BY JEFF FALK
EPHRATA – It was the kind of game everyone expected.
It was the type of baseball Annville-Cleona had played all year.
Plus, it was a playoff contest.
But it ended in a way no one could’ve ever imagined. Partly because it was the type of play the Little Dutchmen simply don’t make.
On Monday night at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field, in the quarterfinals of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs, Annville-Cleona dropped a heart-breaker to Penn Manor, 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning. With one out, the Comets scored the game-winning run in walk-off fashion, thanks to a Little Dutchmen wild pitch and throwing error on the same play.
The game went to extra innings after both teams’ aces – Mitch Long for Annville-Cleona and Jeff Taylor for Penn Manor – posted goose eggs through the first seven-and-a-half frames.
Annville-Cleona, the runner-up from Section Four which had entered the tournament as winners of ten of its last 11, fell to 15-5 overall. As the third seed, the Little Dutchmen will see their next action on Monday at Lebanon Valley College’s McGill Field, in the quarterfinal round of the District Three Class AAA postseason.
The result pushed Class AAAAAA Penn Manor, the Section One champions, to 15-6 overall and into the L-L League’s semifinal, Tuesday at 4 p.m., back at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.
“Now, yeah, I wish he never would’ve thrown it,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Scott Shyda of the costly throwing error. “But you can’t play tentative. You hate for a game to end that way. But it did. There are a lot of positive things that came out of it.
“I approached this game like we had nothing to lose,” continued Shyda. “We’ve been in this position (playing bigger schools in the first round of the league playoffs) for the last few years. But when you have the pitching we have, you know you can compete. We weren’t intimidated. We didn’t play like underdogs.”
Daulton Landis opened the bottom half of the ninth inning with a single off Annville-Cleona reliever Sal ‘Sonny’ Biondollo, then an out later stole second. On a pitch in the dirt, Landis moved up to the third, and when the throw from the catcher sailed over the third baseman’s head and into left field, Landis raced home.
A strong throw from Annville-Cleona left-fielder Cameron Hoch almost nailed Landis at the plate, but he was clearly safe.
“It’s just disappointing,” said Shyda. “I can’t think of anything negative to say. I’m proud of the guys. They hung in there. Everyone kept their composure. It just didn’t work out.
“It was just good pitching,” added Shyda. “Their first pitcher (Taylor) deserves a lot of credit. We knew they were going to be tough. We knew it was going to be low scoring.”
Long and Taylor matched each other pitch for pitch, strikeout for strikeout, zero for zero. In the final tally, Penn Manor out hit Annville-Cleona 5-3.
Two of the Little Dutchmen’s hits came in the top of the sixth, when Hoch led off with a single and Ben Miller reached on a two-out safety. But Annville-Cleona’s best chance to score may have been the fourth.
In that frame, Hoch led off with a single and M. Long reached on an error. Then after Hoch made it to third on a fielder’s choice, Taylor got the next two Little Dutchmen hitters on strikes.
“We just didn’t get the bat on the ball, and we’ve been working on our two-strike approach,” said Shyda of the fourth. “I’m not surprised by either of them (Taylor or M. Long). We knew Mitch would keep us in the game. We knew the challenge would be to scratch out a run.
“If he (Taylor) had a game where he just threw his fastball, I’m confident we could hit the fastball,” Shyda added. “But he changed speeds well, and he’d throw it on any pitch. He’s tough.”
Taylor pitched eight innings, struck out 11 and didn’t issue a free pass.
“We’ve focused on the two-strike approach and getting the ball in play,” said Shyda. “But I have to be realistic too. When you have a guy like Jeff Taylor, he’s going to get his strikeouts. Our guys were battling.
“It’s not like we didn’t have an approach,” Shyda added. “Sometimes you’ve got to give the other pitcher credit. Unfortunately for us, he got them (strikeouts) when he needed them. I credit him.”
Before giving way to Biondollo, M. Long had the Comets guessing and off-balance. M. Long only retired the side in order twice, but never surrendered more than one hit in any of his seven innings of work, and two of the Penn Manor hits off him came with two outs.
“Everything was working for Mitch,” said Shyda. “He had his off-speed working well. That’s the key for him against these better teams. We threw the change-up a lot too. He’s up for big games. You can see his’s very composed. He’s tough as nails.
“If you look at all the different aspects of the game, he’s had a great season,” continued Shyda. “He hasn’t made a single error. He leads the team in stolen bases, by far. He has five home runs and he’s hitting over .500. There isn’t anything he doesn’t do well. He hasn’t done it alone, but he’s been a leader and a guy we look to.”
From his 102 pitches, M. Long struck out nine and walked two – one of which was of the intentional variety.
“I have a lot of confidence in Sal,” said Shyda of Biondollo. “He’s a sophomore, but doesn’t throw like one. I didn’t mind going to Sal.
“From here to Monday, there’s way too much positive to focus on,” added Shyda. “This will be a confidence builder.”
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2017 Annville-Cleona Baseball Results
@Lancaster County Christian
|4:15 PM||W 7-1|
|4:15 PM||W 6-0|
|4:15 PM||L 7-8|
|4:15 PM||L 2-12|
|4:15 PM||W 7-0|
|4:15 PM||W 7-2|
|4:15 PM||W 12-0|
|4:15 PM||L 1-11|
|4:15 PM||W 9-4|
|4:15 PM||W 12-0|
|4:15 PM||W 2-1|
|4:15 PM||W 4-1|
|4:15 PM||W 4-2|
|4:15 PM||W 2-1|
|4:15 PM||W 4-3|
|7:00 PM||W 3-2|
|4:15 PM||W 15-0|
|7:00 PM||L 3-8|
|4:15 PM||W 10-2|
|7:00 PM||War Memorial Field|
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