PINE GROVE Something clicked in Luke Forrestal four days ago when Montgomery played its first PIAA playoff game at Bloomsburg University. It clicked in the form of a stern, but quick lecture from head coach Tom Persing.
Forrestal was struggling with his swing in a way that he never had anymore. He looked lost at the plate against District 11 champion Pius X. Persing tried to reset the right fielder by telling him he needed to focus more on enjoying the game and having fun if he wanted to stay in the lineup.
Forrestal went 2 for 2 on Thursday afternoon as Montgomery won its second consecutive PIAA Class A playoff game, this one 10-0 in five innings over District 3 runner-up Camp Hill. Forrestal led the charge of the bottom of the Montgomery lineup, scoring two runs and reaching base all three times at the plate in the mercy-rule shortened game.
The bottom four hitters in Montgomery's lineup went a combined 4 for 5 with five runs scored, three runs driven in, six walks and one hit by pitch. Of the bottom four's 12 plate appearances, they failed to reach base just once.
"This is lots of fun," Forrestal said, an ear-to-ear grin still stretched across his face. "This is the most fun I've had in a long time."
For a team that's been driven by its pitching staff all year, they allowed starting pitcher Garrett Shnyder to relax just a little bit Monday. The two runs the Red Raiders scored in the second felt like it would be enough to move to the state semifinals for the first time in program history. But when they added six more in the third inning, it was all but a sure thing.
It was the breakout kind of game the Montgomery offense so badly needed. In its two most crucial games of the year in the last week, ace Garrett Shnyder threw a three-hit shutout in the district final to help Montgomery reach the state tournament, and Alex Worthington pitched the game of his life in Monday's upset win over Pius X.
With the explosion of the bottom portion of the Red Raiders lineup yesterday, it was their opportunity to allow the pitching staff to relax. Even with the padded insurance of eight runs to work with, Shnyder still threw a three-hit shutout Thursday.
"A lot of people were saying we rely too much on pitching and our bats don't get around enough," said Red Raiders eight-hole hitter Thomas Goetz. "But when you have a six-run inning, it's hard to say that anymore. I think we found our groove."
Designated hitter Cody Klees drove in the first run with a bloop single to center field which John Goetz got a great read on to score. Klees then facilitated the next run when he was the front end of a double steal allowing Forrestal to score from third on the throw to second.
Over the next two innings, the bottom four in the lineup (Forrestal, Klees, Thomas Goetz and Corey Kriner) worked four walks, two of which forced in runs against Camp Hill's struggling bullpen.
Kriner, who has been a jump-start to the Red Raiders offense from his ninth spot in the order, walked to leadoff the bottom of the fifth inning to start the eventual winning rally. He and Worthington scored on Shnyder's double to center field in the fifth to enact the mercy rule.
"There's nine people in a lineup and it takes nine people to win," Kriner said. "It's finally nice to have it come around."
"I think we've needed this for a long time," Forrestal said. "We've been playing really close baseball and we won (six) games in our last at-bat. We just have to have constant runs because it takes a lot more pressure off our pitchers."
At some point Montgomery is going to need its offense to win a game in these PIAA playoffs. Maybe Thursday was that day. But whether it was or not is irrelevant. The Red Raiders now believe that when that offense is called upon to get the job done that there's nothing holding them back from getting it done, especially when the bottom third of the lineup was producing like it did yesterday.
The group showed a patience to get into a hitter's count and get the pitch it wanted to drive. And when they never got that pitch to drive, they were more than content to take a walk to set the top of the lineup up with run-scoring opportunities.
"This felt really good. Sometimes we're having a tough time producing from the bottom part of the lineup," Thomas Goetz said. "But (Thursday) it really came out and it shows that we can produce with any part of our lineup."
"That's what it takes, get in a hitter's count and be disciplined," Persing said. "That's tough to be patient. But it's disciplined to not swing at those bad pitches and take a walk."
It was clear there was a lot of fun being had by the entire Montgomery baseball team Monday, not just Forrestal. It's hard to blame them. When an offense clicks like it did and you have a Worthington and a Shnyder both available to pitch the final two games of the season, that's fun to think about.
"It makes us extremely confident," Kriner said, "because we know we're in control and that's an amazing feeling."