Unpredictable is a baseball beauty. No matter the teams' records, a pitcher in a groove or balls that are not hit hard but repeatedly find holes can make a difference. The "on any given day" cliche applies more in baseball than any other sport.
Throw in a team that reached the District 4 Class AA semifinals two years ago as a No. 12 district seed and it is hard not to love the high school baseball postseason. Here, anything truly can happen.
District 2-4 Class AAAA
(6 teams, champion advances)
Williamsport is trying to capture its second championship in three years and third since 2008. The top-seeded Millionaires (14-4) are playing their best baseball at the right time and have won eight straight. They routed three opponents by a 29-4 margin last week and possess a deep and talented pitching staff that has held opponents to two runs or fewer in six of the last seven games. Gabe Rader struck out 14 against Bald Eagle Area last week while Aaron Weber and Davey Ludwikowski also looked sharp in complete-game wins.
The pitching has been there most of the season, but Williamsport started surging when the offense came alive. The team has been hitting up and down the lineup and had 33 hits in last week's wins. Shortstop Owen Lukens is hitting over .400 while second baseman Sam Bubb has been as hot as any area hitter. Catcher Joey Cassidy has five RBIs and a home run in his last two games and Ian Miller had five hits last week.
Williamsport plays the winner of today's Scranton at Hazleton game. Hazleton (10-8) is hitting .283 and Sal Biasi is hitting .429 with 17 RBIs and 13 steals while also going 3-0 with two saves and a 1.29 ERA. Tony Hernandez is 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA and three complete games. Scranton has a solid offense with Jonathan Palochko hitting .389, Jake McCarthy .368, and Alex Judge .344.
No. 2 seed Wyoming Valley West won last year's championship and No. 3 Delaware Valley almost always is a tough out.
District 4 Class AAA
(4 teams, champion advances)
Jersey Shore (15-3) repeated as HAC-I champions and is seeking its third consecutive district championship. The Bulldogs have won either a district and/or league championship the past eight seasons, something no other district team has achieved. Despite losing a good core of starters from last year's record-breaking 18-win team, Jersey Shore went 13-1 in the HAC-I and won its last 10 league games.
The lineup is balanced and Jersey Shore has had plenty of help from both starters and reserves. Shortstop Colton Potter is one of the field's best all-around players, Kaiden Brungard is tough at the top of the lineup, Christian Rishel is hitting above .400 and Zach Miller has come on strong late this season. Pitchers Chris Glunk and Travis Eiswerth have combined to go 11-1 and freshman Travis Bradley and junior Dylan Hamm have had breakout seasons. Glunk threw six innings of two-hit baseball in last week's 8-1 title-clinching win over Selinsgrove, and Eiswerth threw a two-hit shutout in a 15-0 win over what had been surging Shikellamy.
Jersey Shore meets No. 4 Shamokin (10-10) in the semifinals. The Indians won their final game 8-7 over Central Columbia last Thursday to advance and are a dangerous team that nearly upset South Williamsport two weeks ago.
No. 3 Mifflinburg (11-9) plays No. 2 Midd-West in the other semifinal. Mifflinburg is well-coached team and has nice pitching. Left-hander Oakley Whitesel is tough and right-hander Andrew Leitzel has been outstanding, going 6-3 with a 1.75 ERA. Midd-West has played terrific down the stretch, winning five straight, and the offense has been especially productive.
Player to Watch
Ryan Huling, Jersey Shore
The versatile senior is hitting .373 with 14 RBIs and enters the postseason riding a 12-game hitting streak. A three-year starter, Huling has been a part of two district champions and two league champions and had four RBIs in last week's wins.
Projected Final: Jersey Shore over Mifflinburg
(13 teams, both finalists advance)
Top-seeded Loyalsock overcame a series of injuries and other issues to win its fifth consecutive HAC-II championship. The Lancers (16-2) won 13 straight before losing to Milton on Thursday. The defending champions have won four of the last five district titles and if they can repeat it would be one of their most impressive title runs yet.
Repeating will be difficult in a loaded field that is perennially one of the toughest and includes nine teams with 13 or more wins. The Lancers have one of the field's deepest pitching staffs with Kyle Datres having won two district games last year and Luke Glavin, Ethan Moore and Robbie Klein all having strong seasons. Glavin has won four straight and Moore (4-0) has allowed just one run in his last 29 innings. The offense struggled for portions of the season but is starting to hit its stride which it showed in an 11-1 win over Hughesville on Tuesday. Datres and Wake Forest-bound Jimmy Webb (6 for 6 last two games) are tough at the top of the lineup while Klein has been one of the team's top hitters and Tommy Baggett has a team-high 24 RBIs.
Loyalsock meets the winner of Tuesday's Bloomsburg at Towanda game. Bloomsburg (13-7) captured the HAC-III championship and has Stanford-bound Colton Hock anchoring its pitching staff. The Panthers have heated up at a good time, winning four straight while scoring 29 runs. Towanda (13-7) reached the semifinals in four of five years from 2007-2011, won the NTL-East title and handed Canton its first loss. It also held a 3-0, sixth-inning lead against South last week as Tristan James threw a five-hitter. Towanda is well-coached, plays hard and features deep pitching.
No. 2 South Williamsport (14-3) lost six starters from last year's state qualifier but has carried on the program's proud tradition, starting 11-0 and handing Loyalsock its only league loss. The Mounties, though, lost twice last week, including with a chance to win a share of the HAC-II title Friday against Mount Carmel. Left-handers Tyler House, Billy Rummings and Cody Nelson all have been strong despite throwing less than three combined innings last year. All-state first baseman Ryan Orgitano is an offensive and defensive standout. House went 16 for 23 during one stretch and is hitting close to .500 with 19 RBIs. Nick Mistretta (.441) and Anthony Caruso (.378, 15 RBIs) also are having quality years.
South hosts the winner of the Athens-Hughesville game in Friday's quarterfinals. Athens (11-7) rallied down the stretch, winning its last three and is hitting over .300. Hughesville (13-7) started slow but has come back strong, winning eight of its last 10. The Spartans won six straight at one point and have a nice pitching combination of Justin Lambert and Sadiq Burkholder, who are a combined 9-4. Lambert threw 19 consecutive scoreless innings at one point, and Burkholder has won four straight and Tyler Mitcheltree threw a three-hit shutout in a 1-0 win over Danville on Friday. If the offense can manufacture runs, the Spartans have the potential to be a dangerous lower-seeded team built in the same mold as Danville in 2011.
No. 4 Montoursville (14-4) hosts No. 13 Central Columbia on Tuesday. The Warriors have been hard to figure out at times and need to shore up their defense, but have strong pitching and solid hitting throughout the lineup. Montoursville captured the Giles Tournament championship Saturday, rallying past No. 5 Wellsboro in the final, 11-10. Pitcher/first baseman Andrew Null is one of the field's best hitters and pitchers and catcher Cameron Ott might be the top in District 4. Null and Pierce Ranck have nine combined wins and Zach Pepperman and Ryan Mondell have had solid offensive seasons for a team with a strong core back from last year's team.
Central is a dangerous team that has most of its starters back from last year's district semifinalist. The Blue Jays average nearly seven runs per game.
Wellsboro (14-4) faces Wyalusing in a rematch of a game it previously won 6-3. The Hornets won five straight before losing to Montoursville and feature outstanding players like Matt Reese, Dawson Prough and Ben Shaw. Reese is a four-year starter and Shaw has hit four home runs down the stretch. Pitcher Brandon Owlett is 6-0 and threw a two-hit complete game against Milton in a 5-2 win Saturday.
Wyalusing (10-8) is peaking at the right time, winning its last four. Pitcher Andrew Pickett is one of the best in the NTL and the offense has been producing.
No. 3 East Juniata (15-4) is having the best season in program history. Pitcher Nick Lorenz is having a big year and threw a two-hitter against Halifax last week.
No. 11 Mansfield (11-7) has made a four-win improvement and has one of the tournament's best players in shortstop Taylor Hillson but struggled Saturday, losing two games by a 17-2 margin.
Player to Watch
Dawson Prough, Wellsboro
The freshman is having a fantastic debut season and is one of the team's top hitters, run producers and run scorers. Prough went 4 for 6 at the Giles Tournament while reaching base six times, scoring three runs and driving in three.
Southern (15-5) is playing as well as any team in the field, winning seven straight and handing South just its second loss, 10-6 last Tuesday. The Tigers are hitting .358 and have three players (Mason Peters, Taylor Young and Tyler Behrent) who are hitting .400 or higher and who have 26 or more RBIs. Lefty John Wilson is 6-3 and Matt Klock has a 2.77 ERA.
Best first-round game
Bloomsburg at Towanda
Both these teams also are sleepers.
Projected Semifinals: Loyalsock over Montoursville; Southern Columbia over South Williamsport
Projected Final: Southern over Loyalsock
(4 teams, champion advances)
Montgomery captured the championship last year and reached its first state championship. The Raiders again have started peaking down the stretch and all four teams have legitimate shots to win this tournament. Montgomery meets Sullivan and Muncy meets Canton Saturday at Bowman Field.
Montgomery has strong pitchers with Alex Worthington (four wins, 67 strikeouts) having a strong season after receiving big-time big-game experience last year. Marcus Bartlett has been huge as a first-time starter, going 6-2 with 0.98 ERA. Muncy has one of the field's best pitchers in Kenny Koch who can shut down any team he faces if on, while Dawson Fox has four wins. Canton's Garrett Wesneski and Chase Pepper are a tough duoe and are a combined 13-2 while Sullivan's Kelby Mullen and Zach Meyer are a combined 14-4.
The likely champion here is the one whose offense can break through at the right times. No. 1 Canton (18-2) and No. 2 Sullivan (16-4) have been the best in that regard throughout the season. Canton opened the season with 13 straight wins, captured the NTL-West championship and averages nearly 10 runs per game. Shortstop/ center fielder Emmett Watson has been one of the district's top hitters and outfielder Josiah Bardo opened the season with a 10-game hitting streak.
Sullivan has won 16 of its last 17 games and has topped 10 runs 11 times while avenging all four of its prior defeats. The Griffins have shattered the program record for wins and batting average, reached districts in back-to-back years for the first time ever and are 3-1 against Muncy and Montgomery. They also went undefeated at home for the first time. Mullen, Meyer, Barry Heinrich and Derek Farrell are just some of the hitters who have had big seasons while helping the team compile an impressive .380 batting average.
No. 3 Montgomery has won four straight games in convincing fashion, starting its streak with impressive wins over Bloomsburg and Southern. The offense struggled for a long stretch, but has come alive, producing 43 runs during the streak. Worthington is dangerous at the top of the lineup while Corey Kriner was on a tear during last year's postseason. Cam McHenry, Thomas Goetz, Jake Miller and Luke Forrestal also have significant big-game experience and are solid players.
No. 4 Muncy (12-8) has been up and down, but looked like a potential force when it won six straight near midseason. Koch has dominant stuff and threw a 4-hit shutout against Montgomery while striking out 13 in a hard-luck 2-1 loss to Sullivan. Fox went 18 for 26 with three home runs during an eight-game stretch that lasted until late in the season. Koch also has nice pop, Dalton Smith has been solid at the top of the lineup, Jeff Scott has delivered some big hits and T.J. Moyle is a good two-hole hitter. The Indians defeated Canton in the 2011 semifinals en route to reaching the state semifinals.
Montgomery and Muncy have won the last two district championships and combined to win 11 playoff games the last two seasons. They also have won six district titles since 2003.
Player to Watch
Kelby Mullen, Sullivan County
The senior led Sullivan County to its first district championship and the most wins in the basketball program's history the past two seasons and has helped the baseball team make history as well. Mullen has won an area-high eight games, including seven straight. Also a catcher, Mullen has been locked in offensively, producing at least five hits in his last six games while homering twice.
Sullivan County vs. Montgomery
The HAC-III rivals split two games this season and Montgomery is the last team to beat Sullivan. A year ago they played a nine-inning thriller with Montgomery winning 5-4 after being one out away from elimination in the seventh inning.
Projected Final: Canton over Montgomery
Dr. Masse's Top Five
1. Williamsport (14-4); 2. Jersey Shore (15-3); 3. Loyalsock (16-2); 4. Montoursville (14-4); 5. South Williamsport (14-3)
Player of the Week
Chris Glunk, Jersey Shore
The senior pitcher/first baseman threw six innings of two-hit baseball against Selinsgrove in an 8-1 win. He also excelled offensively in three games, going 7 for 10 with five RBIs.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him for more baseball information on Twitter at @docmasse.