BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – It promised to be an intriguing and interesting Warren ‘Lefty’ Grumbine Championship Tournament. And to this point, just two days into it, the Lebanon County American Legion baseball playoffs haven’t disappointed.
On Thursday night at Palmyra High School, Fredericksburg did its part to add mystery to the event by knocking off defending champion and top-seeded Campbelltown 10-6. After jumping out to an early 5-0 lead, fourth-seeded Fredericksburg countered every come back attempt from the regular-season title holders.
The win pushed F-burg to 11-7 on the season and into Saturday’s undefeated game. Campbelltown, which defeated Fredericksburg two of three times during the regular year, fell to 10-7 and will play host to Richland tonight at 5:45 p.m. in an attempt to keep its season going.
“I wouldn’t call it an upset,” said Fredericksburg head coach Jim McKinney. “I’d call it a very good win for us. This (Campbelltown) is a very good team. I don’t know if I’d consider it an upset because all the teams are so close.”
“All year you expected this team to beat that team and it didn’t happen,” said Cambelltown skipper Tim Morgan. “It’s wide open. We’re just not playing well at the right time. The positive thing is that the JV players for our high school team are getting experience. It’s going to make them better.”
Fredericksburg’s early 5-0 advantage was keyed by a pair of seeing-eye, two-run singles off the bat of clean-up hitter Alex Peffley – one in the first inning and the other as part of a three-run third.
“Right now, we’re seeing the ball well,” said McKinney, whose team put up 11 runs a night earlier in a win over Fifth Ward. “The kids are playing well. We’re doing things we didn’t do at the beginning of the season. The key was pretty good defense with good pitching and timely hitting.”
“We had our chance to win,” said Morgan, whose club has dropped five of its last eight. “You don’t like saying negative things, but falling in a 5-0 hole, it makes it tough.
“We pitched terrible,” Morgan continued. “We were behind in the count.Last time out, (starter Tyler) Morder pitched a gem. He obviously didn’t have it. They’re young. They’re going to learn.”
Campbelltown got back into it on the strength of Morder’s bases-clearing double in the fourth that made it 5-3. But Fredericksburg responded in its very next at-bat, plating a pair on RBIs from Jordan Seltzer and Tye Gardner.
“To us, that’s the most important thing, winning the County title,” said McKinney, whose program will host the Region Four tournament beginning on July 16. “It’s a whole different respect thing. We tell the kids not to think about regionals, that we’ve got to earn it to get in.”
“That didn’t mean a thing,” said Morgan of his team’s first-round bye and top seeding. “You read about big powerful Campbelltown. But this has been our worst year getting kids here. ‘Going to work’ is killing me. It’s no fun to coach when you have to raise hands to find out who’s going to be here.”
Campbelltown made it 7-6 in the bottom of the fifth inning when Colby Conway blasted a two-run ding-dong over the rightfield fence and Mark Fuhrman laced a ringing RBI-triple. But that was as close as it would get, as Fredericksburg put the affair to bed in the top of the seventh, thanks to winning pitcher Lucas Gienow’s two-run single and an RBI-safety off the bat of Seltzer.
“It’s (F-burg’s seventh) huge, absolutely huge,” said McKinney. “Too many times all year we rested on our laurels. Tonight we didn’t.
“Clutch hitting, that’s the big thing,” McKinney added. “It tells you everything. We came through when we needed to.”
“We battled back tonight with what we had,” said Morgan. “If you get in front, good things will happen. We brought it back, but didn’t have someone who could get ahead in the count. My 7-6 hole went to 10-6 and that was a tough pill to swallow.”
In going the distance, Gienow allowed only fivej hits and surrendered runs in only two Campbelltown at-bats. Fredericksburg collected 13 hits, including three by Evan Berkheiser and two apiece from John McKinney, Seltzer and Justin Eisenhauer.
“Gienow, his pitching was spot on,” said McKinney. “He had very few waste pitches. If you can keep the umpire’s eyes in that zone, you’re going to get the calls. Him staying in the swing zone is a huge key for him.
“The key for us right now is just maintaining what we’re doing,” McKinney added. “Maintaining a good enthusiasm and keeping a good attitude.”
“He (Gienow) was ahead,” said Morgan. “He got in a little bit of trouble. But he threw strikes.
“It’s tough to lose when you’ve won it,” added Morgan. “Im not throwing in the towel. But this year it’s going to be tough to repeat. We’ve got to do what we can do with what we’ve got.”