PINE GROVE - A year ago Caleb Barnhart was a spectator. Thursday, he found himself pitching 3 1/3 innings of one-hit baseball at Walter Stump Stadium in a Class AAA state quarterfinal.
It was quite a year for Barnhart, who played high school baseball for the first time as a senior this season. And it was quite a year for the Bulldogs.
Lampeter-Strasburg downed Jersey Shore, 9-4 in Thursday's quarterfinals but the Bulldogs ended the season as the best in program history. They broke the program record for single-season wins while capturing league and district titles in the same year for the first time ever.
"I wanted to come out because I knew the team had success and I wanted to come out and have a successful season which we did," said Barnhart who went 3-0 with a 1.75 ERA. "I'm really happy I came out."
The Jersey Shore fans who filled the bleachers Thursday were happy their team provided them so many good times. The Bulldogs matched the 2006 team with the deepest run in program history while finishing 18-3-1. Jersey Shore won 11 straight games before yesterday, romped to a HAC-I championship and blanked Milton and North Pocono by a 7-0 margin in two playoff wins.
This was a true team top to bottom that consistently rallied for wins and had both starters and reserves make big contributions at key times. Jersey Shore had its chances against a L-S team that features two Division I-bound players and equaled it with nine hits.
The Bulldogs might not have won but they definitely showed they are one of the state's premier Class AAA programs.
"It's always disappointing when your season doesn't end with a win in your last game of the year, especially when you know you were capable of possibly winning that baseball game," Jersey Shore coach Matt O'Brien said. "That's always tough but from the beginning of the year these guys grew a lot as a team. We got better and along the way these guys became bigger than baseball. These kids grew up which is important."
The Bulldogs won their first district title since 2006 in O'Brien's first season a year ago. They took the next step this season, winning five more games while blanking District 2 champion North Pocono in the opening round of states.
Jersey Shore had potential entering the season and made a huge statement when it thumped District 4 Class AA champion Loyalsock, 12-3 in its opener. The pitching and hitting were there early and once the young defense matured, Jersey Shore became a force.
This was a team that excelled in all facets and that could beat teams in a variety of ways. The program is loaded with talented underclassmen who received valuable experience this season, too, so as good as this team was, it could be just the start.
"Hopefully we can build on it," O'Brien said. "We have a young team. A lot of these guys are battle-tested and to have that experience is something that you can't teach. That's something big for the program."
"It gives us a name and sets the tone for the younger guys so that in the future they have something they can build on," Barnhart said. "We're losing some seniors who are pretty important to the lineup but we have a lot of young guys who have potential so they'll be tough."
Barnhart was part of a six-player senior class that paved the way to success. Three full-time starters were included in that group as well as ace Tellef Notevarp who went 9-0 and threw consecutive playoff shutouts.
Those athletes will not play again at Jersey Shore but their impact likely will carry on the next few years. They are the players who helped spark the greatest season in program history. They are the ones who showed future teams what is possible.
Their legacy is that they helped an already blossoming baseball tradition grow even stronger.
"They've been huge and it's things you didn't even see on the field," O'Brien said. "They were leaders on and off the field and they loved it. They really wanted it and you can't ask for a better bunch of guys. They played hard, they were good kids off the field and they'll be missed."
But not forgotten.