ANNVILLE – Have enough good at-bats, and the hits will fall.
Put enough good swings on balls, and you’ll score runs.
Put the ball in play, and good things will happen.
And sometimes all that’s required is patience – and the kind of time that can only be bought by pitching and defense.
On Friday night at Annville-Cleona High School, Annville bunched seven quality plate appearances into one top-of-the-eighth-inning rally, and it produced a 5-1 playoff-clinching victory over Fredericksburg. With the score tied at one and headed to extra frames, Annville sent eight batters to the plate and scored four times in the decisive eighth.
With the triumph, Annville, now 13-4, won the best-of-three Lebanon County American Legion semifinal series 2-0, and it sent it into a much-anticipated match-up with Myerstown for the circuit’s title. The best-of-five Warren ‘Lefty’ Grumbine Championship Series will get underway Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Myerstown legion field.
Righthander Justin Ulrich will get the ball for Annville, and he’ll be opposed by M-town southpaw Chris Kreider. Though the two clubs finished first and second during the regular year, 16-1 Myerstown swept the season series with Annville 3-0.
The winner of the championship series will represent Lebanon County at the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament, being contested at Fredericksburg’s Earl Wenger Memorial Field next weekend. Fredericksburg, now 5-12, will receive an automatic entry as the host team.
“That was an exciting game to watch,” said Annville head coach Steve Hostetter. “I know it was an exciting game to coach. It had a little bit of everything. One hit or one play and we’re playing them again tomorrow.
“I don’t know if that’s (an Annville-Myerstown match-up) what everybody wanted,” added Hostetter. “I don’t think that’s what the people in Fredericksburg and Campbelltown wanted to see. We play with a little bit of a chip on our shoulders. There’s a fine line between cocky and confident. I don’t like cocky. But I like confident. I think that (Myerstown and Annville are the two best teams) was proven during the regular season. But that doesn’t mean that the best team always wins.”
“They were a little bit disappointed,” said Fredericksburg head coach Jim McKinney of his charges. “They know they had opportunities to win. We didn’t make hits and move runners like we needed to. We could’ve won the game and didn’t. It was a game of missed opportunities.”
Because of the gutty pitching of righthander Colton Long and a spectacular diving catch by rightfielder Taylor Prentice in the bottom of the fifth, Annville was afforded an opportunity in the eighth. Robbie Beidler started it with a double, and after moving up to third on a wild pitch, he was plated with the eventual winning run by Adam Connor’s sacrifice fly.
But one wasn’t enough for Annville.
Zach Southall and C. Long got things going again with a single and double, respectively. Prentice scored Southall with a suicide bunt single, Mitch Rodkey drove home Prentice with an RBI double and Braden Elliott knocked in Rodkey with a safety squeeze.
“One thing we haven’t done real well is get the bunt down, and doing the little things,” said Hostetter. “That inning we did it to perfection. It took us a while to get going, but our pitching and defense kept us there.
“That (bunching quality at-bats) is what happened,” continued Hostetter. “We executed and made good contact. That was a nice inning. And it was nice to get more than one run.”
“They squeezed some guys in,” said McKinney of Annville’s half of the eighth. “We missed some signs earlier in the game. But they didn’t miss any signs and they got two in. Walks, errors, a couple of hits and all of a sudden you’re down 5-1. It went down hill quick.
“He’s (loser Nick Gonzalez) not a pitcher,” continued McKinney. “Nick is our specialist. What I will say about Nick is that he pitched more tonight than he ever pitched. He’s never pitched more than three or four innings. We were pretty much out of pitching, and they took advantage of it. He has the arm strength, not just the longevity. We had to stretch kids out tonight.”
The eighth-inning uprising made a winner out of C.Long, who needed 114 pitches to go the entire way. C. Long yielded six hits, struck out two and walked three – two of which were the intentional variety, and both to F-burg three-hole hitter Darin Shirk.
Long enjoyed only two one-two-three frames, the third and the sixth. In the fifth, with the bases loaded, Long was aided by a sprawling, diving catch by Prentice, one that probably saved three runs.
“Oh man!,” said Hostetter of Prentice’s catch. “I’ll tell you what, that should be on ESPN highlights. I didn’t think he was going to get a glove on it. All I saw was heels. It saved the game for us.
“Colton threw a great game. He really battled,” Hostetter continued. “I was going to have a short leash with him in the last inning. I don’t like to pitch a kid more than a hundred pitches. But he was looking strong. You could tell he wanted it. I wanted him to finish.”
“He’s pitched against us a number of times this season,” said McKinney of C. Long. “He’s always pitched pretty decent against us. For whatever reason, we have trouble hitting against him. As much as we saw him, we should’ve hit him better. It seems like we didn’t learn anything from seeing him. But we played good. I’m proud of the boys.
“They’re (Annville) a good team,” McKinney added. “Our pitching is a little bit out there right now. (Starter) Brett (Minnich) did fine for us. He did what he had to do. For Brett, he pitched a good ball game. He gave up one run in five innings. He did a good job for us. He filled shoes really well. Our bats just didn’t do what we needed them to do.”
Dylan Blauch gave Fredericksburg a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning with a two-out, run-producing single. Minnich opened the frame with a single and was sacrificed to second by Zane Merkel.
Annville knotted the score in its half of the fourth, without the benefit of a hit. After Connor was hit by a pitch and Southall walked, Connor scored on a couple of Fredericksburg throwing errors.
Two innings later, Connor broke up Minnich’s no-hitter with a double.
“We’ve got the bodies here,” said Hostetter. “Last year the kids weren’t involved enough. We have a nice team. They never quit..
“We’re going to be short guys for regionals,” said McKinney. “We have some guys who are visiting colleges, so I’m going to have some work to do. We’re going to be playing some really good teams.
“They’re (his players) completely numb to it,” concluded McKinney. “No one’s hepped up about it. I see no excitement. I don’t know if they know what it is to play in regionals. In my mind, it’s a big deal. Tonight was the first time I saw our boys up together, and really up for a game. It was really, really intense tonight.”