BY JEFF FALK
MILLERSVILLE – One of its least inspired efforts, on the heels of perhaps its most important win of the year.
Unfortunately for the Annville-Cleona softball team, all playing like a champion in the semifinal gets you is a hearty pat on the back and some silver medal.
Apparently still feeling the effects of an emtional victory over defending champ Brandywine Heights from a day prior, the Little Dutchmen laid an egg in Thursday afternoon’s District Three Class AA championship game. Annville-Cleona surrendered a pair of early runs, never really got the bats off its shoulder and was shut out by Kutztown 5-0 at Millersville University.
The patience-testing trip to Millersville was Annville-Cleona’s third in as many days. Because of rain and severe weather, it had taken the Little Dutchmen two days to defeat once-beaten Brandywine Heights 6-3 in the District Three Class AA semifinals.
Making its second straight appearance in the championship game, Annville-Cleona was looking to tie Kutztown, Brandywine Heights and Upper Dauphin with its sixth District Three Class AA title. The Little Dutchmen last won the District Three championship in 2006.
But as it stands, Annville-Cleona will open play in the PIAA Class AA tournament as District Three’s 16-6 runner-up, on Monday versus the District Four champion, at a site and time yet to be announced. Kutztown, which entered the postseason as Class AA’s third-seed, improved to 19-5 overall.
“We didn’t come to play,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz. “We played our game yesterday, or the last two days. Or maybe it was three trips in-a-row.
“If you’re not ready to play a district championship game, something’s wrong,” Bentz added. “This is a district championship game.”
“We didn’t play,” said senior shortstop Casey Ditzler, the Little Dutchmen’s leader on the field. “Maybe it was because of the Brandywine game, maybe not. It seemed like our team as a whole came out and didn’t want it.
“You can (look at it like the runner-up in the district isn’t all that shabby),” added Ditzler. “But I don’t think we’re thinking that right now. We’re disappointed in ourselves.”
A shaky opening inning set the mood for the rest of Annville-Cleona’s afternoon. While it all started with a walk, three straight Kutztown bunts did the damage – two of which weren’t defended flawlessly by the Little Dutchmen.
Tessa Dorr’s suicide squeeze with no outs plated K-town’s first run, while an enusing wild pitch made it 2-0.
“That’s their (Kutztown’s) moniker,” said Bentz. “They’re small ball. They bunt, bunt and bunt. Besides that, they’re a very ordinary team. But they’re carrying the gold and we’re carrying the silver.
“I wasn’t pleased with the way we defended their bunts,” added Bentz. “But after that, we went goose egg. I told the girls, ‘We’ve got to get some runs and we’ll be fine.’ We put pressure on ourselves. You’ve got to play seven innings.”
“We needed to step our games up and we needed to play tough defense,” said Ditzler. “It (the first inning) showed we weren’t ready to play.”
Offensively, Annville-Cleona did not record a base hit after Crystal Miller stroked a two-out single in the fourth. In all the Little Dutchmen managed just three hits, two of which came in the third inning.
Those came off the bats of Ditzler and Kaylynn McKinney, and on the heels of a Kutztown error. They also came after two outs had been recorded, and Haley Hirn’s screaming out to shortstop ended A-C’s biggest threat of the contest.
“We had plenty of opportunities,” said Bentz. “But we didn’t capitalize, we let them slip away. And then we started pointing fingers a little bit. I’ll get to the bottom of that before we get on the bus.
“I thought their first kid (Jody Weaknecht) threw hard,” Bentz continued. “Their second kid (Megan Donat) was very ordinary, and we didn’t make good swings. You should be ready when you get to this level.”
“Their first pitcher had a lot of speed,” said Ditzler. “And the second pitcher threw strikes. We didn’t hit her. You’ve got to give her credit.”
The desired result for the Little Dutchmen pretty much went out the window with Kutztown’s three-run, bottom of the sixth. Annville-Cleona committed two errors in the frame, but also gave up three hits.
And K-town scored all three of its runs with two outs.
“I thought she threw fine,” said Bentz of sophomore starter Chrisi Lerchen, who surrendered five hits, struck out five and walked two. “She struggled a little bit at the beginning. Three trips to Millersville in-a-row, maybe that was the problem.”
Apparently the Little Dutchmen have some re-grouping to do.
“I’m very proud of these kids to get to this point of the season,” said Bentz. “We came into this game last year and lost, and we had a bad taste in our mouths. I was hoping we’d spit it out.
“Now it’s one-and-done again,” Bentz continued. “We’ll see which team shows up to play on Monday. I just hope the best Annville-Cleona team shows up.”
“We wanted to win it all,” said Ditzler. “We knew we had the talent to do it. We wanted to go a little farther in states (than they did last season), and we can still do that.
“Our heads are down,” concluded Ditzler. “It’s devastating to lose. I think it would be a different set of circumstances if we knew we played our best game.”