ANNVILLE – In many ways, scholastic baseball games are much more meaningful than their major league counterparts. Partly because high school baseball schedules are less forgiving.
When a team plays 20 games instead of 162, each inning, each at-bat, each pitch is more significant, and therefore takes on added pressure.
One gets a sense that the Annville-Cleona baseball team really understands those cold hard facts all too well, especially in light of Thursday afternoon’s 10-7 home loss to Tulpehocken. After nearly rallying from a seven-run deficit, the Little Dutchmen were left with a resounding ‘what could’ve been’ feeling in the pit of their stomachs.
Down 10-3 in the bottom of the seventh, the Little Dutchmen loaded the bases with nobody out, and then reserve Taylor Prentice unloaded them with a bases-clearing double. Adam Connor followed with an RBI-single to pull his team to within three runs, before Annville-Cleona’s second, third and fourth-place hitters in the lineup were retired to end the game.
The loss was the first of the season for Annville-Cleona, as well as first-year head coach Scott Shyda. Tulpehocken improved to 2-0.
“You’re exactly right,” said Shyda. “Our coaching staff was just talking about that. We don’t have 162 games to figure things out. Some of the players we know what they can do, while others we’re not as sure. You don’t have time to pull out of slumps.
“For some, each individual at-bat is meaningful, from a kid’s standpoint,” added Shyda. “We have two or three kids who are pressing, and it’s tough to watch. They know their chances are limited.”
What put the Little Dutchmen in the position of having to play catch up was the Trojans’ six-run, third-inning rally against A-C ace Tanner Fittery. Down 3-2, hard-hitting Tulpehocken socked four safeties in the frame, but also benefited from three free passes, two wild pitches and a huge Little Dutchmen fielding blunder.
“Tanner has just been struggling with throwing strikes,” said Shyda. “That’s been his issue so far. When that comes around, he’ll be fine. He really hasn’t been hit yet.
“If we make the routine plays, they don’t score some of the runs they scored,” Shyda added. “And then at the end of the game, we’re not down three runs, but one, or it’s tied.”
It was Annville-Cleona which was opportunistic in opening a 3-0 lead in the opening frame.
With one away, Cody Brightbill, Mitch Rodkey, Nat Hughes and Fittery drew consecutive walks. Fittery was credited with an RBI, as was Daultyn Kline, via a ground out.
“Things have been going very well,” said Shyda. “I’m very pleased. I thought today would be somewhat of a measuring stick. I knew coming in that they (the Trojans) would be a good team.
“It was clear they came to hit,” Shyda added. “They had a good team, from top to bottom. But if wasn’t for the walks and errors, we were right there with them.”
Fittery first ran into difficulties in the Tulpehocken second, when he walked the first two batters he faced. The Trojans scored twice – on an RBI-single and a throwing error – to pull within a run of Annville-Cleona’s lead.
“We were right in it at the end, because the guys who made out were our two, three and four hitters,” said Shyda. “Those are the guys we want up there in that situation. I was definitely pleased with the energy we had at the end. That’s been one of our strengths so far. And I expect that to continue.
“I’m pleased with the effort,” continued Shyda. “I don’t think effort is the issue. But with the walks and errors, we’re giving away too much. We’re also looking for that key hit at the key time.”
Before Thursday, the Little Dutchmen had surrendered a total of one run in its two wins. Annville-Cleona is coming off a 2012 campaign in which it went 7-13.
“We are hoping to be competitive,” said Shyda. “But we have our eyes on districts. I don’t think that’s an unrealistic goal.
“This might sound simple, but we just need to play the way we can play,” Shyda continued. “We have to stop giving away runs. Our pitchers haven’t been hit that hard. I think we’ll be fine. The effort and energy are there. It’s just a matter of us putting it together.”
During the off-season, Shyda took over for retired head coach Mike Capriotti, for whom he had assisted for decades.
“I’m absolutely loving it,” said Shyda. “I love the group of kids we have. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I can’t think of a negative.”
A smoother transition would be hard to imagine.