BY JEFF FALK
KINZERS – The success of the Annville-Cleona softball season can be debated from here to the edge of eternity. But any and all discussions about it must include Pequea Valley.
On Thursday evening at Pequea Valley High School, during the quarterfinal round of the District Three Class AA tournament, the Little Dutchmen had their spring short-circuited by their rival, nemesis and arch-enemy Braves, 2-0. In their third meeting of the year with Pequea Valley – actually it probably should’ve been their fourth – the Little Dutchmen just couldn’t generate anything offensively against Brave right-hander Sabrina Ryan.
The loss ended the Little Dutchmen’s season at 15-7, and included in that was a 1-2 slate against Pequea Valley. Annville-Cleona defeated the Braves 5-4 in Annville on April 11, but was then beaten by Pequea Valley 3-2 in nine innings on May 10 in Paradise.
The fifth-seeded Little Dutchmen and fourth-seeded Braaves were named co-champions of Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, after they finished the regular season in a tie for first-place and a one-game playoff could not be conducted because of weather.
With yesterday’s win, Pequea Valley improved to 15-6 and advanced to Tuesday’s semifinal round of the District Three Class AA postseason.
“Every time I coach these girls it’s a success,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz. “We had one losing season in my tenure, and that was a success because I got to coach the girls. Without a doubt they (the Braves) played a role in it. But I would trade a co-section championship to win this game.
“It’s basically like looking in a mirror,” continued Bentz. “The games are always close. We’re very similar. That’s a good bunch of kids (his girls) there. That’s a good team. I don’t know if they know how good they are. I guess we couldn’t get it out of them this year.”
Annville-Cleona experienced difficulties at the plate against Ryan, a smart, hard-throwing senior. The first batter of the game, Little Dutchmen shortstop Morgan Zimmerman led off with a single down the third-base line, but Ryan sat down the next 19 A-C hitters she faced.
The streak was broken with one out in the top of the seventh inning when a ball hit by Annville-Cleona’s Amber Rexrode was misplayed by the Pequea Valley right-fielder. An out later, Sarah Fischer registered the only other hit surrendered by Ryan, a sharp single to left field, but Ryan ended the game with her 12th and final strikeout.
In the three games versus Pequea Valley this season, the Little Dutchmen struck out over 30 times against Ryan.
“On the first pitch (in counts), we wanted to swing at it, and we didn’t do it,” said Bentz of Ryan. “She knows our mindset, and then she works upstairs. We’ve got to put runs on the board. The key against her is to put the ball in play. If we do, their (the Braves’) outfield is weak. They’re fairly strong in the infield. We had a lot of strikeouts. I don’t want to know how many strikeouts we had.
“We’ve been working on cutting down on our swings, and putting the ball in play,” Bentz continued. “That (Zimmerman’s lead-off single in the first) was the only rally we had into the seventh. You’ve got to play the game. I thought Emma (Lerchen) pitched well enough to win.”
Lerchen was her steady, consistent, competitive self. The senior hurler surrendered six hits, didn’t strike out a batter and issued two free passes.
“She might have pitched one game when she didn’t pitch well,” said Bentz of Lerchen. “She kept us in games, and when we didn’t win, we either didn’t hit or didn’t make the plays. She has given me everything I have asked of her.
“There’s such a great bunch of kids coming back,” Bentz added.
In the face of Lerchen’s performance, the difference in the outcome may have been two Kaitlyn Diluzio triples.
The first one Diluzio struck came leading off the bottom of the second inning, and it led to the Braves’ first run. After she blasted a long drive to left field, teammate Sophia Weaver brought her home with a well-executed suicide squeeze bunt.
Diluzio’s second triple went to center field, leading off the bottom of the sixth, and it gave Ryan an extra run with which to work. Again S. Weaver got the job done, this time stroking an RBI-single to left.
“This one was extra tough,” said Bentz of his season-ending, post-game address to his charges. “I play for districts. I love districts, to play a different team. And we got matched up with a team we know well and against a pitcher we struggle with. Congrats to them (the Braves). They scored two runs, and that was two more runs than us.”
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PIAA District Three
Final Class AA Power Rankings
Final Section Four Standings