After breakthrough season, Penn State York baseball looks to keep building

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch

Perhaps it was inevitable that the biggest game of Penn State York’s baseball season would come against Penn State Brandywine. The local Lions had seen their hopes at a PSUAC East title dashed by Brandywine two weekends earlier, and they had already dropped another matchup earlier in the conference tournament.

But on Monday morning in State College, PSY rallied in the late innings for a memorable 12-2 triumph, earning a spot in the league championship game for the first time in program history.

The Lions needed two wins over Penn State Du Bois to claim the conference title, and a 6-1 loss Monday afternoon ended their season. But after a 19-13 campaign and a postseason breakthrough, head coach Todd Meckley’s team could be just getting started.

Penn State York against Penn State Wilkes-Barre during their baseball game in Spry on Tuesday, Apr. 25, 2023.

Penn State York’s official roster this year featured nine freshmen and nine sophomores alongside three juniors and three seniors. The Lions’ lineup in the PSUAC final began with three rookies and two second-year players. And there was plenty of familiarity within the group, as 10 players competed in the York-Adams League and 15 attended District 3 high schools.

“We really brought in a lot of young blood that was hungry and wanted to get after it,” Meckley said. “They worked their tails off to be able to get opportunities early and prove themselves. And we have that combination with some guys being able to lead the way a little bit with our seniors and a couple of the older guys to help steer them in the right direction.”

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The program had made the PSUAC tournament just once prior to 2022, and the Lions had lost a play-in game in each of their appearances before this season. Meckley took over as head coach after serving as an assistant last year for interim coach Joe Royer, who remains on staff.

Meckley previously coached at Kennard-Dale High School and has long been involved with the GoWags travel and training organization, so he’s familiar with players and coaches throughout the region. Two former K-D Rams — sophomores Ryan Schubert and Jason Williams — hit fourth and fifth, respectively, in the order behind freshman Andrew Miller (Susquehannock).

PSY’s early season featured an 0-3 start on the field and a bevy of rainouts, but the Lions went 12-4 in the first 15 days of April while playing more than once per day and finished the regular season 16-11 as pieces came together.

Penn State York's Andrew Miller (Susquehannock) bats during a game against Penn State Hazleton on April 14.

“We had to get everybody on the same page and going in the right direction together,” Meckley said. “That’s the culture that's been built now. They're picking each other up over the course of everything that happens throughout every game.”

Miller, a year removed from helping lead Susquehannock to the York-Adams League title, posted a team-best .417 batting average and 1.123 OPS this spring. Schubert smacked five of the Lions’ eight home runs and led the squad with 29 RBIs. Jason Williams went 5-2 with a 2.52 ERA in 50 innings pitched while hitting .357 at the plate. 

This level of college baseball isn’t for everyone. A PSUAC division series often includes doubleheaders on back-to-back days with a long bus ride in between. Penn State York’s roster was trimmed to 24 players after some offseason churn, much smaller than coaches would prefer. But those who stuck around banded together and found fun amid the grind.

“I think getting the right people in here with the right mindset and the talent level can take us a long way. That's where it all kind of starts,” Meckley said. “But you’ve just got to find the dudes beyond the talent. You’ve gotta recruit the guys that want to be here and that really want to be a part of something special.”

Penn State York needed a split or better in its four-game series against Brandywine to capture its first-ever division title, but instead dropped three of four to tie for second with Penn State Schuylkill. PSY knocked off Schuylkill, 6-4, in an elimination game April 27 before falling to Brandywine again that evening. The play-in victory moved the Lions to tournament action the following weekend at Penn State’s main campus.

PSY needed four wins in two days and knocked off PSUAC West champion Penn State Mont Alto, 4-2, on Sunday morning. Rain pushed the rematch against Brandywine to Monday, but PSY’s bats erupted in the fifth inning, scoring eight runs to turn a 2-2 tie into a laugher.

Penn State York's Jason Williams (Kennard-Dale), left, high-fives teammate Brandon Shirk (27) after an inning against Penn State Wilkes-Barre during their baseball game in Spry on Tuesday, Apr. 25, 2023.

The Lions fell behind 5-0 after the first two frames and never caught up against Du Bois, which will be the host and No. 9 seed in the USCAA’s 10-team baseball tournament, known as the Small College World Series. Mont Alto will be the No. 4 seed.

As he gathered his team in the dugout for the final time this spring, Meckley expressed his pride in how the three seniors — John Dyson (South Western), Evan Tanner (York Catholic) and Carter Williams (Conrad Weiser) — set the stage for what’s to come. PSY has 11 players currently signed for next year and hopes to bring the number closer to 15. With reinforcements and the big-game experience the Lions’ underclassmen now have, something special may be brewing.

“I said, ‘Remember what this tastes like. You know how to win, you know how to work hard, you know how to come back from adversity,’” Meckley said. “This experience is going to bode so well for the future for us, because these guys know how to win and they know what it takes to get to this point in the season and compete for a championship. 

“And with the recruiting class we have coming in this fall and the way these guys work hard, I think Penn State York’s gonna have a bright future.”