In early March — after a winter of open gyms and before the 2019 campaign got underway — Penns Valley baseball coach Shawn Meyer told his players it had been at least two decades since the Rams had a winning season.
Meyer’s preseason point to his players resonated. Right then and there, a winning record and a berth in the district tournament became the goal for Penns Valley — one that, as the regular season winds down, is finally within sight.
“It’s definitely within reach,” Meyer added Thursday afternoon. “But this is a tough league. A really tough league. Probably one of the toughest in Pennsylvania, I would bet that. But even as the smallest school (in District 6), we’ve stayed competitive.”
The Rams are 8-8 with three games to go and, as of Saturday morning, rank No. 7 in the District 6 Class 3A standings, with the top-eight teams making the postseason tournament.
Penns Valley had a chance to go two games above .500 on Friday night, but was edged by Clearfield 4-3 at home. Still, the Rams face Huntingdon on Monday, Philipsburg-Osceola on Thursday and Mifflinburg to close out the campaign on May 14. Opportunity lies ahead for Penns Valley.
“For our baseball team to be in the position they are right now, to be competing for a district tournament berth, it’s great for the program,” said athletic director Nate Althouse, who still remembers when the Rams won the district title in 1995 — with a losing record.
And the Rams’ success this season is unprecedented, really. From 2008 through 2018, Penns Valley’s winning percentage was .263 (49-138-1). The Rams had six seasons with four wins or fewer in that span. And the closest Penns Valley came to a winning season was its 9-10 mark in 2013, when the Rams lost three of their final four by one or two runs.
Things weren’t as close last season, Meyer’s first at the helm. The Rams were 5-15. But six of those losses were by one run. Penns Valley hung around and couldn’t get over the hump.
That’s changed in 2019 with an even 5-5 record in games decided by three runs or less. Meyer’s club lost four in a row in early April, but a 17-2 win over Central on April 18 changed the complexion of the Rams’ season. That win started a four-game winning streak and a five of six run that brought Penns Valley to Friday.
The key ingredient? “Motivation to make districts,” senior captain Cole Breon said. And it’s shown.
The Rams are hitting the ball well. Entering Friday’s game against Clearfield, Penns Valley boasted a team batting average of .317 with five home runs and 26 doubles. The pitching hasn’t been shabby, either.
Penns Valley boasts a team ERA of 1.50, better than Tyrone, Forest Hills and P-O — District 6’s top-three teams, as of Saturday morning. Sophomore Mason Lieb (five earned runs over 27.2 innings) and junior Aaron Tobias (three earned runs in 21.2 innings) have led the way, but Luke Snyder, Connor Martz, Jesse Darlington and Dylan Treaster have thrown valuable innings, too.
Treaster, one of three captains, said Thursday that the Rams’ play — on the mound, in the batter’s box and in the field — is a product of trust. Of the 13 players on Penns Valley’s roster, six are seniors, and they’ve been playing together since Little League.
“We know what we’re capable of doing,” senior second baseman Calvin Russell said. “We’ve seen each other play through the years.”
Added Breon: “We’re connected.”
It’ll have to stay that way if the Rams are going to accomplish what they set out to do in early March.