The Rockets are undefeated in division play after beating Dallastown on Tuesday
Spring Grove isn't taking anybody by surprise this season.
A year after they surprisingly won Division I and reached the state playoffs with just one senior on the roster, the Rockets entered 2016 with big expectations. And so far, the Rockets have done a good job of living up to them.
Taking on Dallastown in a battle for first place in the division on Tuesday, the Rockets jumped out to an early lead on their way to a 5-2 win. Senior ace pitcher Matt Brooks tossed a complete game and allowed six hits and four walks while striking out five against the Wildcats.
While the win came against one of the top teams in the league and helped the Rockets (5-2, 5-0 YAIAA Division I) remain undefeated in division play, Spring Grove head coach Kevin Stiffler said he stressed to the players the importance of remaining focused.
"We try to go into every game expecting to win but also trying to not take things for granted," Stiffler said. "We don't want to get too high or too low. We talk about staying focused and keeping things in-house, but at the same time, they're still kids."
Stiffler said the biggest adjustment for his players has been changing its mentality to accept that it's not sneaking up on teams anymore. Although the Rockets have embraced the attention that comes with being defending division champs, they're aware that accomplishing the feat again won't be easy.
With Dallastown and Red Lion both off to strong starts this season, Spring Grove has plenty of competition. Still, the Rockets have looked like the class of the YAIAA so far, and with eight returning starters remain very formidable.
"We talk about controlling the things we can control," Stiffler said. "We overachieved last year, and the kids look in the paper and they hear some of the things being said about us having big expectations. So we have a target on our backs now. But Division I is really good and a lot of teams have a lot of really good kids back this year."
But while every team in Division I has talented players, Spring Grove has arguably the division's top pitcher in senior Matt Brooks. After the leading the Rockets to the District 3 Class AAA finals last season, Brooks has picked up where he left off and gave "an ace performance" against Dallastown on Tuesday, according to Stiffler.
Brooks has also embraced being a leader and has encouraged his teammates to remain hungry and focused. According to Brooks, the Rockets lopsided 18-3 loss to Cumberland Valley on April 8 has kept them from getting complacent.
"They humbled us, and it's important that we stay humbled and try to stay focused," Brooks said. "We've got to keep our heads in the same spot. We need to go into Thursday (against South Western) with the same mindset."
Despite its loss on Tuesday, Dallastown is moving forward with a similar mindset to Spring Grove. First-year head coach Greg Kinneman said it's good for his team to get tested early on, since the Wildcats will have to get used to facing top competition.
"We want to play good teams every night and we've got a lot more of them," Kinneman said. "We don't get anything out of blowing out teams 11-1. This is a big week for us. We've got Red Lion (on Thursday) and we've got to bounce back."