The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

April 19, 2013

Scott Dudinskie's column on high school baseball: Eagles' senior is missed

Here's an often overlooked truth about high school athletics: There are only so many athletes walking the halls of a given school.

The smaller the school -- obviously -- the fewer athletes.

True game-changers, such as Erik Smeltz, are rarer still.

When a player of that caliber is lost to injury, it can be like a loose thread of a sweater -- if it's attached to a bullet train.

That's how quickly things can unravel for a team.

Line Mountain is -- by no means -- circling the drain after losing its star senior outfielder. That's very much a testament to coach Jon Raker and the Eagles.

"You take the best hitter on your team out of the heart of your lineup, it makes a difference," said Raker, forcing a chuckle to cut through the pall.

"You take Ryan Howard out of the Phillies' lineup last year and they have trouble scoring runs."

The Eagles are 3-3 (overall and league) after consecutive losses to two of the Tri-Valley League's early contenders, Upper Dauphin and East Juniata.

At the beginning of the week, though, Line Mountain was among the contenders, one of five teams with one TVL loss (including Halifax and Newport).

So how bad can it be without Smeltz? Well, for that it helps to know what's missing.

As a junior last season, Smeltz led the Eagles with a .453 average to go with 11 RBIs and 23 runs scored. He had a .545 on-base percentage and slugged at a .594 clip (four doubles, triple, home run). He also stole 14 bases.

How much do you think Raker would have liked to see Smeltz stride to the plate in the second inning Tuesday, when the Eagles had two on with two outs and the clean-up spot due? It was already a four-run inning, good enough to tie Upper Dauphin, but the rally ended there.

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