Earlier this week, Ryan Lentz was transported to his high school days, back to his freshman season at Upper Dauphin when then-Trojans coach Tim Williard tapped him to pinch run in a district playoff game.
"I was a bundle of nerves," Lentz recalled.
He was reminded of the moment after watching current Trojans freshman Kyle Glouner's first varsity pitching start Tuesday, but it wasn't because Lentz sympathized with the youngster.
Quite the contrary. Lentz, who followed Williard as UDA varsity coach three years ago, marveled at Glouner's poise in what he described as "the biggest game of the year."
The fresh-faced righty pitched a one-hitter in a shocking 8-1 victory over Tri-Valley Athletic Association leader Halifax. Glouner faced just three batters over the minimum (one hit, two walks) and struck out four while allowing an unearned run in the third inning.
"To give a ninth grader the ball and tell him to go get us a win and have him come through like that is pretty nice," said Lentz, who added with a laugh, "I'm sure he'll see another start."
It was the brightest jewel among several in Glouner's short varsity career, and it cemented his place atop our list of the Valley's top underclassmen. That list includes (but is certainly not limited to) Danville's Shayne Riley, Shikellamy's Brandon Kashuba, and the Mifflinburg trio of Andy Aurand, Brady Lloyd and Brian Zimmerman.
Glouner couldn't have announced his arrival to the varsity level any better than with a home run in his first at-bat. He was promoted to play third base in that April 8 win over Millersburg because the starter and two other Trojans were unavailable. He went 2-for-3 in his debut (also roping a double), which was a bit of a slide considering Lentz noted he was 11-for-11 in four junior varsity games.
Glouner has since settled into the No. 3 hole in the batting order with a .382 average (13-for-34), 12 RBIs and 18 total bases, which show well against the team leaders who began the season on varsity: Mac Ney (29), Kane Bouchard (21) and Tanner Miller (20). He also made a handful of effective relief appearances prior to Tuesday's start.
The Trojans were one of three two-loss teams looking up at Halifax in the TVAA standings when the week began. Lentz went with senior ace Kane Bouchard in Monday's win over Juniata, and chose between Glouner and junior Payton Kennerly to give Halifax a new look.
Glouner got the nod, Lentz said, because "I looked in his eyes (and) he wanted the ball."
After facing five batters in a scoreless first inning, he pitched a 1-2-3 second. An error in the third brought five Wildcats to the dish and led to their only run. From there, Glouner faced four batters in the fourth and fifth innings, and set the 'Cats down in order over the last two.
"He looked great, pretty much. Without the error it would've been a shutout," Lentz said in such a way that you could almost hear him shaking his head in disbelief. "One of the things I've seen so far that's impressed me is it's like he has ice water in his veins. We give him the ball in the biggest game of the year so far and it doesn't faze him. It was pretty amazing."
Lentz cautions that Glouner still has work to do, such as improving the speed of his delivery with runners on base. That shouldn't be too difficult for the honor student to pick up.
Of course, Lentz would certainly trade the occasional opponent's stolen base for the 3 1/2 more seasons of Glouner's .382 batting average and 0.53 ERA.
n DIAMOND DANDIES: Glouner may carry the torch for the star underclassman, the others mentioned above also shine very bright.
*Riley, a sophomore, followed Danville stars Jake Gronsky and Andrew Andreychik at shortstop and (due to a recent shift) in the leadoff spot. He leads the Ironmen with two home runs (one to left, one to right) and is tied for the team lead with nine RBIs.
*Kashuba, a right-handed sophomore at Shikellamy, has been a surprise on the mound after missing last season to a knee injury. His velocity not only belies his stature, it's almost unfair when it comes out of the bullpen just as the opposing team is beginning to get comfortable against the Braves' starter.
"Kashuba comes out and throws gas and keeps (opponents) on their heels," said Shik coach Bobby Felmy. "He's pretty good."
*Mifflinburg coach Tom Church has the Valley's finest collection of young talent, headed by catcher Aurand, shortstop Lloyd and center fielder Zimmerman. They each have traits that already rank among the Valley's best: Aurand's bullet throws to second base; Lloyd's range and glovework; and Zimmerman's speed on the bases and in the field.
They're also the top three hitters in the Wildcats' batting order, ahead of boppers Oakley Whitesel and Zach Aurand.
"I think the middle of our defense is pretty good, knock on wood," said Church. "I can't say enough about all of our kids. It's all the way down through the line."
n Scott Dudinskie covers high school baseball for The Daily Item. Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.