FREDERICKSBURG – Entering the spring, the Annville-Cleona baseball team had no idea where its journey would take it, or where it would end up.
Hypothetically, it could’ve gone much farther than it did. And theoretically, it could’ve ended much earlier than it did.
But realistically, it probably ended exactly where it should have.
On Monday night at Earl Wenger Memorial Field, the Little Dutchmen’s campaign concluded with a 6-3 loss to Tulpehocken, in the opening round of the District Three Class AA tournament. After taking a 2-0 opening-inning lead, Annville-Cleona surrendered six unanswered runs.
Ultimately, the outcome hinged on two turn of events. The first revolved around the Little Dutchmen’s inability to tack on additional runs during its first-inning rally, while the other resulted from A-C ace Tanner Fitting elevating a fastball to Trojan Derek Kissling in the bottom of the fourth.
The loss finished Annville-Cleona’s season at 12-10. Tulpehocken, which had defeated the Little Dutchmen 10-7 during the regular season, improved to 13-8 overall.
“I’m not ready for this season to be over,” said Annville-Cleona rookie head coach Scott Shyda. “It’s been a great season. I’m so proud of these players. I’m going to miss them. I feel so blessed to have coached them. I can’t speak highly enough of the character of these kids.
“I’m going to focus on all of the positives,” Shyda continued. “I’m not going to let the guys get down. There’s no reason to dwell on anything negative.”
“We should compete in districts,” said Fitting. “It’s a shame, but we really wanted to win this game. It’s just over. Yeah, we made the playoffs, but nothing came of it. We’re done. But I’m not going to say it was a negative season.”
The Little Dutchmen grabbed a two-run lead in the top of the first, on the strength of Braeden Elliott’s lead-off double and Mitch Rodkey’s home run to left-center field.
Thanks to a Daultyn Kline single and a hit-batsman, Annville-Cleona got two more runner on base in the frame. That the Little Dutchmen were unable to get them home would come back to haunt them later.
“Once we got those two runs in the first inning, we didn’t get anything else,” said Shyda. “Give them (the Trojans) credit. He (Tulpy starter Dan Louviaux) turned things around. You get those two other runs and then everything changes. They (the Trojans) did what they needed to do.
“They played well defensively,” added Shyda. “They made some difficult plays. He (Louviaux) mixes his pitches well. But we’ve seen good pitching, and I was confident we could hit. You can’t settle for that two early.”
“I pitched against them earlier,” said Fitting of his first start against Tulpy. “I was at the point where I threw a lot of balls. But I knew I was going to throw better. I was more confident. I knew it was going to be a different game. I knew it was going to be a new me.”
Fitting pitched well early, allowing one hit through his first three innings of work. But the senior southpaw ran into trouble in the fourth.
The first two Trojan hitters that he saw in the inning reached base, and both scored, to tie the game at two. Fitting retired the next two Tulpy batters, before Kissling turned around a fastball and took him over the left-field fence for a 4-2 Trojan lead.
“We have three guys who we would’ve been confident starting,” said Shyda. “But Tanner’s been our leader throughout the season. We wanted our number-one guy in there. Tanner went out there and did his best.
“I thought he did get tired,” Shyda added. “We were talking a couple hitters earlier about taking him out.”
“I don’t feel like I lost it,” said Fitting. “I just gave up a high pitch and he (Kissling) hit it out. And then I put Mitch (reliever Rodkey) in a tough spot. But when they hit that home run, it changed everything.”
The Trojans chased Fitting a frame later. He gave up a one-out walk and a double, before being replaced by Rodkey, who yielded the two-run single to Curtis Hershey that made it 6-2.
“I don’t think things went well,” said Shyda. “I believe we both (sides) played our best games. We felt confident coming in. I’m very disappointed for the kids. It’s just the way the game goes.”
“It sucks it’s over,” said Fitting. “I threw that fastball high, and I talked to him (Kissling) later and he said he wasn’t having a good year. I gave him a high fastball and he took me out.
“I felt good early,” Fitting continued. “I only had one strikeout, but they (the Trojans) were popping the ball up.”
After squandering lead-off singles from Cody Brightbill and Rodkey in the sixth inning, the Little Dutchmen plated their final run of the season in the top of the seventh. With two outs, Elliott brought home Adam Connor, who had tripled.
“We got those two runs early and I was feeling good about our start,” said Shyda. “Tanner pitched real well early. But they (the Trojans) didn’t back down.
“He (Louviaux) wasn’t flustered,” continued Shyda. “He’s a tough pitcher. He didn’t let those two runs get to him. He doesn’t walk a lot of guys, so we wanted to be aggressive with first-pitch fastball.”