Matt Spiegel has been here before, he knows this feeling.
Spiegel, who also played third base, was the starting pitcher in Camp Hill’s last two PIAA championships, in 2008-09 in Class A. He became the third pitcher in PIAA history to win back-to-back state titles. The Lions became the fifth team at that time to successfully defend their title. They were special runs, especially the first one that nobody on the team saw coming.
Now, nine years since he last donned a Lions uniform as a player, he’s in his fifth season as a varsity assistant coach, aiding second-year skipper Mike Acey. And he’s back in familiar territory: heading to the state championship game, 1 p.m. Thursday at Penn State against Rocky Grove.
The similarities are immediately apparent between the 2018 squad and the last two state champions, Spiegel said.
And it starts with the regular season record: 12-8 this year, like 2008’s surprising run.
But the Lions also have dominant pitching that “could compete against anybody” — Spiegel and Matt Boyd nine years ago, Luke and Josh Goodyear, Quinn Buffington and more this year — and the right personality.
“Just the goofy attitude that these guys have that we did, too, and the coaches that kind of let them have their personality instead of trying to make them baseball robots,” Spiegel said Tuesday, adding that the team is good at getting serious when the time is right.
“We do have a lot of seniors that’ve been here. They know what they can and can’t get away with. There are probably things now that they don’t even want to get away with anymore.”
There’s also one direct player comparison Spiegel pointed out right away: 2009 outfielder Michael Frankenfield and 2018 starting pitcher Josh Goodyear.
“I mean this in the nicest way,” Spiegel said laughing, stressing repeatedly he means this with good humor. “They, in practice, put forth exactly the amount of effort to not get yelled at.”
(Goodyear agreed right away and laughed when he was told Spiegel’s comment later.)
The Lions also have timely hitting during this postseason run, a key to any stretch such as this, the assistant coach said.
Spiegel has a lot of fond memories from his four varsity years where he went 20-9 on the bump; he played one year at Misericordia before his arm ran out of gas, then transferred to Penn State and graduated in 2013.
ALTOONA – When threatened, the human body turns to two natural reactions: fight or flight.
ALTOONA – Matt Boyd didn’t know what to say.
When his class entered as freshmen, they played significant innings and the team struggled. They weren’t ready, Spiegel said. Sophomore year the Lions made it to the District 3 second round before bowing out. It’s a roster he said was probably the most talented of his four years.
But then 2008 came, and the roster of about a dozen, he said, grinded through the regular season to a 12-8 mark. It was not apparent that crew would be state champs a few weeks later.
“But we had that core that was my class that was really good, so we knew we weren’t gonna be dreadful,” Spiegel said of the early 2008 expectations.
The 2008 Lions had two “weird games” like 2018’s 8-7 walk-off victory Monday: a 13-12 comeback against Christopher Dock after trailing 8-0, followed by a 2-0 win over Williams Valley — who the Lions would beat again in 2009 — when Spiegel scored on a passed ball and Camp Hill tacked an insurance run on a suicide squeeze.
“Every win the confidence [grew],” he said. “You always have to have a weird game like we had [Monday]. We had two of them each year that I played.”
Those teams were not brimming with future Division I talent, similar to this year’s squad at present, which has one D-I commit in Buffington (East Tennessee State) and Casey Fellinger going to Juniata College. There are younger players who could draw college interest down the line.
After 2009, Spiegel’s catcher Tyler Shover went to Hartford Community College, Shippensburg University and played a few years of independent league baseball in Illinois and South Dakota. Boyd went to Susquehanna University, Spiegel said, and L.K. Thompson, freshman catcher Jackson Thompson’s oldest brother, played at West Virginia and Florida International.
Another Spiegel teammate, centerfield Jordan Weber, is a volunteer assistant coach with the team this season.
Does that mean these Lions are destined to repeat 2008’s run? No, but the parallels have Spiegel excited and confident. And like his two championship seasons, it’s gotten to the point where there’s no reason Camp Hill can’t win its fourth state title.
“This point, why the hell not us? There’s no reason it can’t be us,” he said when asked if there’s one lesson to impart from his playing days. “That’s what I keep trying to tell ‘em. I can come up with a million reasons why we can do this, and I’m having a serious time coming up with any reason why we can’t.”