ANNVILLE – Taylor Prentice is no one’s ‘designated fielder’. Just because he didn’t hit, doesn’t mean he can’t.
On Wednesday night at Annville-Cleona High School, Prentice did hit – in the clutch- and led the Annville American Legion baseball team to a thrilling 8-7 walk-off triumph over Fredericksburg. Prentice’s one-out, sharp grounder up the middle scored Caleb Setlock from second and capped Annville’s three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The thrown ball from centerfield appeared to beat runner Setlock to the plate, but the Fredericksburg catcher could not hold it. The same was the case a batter before, when a fielder’s choice to the shortstop appeared to arrive at the plate ahead of Annville’s Robbie Beidler, but it couldn’t be controlled by the F-burg catcher.
It was Beidler’s double to right-center field that proved to be the key hit of the rally, as it put Annville runners on second and third with nobody down. Hunter Long followed Beidler with the RBI-single that made it 7-6.
“Robbie’s hit was big,” said Annville head coach Steve Hostetter of Beidler. “He ripped a double into right-centerfield. That put the two tying runs at second and third with no outs. Of course Taylor’s hit was big. He hasn’t gotten to hit a lot this year. He’s been struggling a little bit at the plate. Sometimes all a kid needs is a chance.
“The big one was Hunter Long’s hit,” continued Hostetter. “He hit the ball in the hole, but he fouled off how many pitches before that? They’re (Annville) a smart team. I’ve got kids up and down the lineup who are baseball savvy. They have a feel for the game. You don’t have to say a whole lot to them. When they make a mistake, they know it. Mistakes are going to happen.”
“We lost in the bottom of the seventh inning. What do you think?,” said an upset Fredericksburg manager Jim McKinney. “Of course it hurt. We just didn’t get it done. They (Annville) earned this. They hit their way through.
“They’re (Annville) a pretty good team,” added McKinney. “Good enough to beat us.”
Prentice, who enjoyed a spectacular defensive spring for the Annville-Cleona high school team but rarely batted, made up for an earlier rare error in the field with his final at-bat. And because he did, Annville stayed hot and Fredericksburg stayed cold.
“I do know this much: this team doesn’t get real low and it doesn’t get real high,” said Hostetter of his troops. “They could’ve hung their heads when they got down 7-2. In the seventh, we went at the ball. We hit the ball hard there in the seventh inning. Both defenses gave up some runs tonight. It wasn’t a real clean game. But there was more hitting.”
“Wins are important, yes,” said McKinney. “But tonight we played much better. We’re slowly improving. They (Annville) got some timely hits.
“He’s (catcher Chase Dubendorf) trying to make a play,” McKinney added. “He’s trying to be aggressive because he knows it’s the winning run. One of the things I try to emphasize to the guys is: ‘Be smart, but be aggressive.’ We make that play and he’s (Setlock) out.”
After falling behind by as many as five runs in the fourth inning, Annville began chipping away at its deficit.
In the bottom of the fourth, Annville used an H. Long RBI-single to turn an F-burg error into the run which pulled it to within 7-3. Then in the fifth, Annville loaded the bases on singles by Braden Elliott and Justin Ulrich and a hit-by-pitch from Colton Long, ahead of Beidler’s two-run double.
Fredericksburg 7-5, after five innings.
“I thought he threw a lot of pitches,” said Hostetter of Fredericksburg starter Zane Merkel. “On a hot night, it wears you down. It can take its toll on you. I thought we were a little undisciplined with some at-bats. I thought we could’ve made him throw more pitches by being more patient at the plate. But I didn’t want to take the bats out of our hands.”
“We were doing a pitch count on him,” said McKinney, who lifted Merkel in favor of Brett Minnich for Setlock’s at-bat in the seventh. “He was feeling good.I think he was right around 105 pitches. We wanted to keep him around a hundred pitches.”
“I thought we got a little lax, and that was the key to the game,” continued McKinney. “It didn’t look like the second kid (Annville reliever Justin Ulrich) had anything more. He was a decent pitcher. We just stopped hitting.”
Fredericksburg wasted little time getting to Annville starter Colton Long, touching him for three runs in the top of the first inning. Minnich stroked an RBI-single and Wyatt Beakler’s single with the bases loaded scored a pair of mates.
Annville got two of those runs back in the home half of the first. Ulrich picked up an RBI on a grounder, while C.Long, who had doubled, scored on an F-burg error.
“Colton had shut them out back there (in Fredericksburg),” said Hostetter of the teams’ prior meeting. “He just didn’t quite have it. They (Fredericksburg) hit the ball great compared to the first time we played them.
“I was really surprised with how they (F-burg) swung the bats, especially in the first few innings,” Hostetter continued. “Justin (Ulrich) came in and gave up one run, but after that he really shut the door. He’s our number-five pitcher. If I can insert a guy like that to hold a team down, that’s great.”
“They did fine,” said McKinney of C. Long and Ulrich. “They kept it in the strike zone. We stopped scoring runs. That’s where we failed. We let down a little bit when it was 7-2. We can’t do that. We’ve got to keep scoring.”
Fredericksburg made it a 5-2 game in the top of the second inning, thanks to Nick ‘Speedy’ Gonzalez scoring on a wild pitch and Darrin Shirk racing home on Minnich’s sacrifice fly. Gonzalez had the RBI-single in the third that pushed F-burg’s advantage to 6-2, and Dave Gerth knocked in Minnich with Post 915’s seventh run, in the fourth.
“When a team is 1-4 and lost a couple of key kids, it’s tough to rebound,” said Hostetter. “But they came out and battled us tooth and nail. We could’ve lost it just as easily as won it. It was a big win for us because of the way it happened.”
“I wanted them to stay aggressive at the plate,” said McKinney of his hitters. “But I want them to swing at good pitches. I don’t want them to swing at bad pitches. One of my pet peeves is to never let the third strike go by. We slowly, hopefully, are getting better at that. We’re sort of this project in progress. We’ve got good talent. We’ve just got to work at it.”