of the season. We didn’t stop. We kept pressuring them and I feel like this was a real character-building game.”

Aside from the baseball perspective, Waller wants to build that team character as this journey continues. It’s about improving and growing each day right now as much as it is winning.

South waited more than a year to finally start playing again. Now the Mounties are trying to make each day worthwhile as they try pouncing on this opportunity.

“You always have to work. You can’t ever be complacent and just think you’re going to go out there on paper and win because you have a good team,” Waller said. “You still have to execute and produce. I just want guys working on the little things.”

Do that every day and maybe South can again achieve some big things.

LANCER TO HOKIE

Loyalsock first baseman Nick Barone still has two years to play for his high school team. He can enjoy each practice and game a lot more, too, knowing his college future already is planned.

Barone committed to play for Virginia Tech last year and can focus all his energy on high school baseball now. The hard-hitting junior sure did that Saturday, crushing a tone-setting three-run home run in the first inning which helped Loyalsock defeat Hughesville, 7-5.

“It’s nice to everything figured out so you don’t have to stress about it at the end,” Barone said. “The earlier you can have your plan set, the better.”

A few other major Division I schools were interested, but Virginia Tech was the first. That went a long way, but it was when Barone visited Blacksburg he knew it was the right place. Everything felt right and Barone could not be happier about his decision.

“The facilities are great, they have great coaches down there, a good baseball team that is doing really well this year and it felt like home,” Barone said. “I went down, toured everything and met the coaches and they welcomed me with open arms. I felt like they had full confidence in me, and I have full confidence in them.”

EXTRA BASES

Williamsport busted out following an 0-5 start and may have created a springboard with its 12-2 win against DuBois on Saturday. The Millionaires produced 11 hits, played error-free defense and received strong pitching from Kydreece Burks. Cam Sims went 6 for 7 in two games last week and Dallas Griess returned from injury to go 3 for 5 with two triples, a double and five RBIs against DuBois … Jake Evans went 4 for 4 with four RBIs as North Penn-Mansfield defeated St. John Neumann, 10-8, and handed the Knights their first loss. Jeff Hamilton went 3 for 4 and the Neumann first baseman has an area-high 14 RBIs. Three days earlier Naz Smith went 3 for 5 in a 10-6 win at Montgomery as Neumann defeated the Red Raiders for the first time since 2012 … West Virginia bound pitcher Aidan Major was spectacular in a 1-0 win against Lewisburg, throwing 6 1/3 innings of one-hit baseball, striking out 10 and hitting an RBI single … Muncy pitcher Ross Eyer threw a three-inning no-hitter in a 15-0 win against Bucktail while Alex Maioriana went 3 for 3. Eyer is 2-0 and has surrendered just three hits in 13 2/3 innings while striking out 25 … Wellsboro (5-2) has won five of its last six games and outscored Athens, Towanda and Cowanesque Valley, 31-9, last week. Cameron Brought had a big week and went 7 for 10 with a triple and three RBIs.

Dr. Masse’s Top 5

1. Loyalsock (4-1)

A wildly unpredictable season was expected and Loyalsock becomes the fourth team in four weeks to hold this spot. The Lancers won three games in three days last week and have won four straight since dropping their season opener at Central Columbia. Loyalsock coach Zac Martin likes his team’s depth and balance but is more excited about its work ethic. Josh Rankey, Nick Laubach and Chase Cavanaugh all delivered quality pitching performances and five different players produced multi-hit performances. Catcher Cooper Larson collected six straight hits against Warrior Run and Milton; Spencer Gross was 3 for 3 with a grand slam against Warrior Run, and both Cavanaugh and Moxen Cotter also had 3 for 3 games.

2. Montoursville (4-1)

Shikellamy hit three late-game home runs and walked off with an 11-10 win Saturday, handing Montoursville its first loss. The Warriors have scored at least eight runs in all five games, totaling 23 runs and 26 hits last week. Nick Reeder, Dylan Moll and Nick Reeder all had three-hit performances, and Marco Pulizzi and AJ Llorente combined for five RBIs against Shikellamy. A challenging week in which Montoursville could be facing three elite pitchers starts today when it plays at Mifflinburg. Selinsgrove and Central Mountain follow Wednesday and Friday.

3. South Williamsport (4-2)

Hostrander won twice last week, scattering five hits and striking out 12 in 8 1/3 innings against CMVT and Central. Bachman did not allow a run in six innings and Day is settling in. The sophomore left-hander retired his final eight hitters against Canton and struck out 10 in 5 2/3 innings against it and Central.

4. Jersey Shore (3-2)

Cayden Hess, Owen Anderson and Karter Peacock were all standout players for Jersey Shore’s state finalist football team last fall and all three are having strong baseball seasons. All three are hitting above .300 and they all had hits in last week’s loss to Mifflinburg. Hess had two hits, Peacock two RBIs and Anderson roped a double.

5. Canton (5-2)

First baseman Carter Route has been a steady run producer and hit two doubles while driving in two runs and scoring two times in an 8-4 win against Northeast Bradford. Cameron Bellows also had two hits in that game and Brendan Matthews threw 5 1/3 innings against South, allowing just one earned run.

Players of the Week

Ryan Rishcoff, South Williamsport

and Darryn Callahan, Wellsboro

Rishcoff wan an all-star two-way lineman for a district finalist football last fall and is providing his baseball team both production and leadership. Rishcoff hit a game-changing double against Canton which ignited the game-winning rally, hit safely in each of its last three games and went 6 for 9 during that time. Callahan leads the are in home runs (3) and hit two more last week. The sweet-swinging lefty hit a tape measure home run Saturday against Cowanesque Valley and finished his week 6 for 12 with nine RBIs and five runs while upping his average .526.

Game of the Week

Tri-Town Classic

Technically this is four games, but Southern Lycoming County’s version of the Backyard Brawl should be a lot of fun Saturday. Hughesville faces Warrior Run at Bodine Park while Muncy hosts rival Montgomery in the other semifinal. The consolation game and championship will both be at Bodine Park as Hughesville tries defending the inaugural crown it won two years ago.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

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