There were a lot of big stories this spring and summer in youth baseball in Mifflin County. From April to August, the drama on the diamonds was a big part of life in this part of Pennsylvania. One thing is for sure: The Mifflin County teams beat opposing squads from all over the Commonwealth - the northeast, the northwest, Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
It's hard to pinpoint what the biggest story was, but there is no doubt what the biggest day was, July 22. On that day the Mifflin County American Legion team won its first regional championship and a place in the state tournament. The Mifflin County 11-12-year-old Little League team came from behind to beat Indiana to win the Section 4 championship and advance to the state tournament and all three Mifflin County Babe Ruth teams (13,14 and 15) won their respective opening games in the state playoffs.
Here's a look back, from the older players' accomplishments to the youngest.
COLLEGE - It would be a big accomplisment for any two players from Mifflin County to be named "Player of the Week" in their respective NCAA Division I leagues, but it was even more impressive when the two players eat breakfast at the same table. Ben Yoder, a Bucknell junior, was named player of the week in the Patriot League, while his older brother A.J. did the same at the Virginia Military Institute in the Big South.
HIGH SCHOOL - Both Indian Valley and Lewistown made it to the District 6 AAA playoffs, but were eliminated by Bellefonte, which went deep into the PIAA tournament. Travis Zook, the Warrior manager, saw his team win 11 of its first 13 games, while Ray Hoppel, the Panther manager, saw his team win a big tournament (Curve Classic) in Altoona against Central, Altoona and Hollidaysburg in April. The Panthers tossed shutouts against Central and Altoona and came from behind late in the game to beat Hollidaysburg for the crown.
The Warriors finished 13-5 in the regular season and the Panthers were 10-10.
AMERICAN LEGION - What a year for Larry Wolfe, the Mifflin County manager, his staff and team. Mifflin County had a 24-7 record in the regular season. Then in the Region 7 tournament at the Shaner Complex outside State College, Mifflin County went 5-1, beating Latrobe 17-2 and State College 5-3 on the final day of competition.
But, not to be outdone, Mifflin County then finished in the final four of the state tournament. Mifflin County went 2-2 in the state tournament and just missed advancing as it lost to Nor-Gwyn, 6-5 - a team Mifflin County had lost to in the opening game of the tournament, 10-0. Overall, Mifflin County was 31-10.
BABE RUTH 15-YEAR-OLDS - It was a tournament trail for the history books. Mifflin County rattled off 14 straight wins including five straight in the Mid-Atlantic Regionals. The team, managed by Butch Benderm played flawless ball for almost 15 games and just missed winning the regional title as Eastern New York rallied in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat Mifflin County in the final game, 13-11.
14-YEAR-OLDS - Last summer as 13-year-olds, Mifflin County (7-2) had an almost perfect run as it lost in the state finals to State College, 5-4, in extra-innings. This year it was not as nearly as perfect, but it was productive. The Mifflin County 14-year-olds were 6-3 under Bernie Howard. They lost a 4-3 game in the District 7 playoffs to Upper Adams in the second game, but then came all the way back to claim the title. In the state playoffs, Mifflin County lost two games, one to Ridley in pool play, 8-1, and to State College, 9-4, in the semi-finals. Ridley beat State College for the state title.
13-YEAR-OLDS - It was feast or famine for Scott Reigle's team. In the first five games, Mifflin County (8-6) scored 67 runs and went 5-0. Then during the last nine games, Mifflin County never got more than eight runs and went 3-6. However, four of those losses were by one or two runs, including a 2-0 loss to West End of Williamsport in the state semi-finals. West End ended up as the Mid-Atlantic Regional champion and went to the Babe Ruth World Series in Utah.
LITTLE LEAGUE - Mifflin County's 11-12-year-old team, managed by Mike Hannon, Twice lost its first game of a tournament and came back to win the title. First in the District 5 tourney it dropped a game to State College and then roared back to win six straight, including a heart stopper at Rec Park over State College. Then in the sectionals in Camp Hill it did the same thing, losing to Indiana and then won four straight to advance to the Western State Qaulifer. However, it lost three straight games there and was eliminated. Mifflin County finished with a 10-5 record.
Big Valley's 9-10 team was 4-0 in the District 5 tournament and won the championship with two convincing triumphs over Philipsburg-Osceola, 17-2 and 13-0. In the Section 4 tournament, Big Valley went 3-2 and lost to Camp Hill in the if-necessary game of the finals, 8-4. Overall, Chris Bodtorf's team was 7-2.
Against opposition outside of Mifflin County, the high schools, American Legion, Babe Ruth and the two district winners in Little League were a combined 52-22 in the postseason, and overall, counting the high school records and the American Legion overall record, the county's mark against teams from outside of Mifflin County was 104-46.
John Ward, who for more than 30 years was the lead broadcaster for the University of Tennessee football network (he retired after the 1998 season) used to open his broadcasts by saying "It's football time in Tennessee."
Here's a thought for next spring:
When the grass turns green in the valley; when the leaves blossom along the Juniata; when the sun beats upon the mountains and the late day shadows embrace the ball fields in Mifflin County, it'll be time to play baseball.
Ray Wilde covers Babe Ruth baseball for The Sentinel.