ANNVILLE – If one team beats another time after time, again and again, does that team start believing it’s just better than the other?
Or think of it this way: Annville is a really, very good American Legion baseball team. But if Annville can’t beat Myerstown, what does that say about Myerstown?
Less and less the Lebanon County American Legion best-of-five Warren ‘Lefty’ Grumbine championship series is about deciding which is the circuit’s best team. And more and more it’s becoming about Myerstown’s dominance and its team’s place in league history – and whether or not Annville can uncover any sort of chink in its armor.
On Sunday afternoon at Annville-Cleona High School, bigger, stronger and more athletic Myerstown seized total control of the final series with a dominant and demoralizing 6-1 Game Two triumph over Annville. Myerstown scored five times over its first two at-bats, and then placed its fate in the very capable hands of righthander Conor Bawiec.
Myerstown’s win was its fifth straight over Annville and its 16th consecutive overall. One victory away from its first crown in 30 years, Myerstown will carry a 2-0 series lead into Monday’s Game Three, at 5:45 p.m. at the Myerstown Legion field.
Myerstown is now 18-1 overall, while Annville slipped to 12-7.
“The past two games we’ve been the better team,” said Myerstown head coach Johnny Mentzer. “It’s going to be anyone’s game tomorrow. They (Annville) can come out and beat us four straight. We’ve got to win each inning. If we do, we can win one of the last three games. I feel comfortable that we can do that.
“You look at our dugout and we have age, we have experience,” continued Mentzer. “We have 11 18-year-olds, and some turning 19. We have the maturity. We were 10-5 last year. Going into the season, we were confident. We have some studs. We have some horses.”
“I guess maybe some kids do (have doubts about beating Myerstown),” said Annville head coach Steve Hostetter. “But if they do, I don’t see it. We’re not intimidated or scared of them. We’ve hung with them. I don’t feel that way. They’re (Myerstown) human as well. But I’m natured that way. I always look for the good signs.
“I’m not taking anything away from them (Myerstown),” Hostetter continued. “Their record speaks for itself. I always think there’s a possibility. That’s the way I’m looking at it right now. Whether or not it will happen, I don’t know. It could weigh on kids psychologically. But I don’t see it.”
Perhaps still riding high from an emotional win the day before, Myerstown wasted little time getting after Annville starter Jordan Gohn. M-town lead-off hitter Bawiec was hit by a pitch in the top of the first inning and promptly stole second.
Then after two outs were recorded, Kyle Bogdonovich laced a single to center that scored Bawiec. A second Myerstown run came around, courtesy of an Annville error.
Myerstown’s next three hitters – Austin Douple, Bawiec and Jake Stager – drove home runs with hits, to make it a 5-1 count.
“I think the continuity of playing every day is important,” said Mentzer. “This is the first time we played consecutive games, and got into the swing of things, since the end of the regular season. We finally hit the ball like we can. This is the Myerstown team I know.
“This was a whole different game than yesterday,” added Mentzer. “But five runs in the first two innings really helped. That’s key.”
“We gave them two runs in the first inning,” said Hostetter. “I don’t think Jordan (Gohn) threw bad, but they (Myerstown) hit today. We might have our backs against the wall, but we’re not dead yet.
“I don’t want to blame it on yesterday,” Hostetter added. “I thought in the first inning we came out with intensity. But we can’t score. We can’t get the key hit. It’s pretty much the same thing, over and over. Some of the kids are really struggling with the bat. We’re just not able to string hits together. And when we do, we can’t get key hits to drive them in.”
Bawiec, who has started in three of Myerstown’s five wins over Annville this season, was on his game all afternoon, and down right dominant after the first inning. Bawiec was touched for Mitch Rodkey’s solo homer leading off the bottom of the first, and then worked out of a bases-loaded -one-out predicament later in the frame.
But after that the hard-throwing Bawiec surrendered just two hits the rest of the way, while striking out six and walking two. He also wiggled his way out of a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the fifth, but retired the last seven Annville batters he saw.
Bawiec helped Myerstown reach last season’s championship series, but was not available against eventual champion Campbelltown.
“He makes a big difference,” said Mentzer. “If we have Conor in the finals last year, it’s a different series. He definitely makes a difference. He’s a stud. He’s our ace. I changed my mind about who was going to pitch today at two o’clock in the morning. I told Jake (Stager) I was going to push him back to Game Three. Then I told Conor, and he was like, ‘Yeah, give me the ball’.
“I thought he struggled a little with the mound in the first inning,” continued Mentzer. “He was a little up in the zone. Conor generates some power, and Rodkey just got his bat on the ball and turned it around. He settled in there, but I thought he was getting pinched a little bit. He wasn’t getting corners like we’d like him to.”
“There’s no doubt that Conor is the best pitcher in the league,” said Hostetter. “But of the three games we saw him, today he didn’t have the velocity like the other two. I thought he was vulnerable. But the credit to them, and they hit the ball today.
“We were still popping up and hitting the ball in the air,” added Hostetter. “I hate that. To me, it’s an automatic out. I preach hitting down on the ball. If you hit the ball in the air at this level, 99.9 percent of the time it’s going to be an out.”
Myerstown upped its advantage to five runs in the top of the fifth. With two outs, Wierbach’s double knocked in Horst, who had doubled.
“It definitely motivated us,” said Mentzer of his club’s 1- triumph in Saturday’s Game One. “We need to wake up. They’re (Annville) going to play you tough. If you don’t hit the ball, it’s going to be tough.
“If Steve (Hostetter) doesn’t throw Rodkey (in Game Three), I’ll be very, very surprised,” Mentzer continued. “We’re going to come out and play our game. If we hit, we’re going to be fine.”
“There’s no reason we can’t win one game at a time, three days in-a-row,” said Hostetter. “As long as we’re alive, we still have a chance. We put ourselves in a hole, but there’s no reason we can’t come back.
“Hitting’s the big thing,” Hostetter continued. “That’s what’s killing us right now. But we can’t hit the ball, score runs and not play good defense. We have to play a complete game. We have to do that against them.”
Lebanon County American Legion League