By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
Though it seems incomprehensible now, Chace Phillips wasn't sure how long Reynaldo Adames would last hitting leadoff for Milton's high school baseball team.
Phillips, the Black Panthers' first-year coach, had known the senior center fielder to be streaky at the plate. And though his speed made Adames appear a hand-in-glove fit atop the batting order, it could also wreak havoc farther down the lineup if other players were reaching base more frequently.
"Going into March, we weren't too sure what we'd get out of Rey (at leadoff)," Phillips said. "We were wondering when or if we might have to take him out of that spot.
"But, my God, he was our leader in almost every major offensive category. He far exceeded our expectations."
Adames led the resurgent Panthers in average (.450), hits (27), runs scored (26), stolen bases (nine), doubles (eight), home runs (four) and slugging percentage (.783). His on-base percentage of .548 only slightly trailed junior shortstop Damian Moyer (.557), and he tied for second with 15 RBIs.
Throw in two saves and game-changing defensive play, and Adames was an overwhelming choice for Daily Item Player of the Year.
"He had a phenomenal year, was a model for consistency in our lineup -- our offensive catalyst all year," said Phillips. "In my mind he couldn't have done anything more."
Adames earned his coach's trust with eight knocks in an early five-game hit streak that was punctuated with a mammoth home run at Midd-West, the first of three bombs in a four-game span.
"I was thinking, 'We really have something here,'" said Phillips. "That's when I realized he was going to be something special. He stayed locked-in the rest of the season."
The Dominican native was hitless in just three of Milton's 20 games. He had multiple hits nine times, with a season-best 4-for-4 against Wellsboro on May 19. That was the opening game of the Pap Giles Tournament, and he followed it up with a 2-for-3 with three runs and three RBIs against host Montoursville in the title game.
Adames was so good in the leadoff spot, such a threat, that he probably didn't belong there. With five guys hitting .360 or better following him in the lineup, his stolen bases were tempered (9-of-12). Oftentimes, the ball was put in play before he could get a jump.
"We preach being aggressive early in the count, and that had a lot to do with it," said Phillips, "He's the best baserunner I've seen at the high school level, extremely aggressive and extremely smart, too."
Milton graduated three seniors but only Adames was a fixture in the batting order; Cody Shaffer and Bryan Reich were each five-game winners on the mound. So even when the lineup returns virtually intact next season, there will still be a ton of production missing.
"We can make it up as a whole, I believe, but no one player will be able to fill those shoes -- not only offensively but defensively, as well," said Phillips. "He's such a unique talent. You don't replace a Rey Adames."
Lentz named top coach
In his second season as head coach at his alma mater, Ryan Lentz led Upper Dauphin to an unbeaten run to the Tri-Valley League championship.
"It's probably only been done a handful of times since the beginning of Upper Dauphin baseball," Lentz said after clinching the 12-0 TVL mark at East Juniata. "I told the team, 'I want you guys to take a step back for a minute and actually think about what this means.'"
The Trojans went 15-5 in the regular season, including a six-game win streak that bridged April and May. Four of their regular-season losses were by two or fewer runs; the other was a three-run margin. They posted six shutouts.
Lentz is 29-13 with two TVL titles in two seasons.