Dragons, Eagles ready for moment
The Central and Tyrone baseball teams both left around 1:30 p.m. for their PIAA Class 3A quarterfinal games on Thursday. They were going opposite directions that day and may have actually even passed each other on the highway.
But these two squads have been on a collision course for years.
The Scarlet Dragons have set the standard for high school baseball exellence in the area under coach A.J. Hoenstine and played in four PIAA championship games, winning one in 2017.
Tyrone coach Kevin Soellner admits the success Central’s baseball program has achieved is what his team has aspired to do, and it seemed like the Golden Eagles may have been on the verge of it in 2019.
Soellner’s squad won the Mountain League for the first time in 27 years and swept Central in the regular season to earn the top seed in the District 6 playoffs, but another traditional state power, Mount Union, upset Tyrone on its own home field in the district semifinals. The Trojans went on to win the state championship.
The Golden Eagles were set to bring almost that entire team back in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the entire scholastic spring sports season. Tyrone lost a few key seniors — such as Kevin Lehner — to graduation but still brought back a solid core of the 2019 team this season.
“All coaches always say what could have been last year, but we would have had all of our pitching we have now and a little more offense added in there,” Soellner said. “That’s frustrating, but Tyrone has never been (to the PIAA semifinals) and learning how to win has been the big issue. Two years ago, when we lost to Mount Union, I don’t think they were mentally ready. Physically, I think we were probably the best team in the state as far as I’m concerned, but they hadn’t won and there’s something to figuring that out.”
While Tyrone was learning how to win by collecting several summer league championships, Hoenstine began to mention a phrase that has become popular in the Cove, “storm’s coming.”
Tyrone has maintained a high level of play this season, but Central seems to have put itself right back at the top of the high school baseball hierarchy. The Scarlet Dragons have what may be their best offense ever and mostly cruised through the regular season and District 6 playoffs with one of the lone exceptions being a 12-7 setback to the Golden Eagles in the Curve Classic.
Hoenstine’s phrase no longer mentions a warning of a coming storm. It’s now, “storm’s here.”
“We took a tough loss in a football game, and I told them there was a storm coming here soon,” Hoenstine said. “We like to think it has arrived, and hopefully it’s going to stick around. They have kind of jumped on that as well as some of our fans. This group has really worked hard through the years and have high expectations of themselves. We have used that as a rallying cry, I guess you could say.”
Monday’s PIAA Class 3A semifinal game at Peoples Natural Gas Field isn’t just a game between two teams trying to earn a chance to play for a state title. It’s a team in Tyrone that felt like it finally established itself as the top squad in the area and the program it chased, and may have temporarily passed, but is now right back even with it chasing the finish line that is Thursday’s PIAA championship game in State College.
Michael Boytim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 946-7521. Follow him on Twitter @BoytimMichael.