MVC hopes to rule districts again
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS The Lehighton baseball team prepares for its season opener and its shot at defending its District 11 championship.
With the start of the TIMES NEWS baseball season right around the corner, each team has had some time to reflect on its past and look forward to the future.
The two local Mountain Valley Conference teams, Lehighton and Pleasant Valley, have had a lot to reflect on over the last three weeks. Each team put together incredible 2010 seasons and capped their respective campaigns with a District 11 title. For the Bears, it was their first title in 26 years. For the Indians, it was their first ever.
Brian Polaha, who in his first season as Lehighton's head coach set a school-record for wins (18), recalled last year's magical run.
"Last year was unheard of," said Polaha. "It was an amazing feeling to have accomplished all that we did. It is something I will never forget.
"But, now that we are on the map, we have to keep the momentum going in the right direction. Every team will be ready for us now. We will not be able to sneak up on teams like we may have last year."
Along with setting a record for wins, Lehighton managed to win its first district playoff game since 2004. The Indians used the momentum and went on to capture their first-ever AAA district title when they defeated Saucon Valley 7-5. They also gave Pleasant Valley a run in the MVC finals two weeks prior, but a combination of missed opportunities and two Pat Kregeloh home runs spelled doom for the Indians.
However, because of its recent success, Lehighton will come into 2011 with higher expectations. Polaha doesn't seem to mind.
"I have used last year's success both ways," said Polaha. "Last year turned out to be much greater than we expected. So I want to use that feeling as motivation. I want the kids to want to get back there and experience those feelings again.
"At the same time, I have preached that this is a whole new season. Just because we won last year doesn't mean we will win this year. We have to work twice as hard. I don't think our guys will be intimidated by our own success or our own expectations."
Meanwhile, Pleasant Valley head coach Karl Rentzheimer has been here before. Over the past nine years, Rentzheimer has enjoyed success while being faced with great expectations year after year.
Last year's success was different. After years of district heartache, Pleasant Valley finally broke through and won the District 11 AAAA championship for the first time since 1984. The Bears also won their first MVC crown since 2006 along the way. They finished the season with a 22-4 record.
"It was fantastic to finally win one after being in the playoffs numerous times before," said Rentzheimer, who's team shut out Parkland 5-0. "To win something on that stage will be something everyone will remember.
"What I will always remember about that game was they way our kids were composed. I thought that they might have been in awe of the situation, but that was not the case. They were on a mission. They expected to win."
Whereas Polaha has brought up last year's success around his team, Rentzheimer hasn't said a word.
"We haven't talked about it," admitted Rentzheimer. "We don't sit around and talk about anything special. We know what happened last year. We know what it was like, but this is a different year.
"These guys have played enough baseball to know that you have to go out and perform every day, every practice and every game. They don't take anything for granted."
The quality of the MVC has improved over the last few seasons. Pleasant Valley and Stroudsburg have always been perennial powerhouses, but other teams have joined the mix. Along with those two schools, Pocono Mountain East and Pocono Mountain West each qualified for the AAAA playoffs. Add in Lehighton at the AAA level and five of the seven schools in the conference made it to the post-season.
"That's amazing," Polaha said. "The conference is strong. I did some research early last season and saw some of the talent. It has become very competitive.
"I am impressed with Pleasant Valley and Stroudsburg and how they always seem to be in districts. On top of those five, even East Stroudsburg South established themselves out of conference early on."
Rentzheimer agreed with Polaha's sentiment.
"We and Stroudsburg have always been right there, but Lehighton has become more of a consistent player," said Rentzheimer. "Over the last two or three years they have gotten a lot better and they are to be taken very seriously.
"The thing is there is always so much turnover from year to year. It is tough to tell this early on who is going to do to what. That's why you are forced to take it one game at a time in this conference."