BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – The timing of the move was absolutely, positively spot-on. But then again there really is no bad time to bring Tanner Fitting into a game.
The insertion of southpaw reliever Fitting on the mound keyed Annville to a 5-4 victory over Richland, in Lebanon County American Legion Baseball action Thursday evening at Elco High School’s Lyle Krall Field. Fitting doused Richland’s third-inning fire, kept his team’s deficit manageable and provided Annville with an opportunity to piece together its game-winning four-run rally in the top of the fifth.
The triumph lifted Annville, the local circuit’s reigning champion, to 2-3 on the year. Richland, which sports 14 first-year players on its 18-man roster – including seven junior legion players called up to compete on the senior legion level – fell to 1-4.
“I guess you could say that move worked out,” said Annville manager Steve Hostetter. “I can’t say enough about Tanner. He came in and threw well. I couldn’t let it (Richland’s rally) go any longer with the way we were hitting.”
“They (his coaches) said I was going to be relief, so I was ready,” said Fitting. “But I didn’t think I was going to come in that early. We had a pitcher (Josh Henning) who had a little experience going.”
“We were hitting the ball,” said Richland manager Lyle Krall, “and then he (Fitting) came in the game and we stopped. He’s a veteran pitcher. He’s been around.”
Henning, Annville’s starter, was nursing a 1-0 lead and cruising, having given up just one hit with one out in the bottom of the third. But the next five Richland batters reached against him – on singles by Brandon Mays and Alex Centeno, walks to Phil Kline and Andrew Superdock and an error – signalling ‘Fitting Time’.
With the bases loaded, Fitting surrendered an RBI-grounder to Clayton Wolfe, but very little else. He exited the frame with Annville trailing 4-1, then shut down Richland on one hit and no walks the rest of the way, while striking out five.
“I thought I threw well,” said Fitting. “My arm felt good. With the bases loaded one out, I’m thinking ‘Just get out of it.’ I’m trying to not let anyone score. They only got one (more) out of it.”
“He came in and threw strikes,” said Hostetter of Fitting. “I thought his breaking ball was crisp. He was really breaking it off pretty good. And I think they had like four left-handed hitters in their lineup, and I liked that match-up.
“Josh has got in for an inning or two (before Thursday) but hasn’t pitched,” Hostetter added. “He hasn’t gotten into the flow. He just got back from college.”
“Oh yeah, I knew we’d take our lumps,” said Krall. “But I anticipated us being competitive, which we were tonight. We can’t put the ball in play. You can’t expect junior (legion) players to carry your team. But if they wouldn’t be here we wouldn’t be playing.”
Leading off with a single and a double, respectively, Rob Beidler and Taylor Prentice set the table for Henning, who delivered a two-run double that made it 4-3. Mitch Hostetter plated Henning with the tying run and Cody Brightbill knocked in the eventual winning run with another single.
Four runs on five hits, two walks and nine batters sent to the plate.
“I believe that’s the way we can hit,” said Hostetter. “The big thing is we just need to get on base. We’ve got a lot of fast runners. But we’ve been playing from behind and we haven’t explored our strengths.”
“We were sailing along and they (Annville) started hitting extra-base hits,” said Krall. “Defensively, we did OK. But offensively, we do not hit the ball. Rhoads got the ball up and they hit him.
“When I look at Annville I see three or four or five hitters,” Krall continued. “Those are the guys you’ve got to get out. There was one inning when we didn’t get them out.”
Annville assumed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first frame. Henning led off by drawing a walk, stole second, moved to third on Adam Conner’s safety and scored on a Hostetter hit.
“I am displeased. I just think we have a much better team than we’re showing,” said Hostetter. “I know the talent we have on this team. It just doesn’t seem like it’s clicking yet. I think it will. We have some kids who can hit the ball. I guess you can say a win is a win. But I’m searching for some kids to step up.
“I think we’ll be there at the end, very much so,” Hostetter added. “I’d be very disappointed if we weren’t. One thing I’ll say is that last year we came in under the radar. This year, everyone knows what we have. To this point we’ve seen everyone’s top pitcher.”
“We’ve started out a little slow,” said Fitting. “But this ‘W’ will get us going. We’re better than our record shows.”
“I think Annville is down from last year,” said Krall. “Henning hasn’t played since last year. But once he rounds into shape, he’ll be OK. But there’s not a lot of time. Annville has more talent than we do.”
Conner, Brightbill and Prentice collected six of Annville’s nine hits.
“On the whole, Richland has struggled to get numbers,” said Hostetter, “but overall I think the league is considerably stronger. There are some different kids who came out. There were some kids who came out who played travel ball.”
“No, I don’t think we can make the playoffs. Not realistically,” said Krall. “We’re going to have to beat Fifth Ward and Annville. You’d think Myerstown would be up there, but it’s still going to be Fredericksburg and Campbelltown.
“I knew early on, when we had sign-ups, that we were going to need help from junior legion players,” Krall continued. “We’re working with the Newmanstown (junior legion) coach so we can play. We only had one boy from Cedar Crest, Jared Kreiser, our center fielder from last year. But he’s hurt. Hopefully he’s going to be back next week. It makes for an inexperienced outfit. But the only way to get experience is to play, and we’re playing them.”