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Hoenstine family savors special day

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Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski Central's Jeff Hoenstine has tears of joy in his eyes with Ty Helsel (22).

UNIVERSITY PARK — Central baseball had some history when A.J. Hoenstine took over as head coach 15 years ago, but most of that was centered around a run to the PIAA Class 3A championship game in 1984 that the Scarlet Dragons lost to Chambersburg, 3-1.

Since Hoenstine has taken over, Central baseball has become the standard by which teams in Blair County are judged. The Scarlet Dragons are 18-5 in the state playoffs since 2010 and have appeared in four state championship games, first winning in 2017 and adding another crown Friday with a 13-2 victory over Lancaster Catholic at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

“It’s pretty special,” A.J. Hoenstine said. “I’ll probably get emotional about it later, but I’m trying to enjoy it now. This is so special, but it’s over in a blink of an eye. It’s hard to imagine I’m not going to be at practice with these guys tomorrow, but I’ll find something to do.”

What Hoenstine got to do Friday was win a state championship with his father, Dave Hoenstine, and two sons, Jeff and Jay, in the dugout with him.

Dave Hoenstine is a former head coach at Central and coached A.J. when he was in high school and now serves as an assistant to his son. Jeff Hoenstine batted second Friday and had a huge game with three hits, two runs scored and two RBIs a year after his leg was broken during the District 6 Class 3A football championship game, which caused him to miss most of his sophomore baseball season. Jay Hoenstine is a freshman and did not play Friday.

“Being with my dad and Jeff and Jay is really special,” A.J. Hoenstine said. “But all these guys are my kids. They are a close-knit bunch. It’s a special group we had this year.”

As close as the team is, it’s obvious the Hoenstine family is a close one, especially when it comes to baseball.

Alex Hoenstine, A.J’s brother and Dave’s son, played for the Scarlet Dragon team that won a state championship in 2017, and Nick Hoenstine — Alex and A.J.’s other brother — played on Central’s 2014 state finalist team that lost 5-1 to Loyalsock Township.

Nick played second base in that game, had a hit and scored Central’s only run. The 2015 graduate died at the age of 23 in August of 2020.

Earlier this year at the Altoona Mirror’s Athlete of the Year Banquet, Jeff Hoenstine was awarded Male Athlete of the Year and mentioned playing for Nick in his acceptance speech.

“He was in the back of my mind all game long,” Jeff Hoenstine said. “I was just thinking that I needed to play the way he would have wanted me to play and that’s just to fly around everywhere I go and play as hard as I can.”

As the Hoenstines celebrated Friday’s victory, it was clear that it wasn’t just for themselves.

“He was one of my best friends,” Jeff Hoenstine said. “It was really a motivation for me to win this one for him.”

A.J. Hoenstine won’t admit this is the best team he’s coached, but with all of the family connections helping him put a stamp on his legacy as the measuring stick of baseball coaches in the county, it must be special.

“I’m not going to say it’s the best, because I’ll get a bunch of text messages in the morning when people read the paper,” A.J. Hoenstine said. “But they are definitely up there.”

It’s also a safe bet he’ll get a lot of texts congratulating him on building one of the best 15-year coaching runs this area has seen.

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 946-7521. Follow him on Twitter @BoytimMichael.

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