The quest to become the area's best teams begins this week.
The title of best coaching staff already has been decided. With all due respect to the other terrific staffs in this baseball-rich area, it is hard to argue against Hughesville. Head coach Casey Waller is now joined by good friend and former Montoursville coach Corey Twigg. That is quite the dynamic duo.
Together, Waller and Twigg have led their teams to six district championships, two state final appearances and one state title. Together, they have never endured a losing season and together they have won more than 250 games.
Along the way, both coaches have positively influenced countless players and have taught lessons that carry on as much off the field as they do on it. Time will tell what a talented Hughesville team achieves this season, but it certainly has the right men leading the way.
Now onto the best teams on paper as the season starts. In a loaded area, expect these rankings to get jumbled about as the season progresses.
Dr. Masse's Preseason Top Five
Last year's record in parentheses
1. Loyalsock (21-3)
The Lancers return nearly every player from last year's District 4 Class AA champion and complement a potentially powerful lineup with a strong pitching staff. Reigning Player of the Year Kyle Datres went 9-0 last year and Zack Clark went 5-1 and pitched a complete-game, five-hitter in a 3-2 district title win over South Williamsport. Datres and right fielder Jimmy Webb are ranked among the state's top sophomores and a team that was young last year now has a ton of big-game experience. The roster is deep and Loyalsock has the talent to compete deep into June. But it also has a bulls-eye attached to it and will be getting every opponent's best shot. The Lancers have won four straight HAC-II championships and four of the last five district crowns.
2. Montoursville (12-9)
Speaking of deep teams, the Warriors return a solid core from last year's district quarterfinalist. Several starters were sophomores last year and now have a valuable year of experience under their belts. The pitching staff is deep and having a healthy Pierce Ranck is a huge plus. The four-year starter pitched three hitless innings in his last performance in districts but missed half the season. In his place, pitchers like Alec Rothrock, Teigan Herlehy and Andrew Null emerged and that could now be a blessing. Null also is a powerful hitter and if Montoursville can hit consistently and improve its defense, it should be strong. Watch out for Cameron Ott, too. The versatile junior missed last season with an injury but could provide a big plus.
3. Jersey Shore (18-3-1)
A year ago, I did not include Jersey Shore in the preseason Top 5 and it finished as the area's best team. So this might provide some extra motivation for the two-time defending District 4 Class AAA champions who reached last year's state quarterfinals and set a program record for wins. The Bulldogs have quite a bit of firepower, but the big question is how they replace ace Tellef Notevarp who went 9-0 with a 0.99 ERA. Look for Travis Eiswerth to help fill the void after having an impressive season and keep an eye on Chris Glunk as well. Shortstop Colton Potter is one of the district's premier players and a smooth fielder while Kaiden Brungard returns following a breakout season.
4. Hughesville (13-8-1)
The Spartans have the pitching prowess to compete with anybody since former Williamsport standout Sadiq Burkholder is now there. The senior left-hander went 3-3 with a 1.35 ERA last year while averaging nearly a strikeout per inning for the Millionaires. He joins junior Justin Lambert who is coming off a big season in which he went 6-1 with four saves and 45 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. Hughesville's big question is the opposite of Jersey Shore's. The pitching looks strong but the offense is a question mark after top hitters Jesse Hulien and Levi McCarty graduated. Several young players received significant playing time last year and that helped. The Spartans beat Loyalsock, Williamsport and Montoursville last year while tying Jersey Shore, so they are a tough team.
5. Montgomery (21-3)
It will be interesting to see what Montgomery does for an encore after reaching last year's Class A state championship and shattering the program record for wins. The top priority is replacing Garrett Shnyder who had one of the most dominant pitching campaigns this area has seen this century. Strong players like John Goetz and Kyle Russell also graduated but six starters and some key reserves return. Pitcher/shortstop Alex Worthington blossomed last year and threw a masterful eight-inning, complete game in a first-round state win over Pius X. He finished 6-1 with a 1.78 ERA, five complete games and two shutouts. Finding reliable No. 2 and 3 pitchers will be critical, but the offense should be better and the Red Raiders once again could be tough to beat.
of the Year
Kyle Datres, Loyalsock and Ryan Orgitano, South Williamsport
As a freshman, Datres went 9-0 with a 0.96 ERA and struck out 76 in 52 2/3 innings. Offensively, the shortstop hit .519 with nine doubles, three triples and three home runs and 25 RBIs despite hitting from the lead-off spot. A five-tool player, Datres stole 16 bases, led Loyalsock in runs scored and hit .500 in the postseason.
Orgitano had one of the most dominant seasons in South history and shined defensively as well last year. The senior first baseman hit .597 with a district-high nine home runs, 45 RBIs, 38 runs scored and 13 doubles. He finished the year with an 18-game hitting streak and led the area in all three Triple Crown categories. Orgitano is a weapon at first base, too. He made just one error last year and has great range, saving several errant throws.
Game of the Week
Muncy at Montgomery
Talk about a headliner to start the season today. The defending Class A Eastern Region champions open their title defense against their archrival. Both teams have been two of District 4's best over the past decade and their games are always thrilling. This should be a fun one.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.