BY JEFF FALK
PARADISE – In a section that is otherwise easy, the Annville-Cleona and Pequea Valley softball teams kind of keep each other honest. Not only does the Annville-Cleona/Pequea Valley rivalry make the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Four championship meaningful, it makes it relevant.
On Tuesday evening at Paradise Community Park, the Little Dutchmen and Braves engaged each other in another classic. But it was a little more classic for Pequea Valley.
The Little Dutchmen coughed up a late 2-0 advantage, and fell to the Braves 3-2 in nine innings. Sabrina Ryan’s single to right-field, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, scored teammate Aleesha Feister with the winning run.
With two regular-season contests remaining, the result created a tie atop the Section Four standings between Annville-Cleona and Pequea Valley, and set up the possibility of a third meeting between the rivals. The Little Dutchmen, who currently ranked fourth in the District Three Class AA power rankings, are now 13-5 overall and 10-4 in the section, while the Braves, the fifth standing club in the Class AA power rankings, moved to 12-4 and 10-4.
If Annville-Cleona and Pequea Valley were to finish in a first-place tie, a special playoff for the crown would be conducted, probably on Friday. It was the defending champion Little Dutchmen who walked off with a 5-4 win in the teams’ first meeting this season, on April 11th in Annville.
“It was just a typical Annville-Cleona/Pequea Valley game,” said Little Dutchmen skipper Dave Bentz. “It’s been like that for the last four or five years. It’s just the way it is. We gave them some opportunities and they took advantage of them. They gave us some opportunities, and we didn’t.
“I think the section means a little more to the girls,” Bentz added. “But I don’t place all my cards in districts. I care about this too, especially when it’s against these guys (the Braves). You want to beat your nemesis. And if there’s hardware involved it makes it more important. I don’t want to just mail it in and say, ‘Well, just take it, please’.”
Ryan, who fanned 19 Annville-Cleona batters from the mound, worked out of a bases-loaded-one-out predicament in the top of the eighth inning, after her Braves had forced extra frames with a two-run rally in the bottom of the sixth. The Little Dutchmen juiced the bases on singles from Lauren Schrader, Cayla Gassert and Morgan Zimmerman.
With A-C up 2-0, Pequea Valley had broken through with a pair of runs off of Annville-Cleona starter Emma Lerchen in the sixth. The Braves loaded the bases, then with two outs, Olivia Weaver was hit by a Lerchen offering and Sophia Weaver reached on a bang-bang, infield single to shortstop.
“Without a doubt, it would’ve been nice to take care of business tonight,” said Bentz. “We had them in the sixth inning. We got a bad hop at second base. We should’ve taken an out at first. For some reason, the 17-inch plate got to ten inches in that inning. Some of those pitches sure looked like they were good (strikes).
“She (Ryan) dropped one into right field (in the bottom of the ninth),” added Bentz. “It was a dinker. But I don’t worry about her hitting. We have to lay off her riser.”
The Little Dutchmen grabbed a 1-0 edge in the top of the third inning, after two outs had been recorded. Gassert singled, before Zimmerman laced a triple to right.
“We’ll see,” said Bentz. “We still have two games to go (in the regular season). After a game like this, what kind of a mindset will we have? I don’t know.
“It’s (a possible playoff) got to be Friday,” continued Bentz. “The start of the league playoffs is Saturday. First-place games have got to be decided on the field. There’s no flipping coins.”
Annville-Cleona doubled its lead in the top of the fifth. Schrader rocked a one-out triple, and Michaela Singer followed with a long sacrifice fly to left.
“Well, we could’ve done better,” said Bentz of his club’s defense. “We’re not going to make every play. But we did what we had to do.
“I think we’re getting smarter,” Bentz continued. “We’re playing smarter. It’s sinking in. I think we are getting better. The progress is good. Sometimes I think I want to win more than they (his players do). That’s just how I am. But I’m happy with where we are. I always have a great bunch of kids.”
Like Ryan, Lerchen also went the distance. Lerchen struck out eight, walked one and yielded nine hits.
Lerchen retired the Braves in order in the first, second and fifth frames. And she worked out of trouble in the fourth and seventh innings.
Annville-Cleona touched Ryan for seven safeties.
“Emma battled,” said Bentz. “I can’t ask for anything more than what she’s doing. It is what it is.
“It was pretty much a typical Emma outing,” continued Bentz. “I can think of one game where she didn’t have good stuff or good location. She’s been a rock. When you give her the ball, you know you’re going to get a well-pitched game.”
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Section Four Standings
PIAA District Three
Class AA Power Rankings