The games will not be played at Bowman Field. Hughesville is in, Williamsport is out. And those really are the only things different about Backyard Brawl II.
Two weeks after Loyalsock edged Montoursville under the lights at Bowman Field to capture its first Brawl championship, four Lycoming County teams are going at it again. This time the teams are not playing for a trophy, but something even more important - survival.
Hughesville travels to Loyalsock and Montoursville travels to South Williamsport as all four teams compete in the District 4 Class AA quarterfinals Friday. The winners advance to the semifinals at Bowman Field and will be a win away from reaching the state tournament. The losers turn in their uniforms. This is area high school baseball drama at its best.
"The whole baseball team is looking forward to it and I can tell all the students are looking forward to it, too," Hughesville catcher John Poust said after hitting two home runs in an 8-4 first-round win over Troy. "No matter what the sport, it's always a big game."
That goes for South-Montoursville, too. Those rivals did not play in the Brawl, but the last time they met in the playoffs it was a classic with Lance Barr's walk-off single giving the Mounties a 2-1 win in the 2005 semifinals.
Later that same day, Loyalsock (18-2) played Hughesville (13-7-1), the last time these rivals met in the playoffs. Current Hughesville coach Casey Waller was at Loyalsock that year and led the Lancers to their first district title. Waller coming back to Loyalsock for the quarterfinals only adds more intrigue to an already anticipated game.
Waller teaches at Loyalsock while Lancers coach Jeremy Eck is a guidance counselor at Hughesville. Both coaches not only know their teams well, but also the opponent. There are no secrets in this rivalry and there usually are no blowouts either. Both have split their last four games and each one has been decided by two runs or one run. Loyalsock won 6-4 at Hughesville last month before Hughesville won, 9-7 at Loyalsock late in the regular season.
"If they can't get up for this game something is wrong. I shouldn't have to say anything to motivate them," Waller said after the Troy win. "Seeing all those guys at school and teaching at Loyalsock, it's a tough situation. I wish those players the best of luck and hopefully our guys can execute."
Hughesville has beaten Loyalsock, Montoursville and Williamsport while tying HAC-I champion Jersey Shore. This is a team that seems to play its best against some of the best. Loyalsock has won 18 of 19 games since losing its opener to Jersey Shore but also played one of its worst games against Hughesville three days before the Brawl, making a series of defensive and baserunning mistakes.
Freshman Kyle Datres pitched a complete-game in the win at Hughesville while Justin Lambert pitched great in relief when the Spartans won at Loyalsock. Zack Clark hit a home run for Loyalsock at Hughesville and Spartan center fielder Jesse Hulien did so at Loyalsock. And so it goes. These rivals mirror each other in a lot of ways but only one will keep playing beyond Friday.
"Every pitch (Tuesday) I was thinking about Loyalsock," Lambert said. "They are always the biggest rival we have to play, especially in baseball. We are going to prepare the next few days and we are all ready for it."
The same can be said for Montoursville and South. The Warriors (12-8), starting five sophomores, have been up and down but thumped Wellsboro, 5-1, on its home field in the opening round. Ace Christian Clark earned the win and more importantly, pitched only five innings meaning he can start against South. Pierce Ranck returned to the field after missing the Giles Tournament but may not be ready to pitch.
That might not be an issue, though, because pitchers like Andrew Null, Alec Rothrock, who threw two scoreless innings against Wellsboro, and Teigan Herlehy also are strong pitchers. Coach Travis Wurster has a lot of options and that is a good thing since South (17-3) features one of the district's most potent offenses.
"We're just blessed with pitching and blessed with arms," Wurster said following the Wellsboro win. "If we get our relievers to throw strikes and let the defense make plays behind them we can be tough. Having that deep of a staff is a blessing."
South coach Shawn Finn has good options, too, with Alex Carpenter and Brandon Gantz going a combined 13-2. Carpenter and Gantz both earned complete-game wins in last year's playoffs as the Mounties reached the district semifinals. They are two of eight starters back from that team that entered the season on a mission after getting blown out in the semifinals.
South has played with a collective chip on its shoulder all season and has a chance to make another statement after cruising to its first HAC-III championship.
No Bowman Field, no problem. Backyard Brawl II has the makings of not one great game, but two.