By Eric Shultz
For The Daily Item
For one team last year, summer baseball lasted a little longer than usual.
Milton's American Legion squad, Post 71, captured its first Region 5 championship in team history and proceeded to the state tournament. There, the team won two games before being eliminated.
"Basically, [it was] a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Milton coach David Byers, who also noted no other team from the West Branch League had made it to the state tournament before.
"The kids had a wonderful time. They played hard (and) played their hearts out."
That success did not translate entirely into a strong high school season for Milton though, as the Black Panthers finished their season 8-12, falling short of the 10-win threshold needed to make district playoffs.
The good news for Byers is that, despite the sub-par high school season, Post 71 is returning a large portion of its roster from last summer. With the fairly quick turnaround from one season to the next, those who played for the Black Panthers and are also returning to Byers' roster will have a chance to redeem themselves by attempting to defend Post 71's Region 5 title.
"They had a good experience last year, and I'm hoping that they reach back for that experience that they had, and realize what's at stake and what they can do again if they put their mind to it," said Byers, who is entering his 12th season coaching.
The feat will not come easy, though.
Milton has to take on the task without pitcher and centerfielder Reynaldo Adames, who was a key part of the team's lineup wherever he was, whether it be the lead-off man at the plate, in the field or on the mound. Also out of the picture this year is Jordon Bordner, who decided not to play after this summer after batting clean-up for the team last year.
"[Bordner] had his reasons, and we talked about it and I fully respected his decision not to play," Byers said. "But there, you're losing your lead-off hitter and your clean-up hitter from last year."
Milton will also have to escape the West Branch League again before thinking about another state run. Byers noted that Jersey Shore, Montoursville and Montgomery stick out as contenders in the league, which is also adding South Williamsport to the mix this summer.
In the Susquehanna Valley League, Danville coach Harold Albertson is facing a similar set of circumstances.
Post 40 is coming off of a rather successful 16-6 season. But, like Byers losing Adames, Albertson will have to try to replace a star player.
Andrew Andreychik, who played shortstop and pitcher, highlights a list of players that Albertson said are not returning to the team for various and legitmate reasons.
"Definitely, Andreychik's hard to replace," Alberston said. "He's one of the best athletes ever to go to Danville High School."
Bret Berg, Zach Kozick, Tyler Grubb and Mike Ramsey will also be missing from the roster. Albertson noted he does have some quality returnees in players like Curtis Mordan, Mason Fausnaught, Scott Heeter, Trevor Leitzel and Shayne Riley, but the team won't be stacked with veterans.
"I got a good nucleus there, but we're really, really young," Albertson said.
But Albertson will not have to hold his breath much when Fausnaught takes the mound. Fausnaught, Danville Area's ace this past high school season, is one of the players Albertson can expect a lot of production from.
"Mason's a great kid, good team leader," Albertson said.
While Albertson has not been a stranger to winning seasons, he said the competition will be tough in the Susquehanna Valley League.
"I don't see a weak team at all in the league this season," Albertson said.
"It's going to be a dogfight."