---- — We'd guess it's rare that a groundout has ever pleased a baseball coach as much as one early in Milton's game Wednesday at Shikellamy.
The Black Panthers loaded the bases with the game's first three batters, and then the next three made outs. Two were strikeouts, but the middle one was a bouncer to shortstop that plated a run.
"That would have been a huge momentum swing if they got out of that with no runs scoring," said Milton coach Chace Phillips. "I was definitely happy to get one there and draw first blood."
What's the big deal about an RBI groundout?
Well, if you missed it, the Panthers were coming off a 17-0, four-inning loss to Montoursville on Saturday. And if the score wasn't humbling enough, Milton -- with one of the Valley's most imposing lineups -- was no-hit by the Warriors' Andrew Null.
To put it in perspective, Milton hadn't been shutout at home (nor lost there) since May 16, 2011. The team that averaged seven runs on nine hits last season produced none of either.
"With a lesser group I think it might not have hit home as much," said Panthers coach Chace Phillips, "but with a lot of the older guys it definitely stung."
Didn't matter that it might be the only time in 1,000 that Montoursville would hold Milton hitless in a 17-0 loss.
So tempted as he may have been to laugh it off, burn the videotape and stamp the scorebook with "that's baseball," Phillips had to try to minimize the impact on a team with seven senior starters.
"I didn't want to mull too much on it then. I said, 'Go home. Enjoy Easter with your families. We'll talk about it Monday,' " Phillips recalled. "(On Monday) I said, 'Let's air it out. How did that make you feel?' A lot of guys were still upset with it; they really took it to heart. It was huge to come out and get a win (Wednesday)."
It's fair to wonder how the game would have unfolded had Milton not scored after loading the bases with no outs. Daniel Bridge may never hit a bigger RBI groundout.
"It hurt really bad to lose to Montoursville like that on our home turf. It was like a football score," said Bridge. "As the weekend went on, I put it in the back of my mind and I know we've got plenty of more games ahead of us. But to get a win like this proves we can get on a roll again."
NEW ATTITUDE: Shikellamy has missed the district playoffs by three and four wins, respectively, in coach Bobby Felmy's first two seasons.
The Braves, though, have a different look this year, not to mention wins over two HAC-I teams that swept them a year ago -- Montoursville and archrival Selinsgrove.
Logan Hall is a terrific senior leader, seen running wind sprints until minutes before first pitch Wednesday. Sophomores Nick Dunn and Colby Lahr have also helped change the focus of the team to winning ballgames.
"We had a lot of adversity here in the beginning of the year with some guys not coming out, some veteran leadership that left, and these guys have taken it and bounced back," said Felmy. "They've picked themselves up and said, 'This is what we've got,' and they're working hard."
ON-THE-JOB TRAINING: Despite winning or sharing the Tri-Valley League championship in each of the last three seasons, Upper Dauphin coach Ryan Lentz believes his Trojans have to learn how to win all over again.
Lentz has a handful of veteran returners such as Mac Ney, Kane Bouchard and Ian Buffington, but he also had six sophomores in the opening-day lineup. In fact, half of Upper Daupnin's 16 varsity players are in 10th grade.
That means the Trojans will no doubt face some growing pains following last year's unbeaten TVL run.
"We're young, but we made some mistakes that we know better not to make," said Lentz, whose team started 0-2. "We're the three-peat TVL champ, so we've certainly got a target on our backs. Teams are going to come with their 'A' game every night. And while I certainly hate to lose, in a way it could be good to take a lump here or there to prove we're not invincible."
n Scott Dudinskie covers high school baseball for The Daily Item. Email comments to email@example.com.