BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – The similarities between last season and this season are uncanny. And if recent history has taught us anything it’s that Annville flourishes in the role of underdog, it loves flying under the radar and it will show up when the games matter most.
On a pleasant Wednesday evening at Annville-Cleona High School, reigning champion Annville’s Lebanon County American Legion baseball league title defense gained some steam with a lopsided 12-0 mercy-rule triumph over Myerstown. Reserve Cameron Zirpola’s two-out RBI-single in the bottom of the fifth brought the 12-run rule into play, as it capped the home side’s four-run rally.
After Annville had scored eight times over its first three at-bats, Cameron Hoch and Eli Setlock opened the bottom of the fifth inning with singles. In addition to Zirpola, Hunter Kelly also drove home an Annville run in the bottom of the fifth, while the other two resulted from Myerstown errors.
Now 9-5 in the circuit, Annville inched closer to clinching one of the county legion league’s four spots postseason spots. On its way to the championship, Annville was 9-5 through 14 games last year.
The victory was Annville’s fifth in-a-row and its second in as many nights against Myerstown. Annville won the regular-season series with Myerstown 3-0.
The loss dropped Myerstown to 4-9-1 in the league and put it in the position of having to win its remaining four games just to have a shot at the circuit’s playoffs. The loss was Myerstown’s fifth straight.
“I want to win everything,” said Annville head coach Ken Sauley. “Is it going to happen? I don’t know. I want to win our remaining games. We kind of had a hiccup when we lost three games in-a-row, but now we’re back on track. It’s been an up and down season, but now it’s heading up.
“The last five games I’ve been pleased,” continued Sauley. “But until then, no. We lost on three walk-offs. I know you’ve got to get 21 outs. But give me those three wins and we’re in first place, by two or three games. Now we’re fighting to get that number-one seed.”
“We’re battling for a playoff spot,” said Myerstown rookie head coach George Miller. “You’ve got to beat the teams ahead of you. Annville is pretty much locked in. The next two games are pretty much must-wins for us.
“I think they (Annville) have a good chance,” Miller continued. “They have good pitching. Hopefully we’ll meet again in the playoffs. We’re right in the thick of things.”
Annville starter Brandon Uhrich was in command from the opening pitch. Uhrich went the distance to pick up the pitching victory and didn’t allow a Myerstown runner past second base.
Mixing his pitches and hitting his spots, Uhrich surrendered a pair of safeties – back-to-back singles by Colin Bennett and David Stamm in the second – struck out six and didn’t issue a free pass.
Over 11-plus innings this summer, Uhirch has yielded just one run.
“Brandon’s been really good for us,” said Sauley. “Against Conrad Weiser, he had some bad luck. Tonight he pitched really well. He’s always around the plate. For not pitching for two years because of shoulder surgery, you can’t ask for more than that.
“He hits his spots,” added Sauley. “He had a couple of 3-0 counts and came back and got the batter. He’s not overpowering, but he hits his spots.”
“I thought Brandon pitched a great game,” said Miller. “His curve ball was coming in pretty good. It froze our kids. Then he came back with the fastball. And he was hitting corners. The two-strike pitch froze us. His curve ball broke a foot sometimes.
“Maybe we hung our heads a little bit, but Colin (Myerstown starter Bennett), kept pitching strikes,” Miller added. “We got down right away with an error. That will kill you. Once they take the wind out of your sails, it’s hard to get it back.”
Annville grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, after its first two batters were retired. A pair of Myerstown errors opened the door for Alec Barr’s RBI-single.
In the second, Annville extended its lead to 3-0.
A walk to Trevan Elliott and singles from Noah Pfautz and Hoch loaded the bases. Setlock delivered a run-scoring single and Mitch Long followed with a sacrifice fly to left field.
“They just have to be patient,” said Sauley of his hitters. “Once we became patient we hit the ball. It’s been sporadic. This is the time of the year you want to be good. It hasn’t been easy. We’ve been winning with pitching and defense. When those have let us down, it’s been a struggle. With all my regulars here, we’re 9-3. Without them, we’re 0-2. When we have them here we have a shot. But they all contributed tonight.
“They’ve (Myerstown) got some good players over there,” Sauley continued. “But when you don’t have your kids all the time, it’s tough to win.”
“The kids come to play,” said Miller. “We have a bunch of kids going to (college) orientation, but I don’t like to make excuses.
“We have three kids who are double-rostered,” continued Miller. “It seems like when we have the young kids, they’re pretty good. We’ve just got to win the next couple of games. These are key games for us.”
Annville broke it open in the bottom of the third.
Long’s three-run triple highlighted its nine-batter, five-run rally. Hoch drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk and Setlock contributed an RBI-safety.
“We were relaxed,” said Sauley. “We were missing a few kids ourselves. We’re trying to put pressure on Campbelltown and Fredericksburg. We’ll see what happens.
“If we get to the championship series against Fredericksburg, there’s no pressure on us,” Sauley added. “At that point, I think you’re going to see some amazing baseball.”
“I figured if kids would show up, we would have a shot,” said Miller. “It’s tough with kids working and going to school. We can play with anybody if everybody shows up. Hopefully we can get the junior legion kids to come up and help us out.”
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Lebanon County American Legion
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