15s must be up to challenge

MILROY – Mifflin County Babe Ruth 15-year-old manager Bernie Howard likes challenges.

Howard, who is a veteran of all-star competiton, knows that his team will have its work cut out for it, if it hopes to advance to the state tournament.

Mifflin County opens play at 8 p.m. today against Gettysburg at Armagh Memorial Field.

The 15-year-old tournament starts at 2:30 p.m. when Perry County takes on Altoona. The winner of the tournament will advance to the state tournament in Williamsport.

Howard, who coaches Lewistown in the regular season, is being assisted by two of his West coaches, Chuck Curry and Kip McElwain.

This is the sixth consecutive year that Howard has been a manager of a Mifflin County All-Star team. The Mifflin County record is held by Yeagertown’s Fred Zook, who had a stretch of seven years in a row from 1981-1987.

Before this run, Howard also had a five year run from 2002-2006.

The Lewistown manager has an overall record of 386-90 and an all-star mark of 73-23.

Howard already has won 10 district titles and has had eight teams finish in the state’s final four. The West manager was the first one in league history to “three-peat” in state competition. In 2003, he guided a 15-year-old team to a state championship and followed that with state titles at the 13-year-old level and 14-year-old level.

Thee 13-year-old Mifflin County team lost to the host team, Hamilton, N.J., in the Mid-Atlantic regional finals (first game) in Trenton, N.J., and was just two games from the Babe Ruth World Series.

League champion Lewistown had four players make the team: Manny Eby, Peyton Reesman, C.J. Reigle and Isaiah Kearns.

Four teams had two players named to the team: Strodes Mills, Andrew Bernstein and Andrew Larson; Milroy, Jared Soles and Graham Rhoades; Yeagertown, Ty Hunter and Nate Earnest; and Beaver Springs, Aaron Sharp and Alex Hackenberg.

Three teams had one player make the team: McVeytown’s Lucas Harshbarger, Belltown’s Zach Hostetler and Burnham’s Tyler Powell.

First year all-stars were Eby, Reigle and Bernstein. Eleven players are three time all-stars: Kearns, Reesman, Larson, Soles, Rhoades, Hunter, Earnest, Hackenberg, Harshbarger, Hostetler and Powell.

When the nucleus of this team was 13-year-olds, it finished tied for third in the state final four. Then last year as 14-year-olds, Mifflin County was the host for the state tournament and finished in a tie for fifth place with Perry County.

The team has won both of its district titles, 13 (2011) and 14 (2012). Mifflin County has beaten Perry County four times in districts and Gettysburg once. It also has met Altoona once in the state 13-year-old (2011) tournament, losing 9-8.

“The coaches and I are cautiously optimistic,” Howard said. “We have been impressed with the strong effort put forth by all our players during the practices and scrimmages. The overall skill level has been and remains very high. We have foucsed initially on defense and feel this area is now quite strong.”

“Offensivley this has demonstrated they have the capacity to be very productive,” Howard explained, “The staff feels comfortable that they will generate offensive firepower.”

“Pitching coach Kip McElwain has focused on a core group of pitchers,” Howard noted. “In terms of leadership and team chemistry we couldn’t be more pleased. We are very confident that this staff will prove to be the hallmark of the team.”

Through the years, Howard has learned how to take players from all over the league and put them together to form winning teams.

“The team has blended together nicely and the coaches and players are eager to begin tournament play,” he said.