ANNVILLE – The Annville-Cleona softball team didn’t win the section yesterday. What the Little Dutchmen did was prevent themselves from losing it.
Annville-Cleona’s dream of a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Four championship is still alive, following Wednesday’s 6-5, come-from-behind triumph over Columbia. After the Crimson Tide had literally knocked Little Dutchmen starter Chrisi Lerchen out of the game in taking a 5-2 lead, Annville-Cleona rallied for four runs in its very next at-bat.
Lerchen’s relief and sister, freshman Emma Lerchen pitched proficiently in her place. After loading the bases with two safeties and an intentional walk in the top of the seventh, E. Lerchen induced a line-drive out to the shortstop to end the game.
The outcome kept the Little Dutchmen, now 10-6 overall and 9-5 in the league, on the heels of and one game behind first-place Pequea Valley. It also kept the Little Dutchmen’s Thursday showdown with the Braves – 4:15 p.m. at Annville-Cleona High School – intact.
In addition, the triumph pretty much sewed up Annville-Cleona’s seemingly annual spot in the upcoming District Three Class AA tournament.
“Don’t look at the EKG, because my heart may have skipped a beat,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz. “I guess you could paraphrase it by saying this was an ugly win or we found a way to win. Or that we were looking ahead to tomorrow.
“We as a coaching staff talked about this yesterday,” Bentz continued. “I base the year on two seasons – the regular season and the postseason. But this year we went to three seasons. The first one ended this weekend. The second one began today, and we have to win all four (remaining) games. And the third is the postseason.”
“We battled back,” said Little Dutchmen junior catcher Haley Hirn. “We knew we had to win this game, we needed it. We just kept our heads when they went up.”
Yesterday’s Crimson Tide club was a far cry from the one Annville-Cleona took apart 14-3 in Columbia last month. The Crimson Tide enjoyed four separate leads – 1-0 in the first, 2-1 in the third, 3-2 in the fourth and 5-2 in the fifth.
The Little Dutchmen’s decisive rally in the top of the fifth was started by Anique Varela’s lead-off single and was kept going by two Columbia errors. Before scoring herself, Hirn drove home the run that made it 5-3.
But the big blows were struck by Christy Snyder and freshman Hannah Fischer, whose RBIs tied it and gave A-C the lead, respectively. Both came with two away.
“Without a doubt, that was big,” said Bentz of his club’s fifth at-bat. “That’s when I lit a charge into them (his players) and they started hitting the ball. We knew Columbia might have some problems fielding. But to their (his players’) credit, they put the ball in play, and they made the plays.
“I’m hoping they (his players) were looking ahead,” added Bentz. “I told them the Columbia pitcher is going to throw strikes. And I told them they have to be aggressive with two strikes. And sometimes they were too aggressive.”
“It was very important,” said Hirn of her team’s fifth-inning rally. “If we didn’t do that, we’d still be playing right now.
“Coach (Bentz) has been saying that you can’t teach a leader how to lead,” continued Hirn. “You can’t go to leading classes. But you’ve got to step up for your teammates. It’s (leading) definitely hard. Some people have stepped up, and there can be more than one leader on the team.”
Already up a run, Columbia got A-C starter C. Lerchen out of the game with a line drive off her leg in the top of the fifth. C. Lerchen was replaced by lil’ sis’ E. Lerchen, who promptly yielded the two-run triple that made it 5-2.
But E. Lerchen seemed to settle in after that, and an inning later C. Lerchen was medically cleared and returned to play right field.
“She did settle down,” said Bentz of Emma Lerchen. “She’s a freshman. She’s going to be in those situations the next three years. She’s going to learn from this. She’s going to grow from this.
“They’re (the Lerchens) both around the plate, which is a good thing,” Bentz added. “When she wants, Emma can throw harder than Chrisi. But Chrisi has more pitches. She had a better change-up and she can hit corners. Next year, that might be a ticket, to pitch Emma more. It would be nice to alternate two pitchers.”
“It definitely changed things a lot because we had to move our infield around,” said Hirn of the injury to C. Lerchen. “With Emma coming in, she’s certainly a different pitcher than Chrisi. But we were all hoping Chrisi would come back into the game.
“Emma throws her drops and change-ups different than Chrisi,” added Hirn. “They’re the same pitches, but they throw them differently. They’re sisters, but they pitch totally opposite.”
Annville-Cleona answered Columbia’s first-inning run with Varela’s lead-off triple and Hirn’s run-scoring single up the middle, in its half of the opening frame.
“Everybody says we’re young,” said Bentz. “And I understand that. But through all the repetition in practice, that youngness needs to wear off. I think when it does, we’ll be tough.
“Give Columbia credit,” Bentz continued. “They came to play. No one’s going to hand us anything.”
“When I ask him (Bentz) for his advice, he definitely helps,” said Hirn of her most important chore – calling pitches. “It’s difficult. You have to know hitters. You have to know your pitchers. Chrisi has a large assortment of pitches, and Emma has a large assortment of pitches.”
The Little Dutchmen employed a little two-out magic to tied the game at two in the bottom of the third. Hirn singled with two away, and Darian Brenner brought her home with a double.
“That did qualify us for districts,” said Bentz of the victory. “Everybody bases seasons on different things. I don’t set any goals besides getting to districts. Nobody gives us a chance in the league playoffs. ‘We’ll just throw them in there.’ But the girls like it. I like districts, where we’re playing teams of the same size.”
“We’re struggling a little bit with our hitting, sometimes with our infield, sometimes with our pitching,” said Hirn. “But we’ve been coming through pretty well. We’ve just got to focus on these remaining games.”