In late April, Penns Valley coach Chuck Romig felt his team was beginning to turn the corner offensively.
When the calendar flipped to May, the Rams finally put their slow start behind them.
A 2-6 start, in which Penns Valley averaged 2.5 runs in the losses, gave way to a strong finish to the regular season. The Rams started to find the gaps and won five of their final eight games to earn the No. 12 seed in the District 6 Class AA tournament, setting up a first-round matchup against No. 5 seed Forest Hills (12-4) in Sidman on Thursday at 4 p.m.
“I’d like to coach this team in July or August,” Romig said. “Perennially, this group has been a group that needs to get more than two and a half weeks inside a gym to get their timing down and that showed this year.
“But we did start to warm up a little bit offensively and started to get some timely hits.”
Anthony Montresor leads Penns Valley (7-9) with a .395 batting average, and Taylor Collison has scored a team-high 17 runs while hitting .357. Wyatt Sharp boasts a .386 batting average to go with two home runs and a team-high 13 RBIs.
Romig also said catcher Colton Treaster (.304) has provided a boost late in the season. If that production continues, Romig feels his team can challenge Forest Hills.
Ultimately, the Rams’ erratic defense may determine their chances to advance.
Romig pointed to defensive lapses that cost Penns Valley in losses to higher seeds in the District 6 field.
That includes a loss to Bald Eagle Area, the No. 2 seed, on May 1.
The Rams and Eagles went into the sixth inning tied 4-4, but Bald Eagle Area pulled away to win 10-4. Penns Valley committed four errors in the setback that pushed its record to 2-6.
Romig knows his team will need to be sharp to take down Forest Hills.
“Defensively, all year, we’ve had good games and had really poor games,” Romig said. “And that’s where I wanted to make the biggest improvement this year. I don’t know if we did, but hopefully it’s gonna be good enough to win tomorrow.”
Penns Valley’s pitching has been good enough to keep the Rams in games throughout the season. Adam DeGarmo, LJ Johnson and Cameron Tobias have been the Rams’ top options on the mound. And Romig is prepared to use any combination of arms Thursday.
“It’s going to be inning by inning,” Romig said. “We don’t have a game Friday to worry about. We don’t have three games the next three days like we’ve been doing for the last two weeks to worry about, so if we have to use six pitchers to win, we use six pitchers to win.”
The Penns Valley pitchers will face a Rangers lineup that’s batting .347. Forest Hills is led by Blaine Harteis (.467, 16 RBIs) and Alex Murphy (.396, 19 RBIs). Murphy also has 2.21 ERA in seven appearances.
The Rams are hoping they can stay hot at the plate.
That late-season offensive production fueled Penns Valley’s turnaround. The Rams’ defense will be crucial for any postseason success, starting with Forest Hills.
“We can beat them,” Romig said. “If we play our game and manage to get through seven innings without shooting ourselves in the foot, we’ll come out on top.”
Follow Ryne Gery on Twitter @rgery.