Buck Riden always dreamed of taking a high school baseball team to the state finals.
Twenty years ago this spring, Riden saw his dream come true. His Indian Valley baseball team made it to the top game in Class AAA, finishing second to Red Land, 9-3.
How big of feat was the Warriors' trip to Shippensburg that gray afternoon? It was the only time in the last 60 years that a Mifflin County team reached the highest-level state final in PIAA competition.
Through the years and in all sports, Mifflin County has had nine teams finish first or second in the final game or match at the PIAA level. Eight of those teams have made it to the top in the last 60 years.
Basketball teams from Lewistown - male and female - have made it to the final game as the Panthers won titles in the girls department in 1997 and 1998 and were runners up in 2004. The Panther boys made it to the finals in 1997. Rothrock won the state title in boys basketball in 1963.
The Chief Logan girls cross country team won a state title in 1986. Mifflin County had two baseball teams reach the PIAA finals, as Lewistown won the title in 2002 and Indian Valley was a runner-up in 1990.
But only one of those teams reached the final game at the topmost level of PIAA competition, the Warrior's baseball team of 20 years ago.
The only other team that compares to what Indian Valley did was the Lewistown boys basketball team in 1928, which finished second to Hazleton when there was only one classification.
Rothrock won at the Class A level, while the Lewistown girls and boys reached the state finals at the Class AAA level, but there was one above that.
The Mingo girls won at the Class AA level, as did the Lewistown baseball team.
But, it was in 1990 that the Warriors made it to the PIAA's highest level in a state championship. That might confuse the average reader, but in 1990 there were only two classifications in baseball, and Class AAA was the larger of them.
Riden, the Warriors manager, who coached 39 years of high school baseball in Mifflin County, will always remeber the 1990 season as the highlight of his coaching career.
"I think every high school coach dreams about going to the state finals. Jim (Hockenbrock, the teams's top assistant coach) and I knew from the year before that we were going to have an above-average team," Riden said.
Indian Valley defied all logic in 1990 as it was still a member of the Tri-Valley League, a Class AA league at that point, and went through it undefeated. The toughest contests for the Warriors came against Juniata and Upper Dauphin on back-to-back days; they won both games, 4-2.
Indian Valley then played three home games in a row in the District 6 playoffs, beating Central, Lock Haven and Johnstown.
The Warriors won the district title by downing Somerset before moving on the state playoffs.
"It was very difficult to even win at the district level and then to move on to the state playoffs and the finals," Riden recalled. "When we played districts that year there were at least 17 teams (in our bracket). Then when we got to the states we were playing some very big high schools."
In the western half of the state, the Warriors defeated Franklin, 2-1; Bethel Park, 5-1; and Clearfield, 9-3; before moving to the state finals against Red Land.
"As juniors they played very hard and worked together," Hockenbrock said. "There was an early spring that year and a lot of the players practiced on their own (in front of the Brown Elementary School) before the regular season's practices even started.
"But, I didn't see that kind of run coming," Hockenbrock said, "They were a good group of ball players. We had speed and pitching. It also was a close group of players. They were buddies and they enjoyed playing together and of course winning. We didn't realize until the next year how much talent was on that team as balls that were outs the year before we couldn't get to."
Members of the team included Shawn Crosson, Trevor Eckley, Mike Erb, Chris Freed, Dan Hassinger, Rod Henry, Mike Hostetler, Jeff Kanagy, Adam Metz, David Metz, Shane Niman, Duane Peachey, Dan Plank, Aaron Reinard, John Retherford, Mike Riden, Eric Specht, Rusty Specht and Chris Wolfkill.
"One thing that I would like to say about the team is that they were friends and teammates off the field," Riden said. "But when they crossed the white lines, they were all business. It was a total team effort. One player would have a big game on the mound and the next night it would be another player with the bat."
Two of the players looked back to that spring of 20 years ago, Jeff Kanagy and Chris Freed.
Kanagy, the Warriors' catcher, had a key moment in the tournament as he hit a game winning home run against Franklin.
"It happened late in the game," Kanagy said, "There were two outs and I was just trying to hit one in the gap. He (the Franklin pitcher) happened to groove a fast ball and I hit it over the left field fence and down the line. It was about 390 feet.
"When the talk started about putting the two schools (Kishacoquillas and Chief Logan) together, there was a lot of tension. But as ball players we were looking at the timeline and knew that we could have a good team. We played together as 13- and 15-year-olds in Babe Ruth All-Stars and had done well."
Freed, one of the top pitchers that spring, had a brilliant game against Bethel Park in a 5-1 win. Bethel Park was the favorite team that afternoon as it had a highly recruited pitcher on the mound.
"Their pitcher had a very good fastball," Freed said. "But we didn't get scared. We were a good fastball-hitting team. We were just a bunch of country boys who showed the city boys how to play."
"During those days, I used my fastball or curve," Freed said. "I get a lot of credit for what I did on the mound, but it was a total team effort. All I did was pitch. My fielders found ways to catch balls and we had a great offense. We stressed fundmentals. Everyone got a long with each other and I was just part of a great team."
The state championship was held at Shippensburg University and the magic season came to an end as Indian Valley fell 9-3. It was the first and only loss of the season (22-1).
"As I look back to 1990, it was just a super year for IV baseball," Riden said, "I would like to thank all the players and coaches for giving me the season of my life."
Only one team in the modern era of high school sports from Mifflin County has ever gotten to the last game at the highest level of the PIAA, and it happened 20 years ago this spring.