BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Somehow, everyone in the park knew it. Annville would discover or invent a way to win, or Richland would find a way to falter.
On a steamy Wednesday evening at Annville-Cleona High School, Annville opened the Lebanon County American Legion playoffs with a thrilling, come-from-behind 4-3 triumph over Richland. Matt Miller’s one-out single to right field scored teammate Jake Brightbill with the decisive run, as Annville rallied from a 3-0, fifth-inning deficit.
With the win, third-seeded Annville moved to 10-6 overall and into the winner’s bracket of the six-team, double-elimination playoff tournament, named to honor Warren ‘Lefty’ Grumbine, the circuit’s fallen past president. Up next for the A’s is Thursday night’s 5:45 p.m. test at second-seeded Myerstown.
Relegated to the loser’s bracket, Richland, now 1-15 on the year, will await the outcome of Thursday’s games to determine where and when its survival contest will occur.
“Oh yeah, no doubt,” said Annville manager Steve Hostetter, when asked to gauge his level of concern. “We didn’t think there was a whole lot of life. When we scored that run (in the bottom of the fifth) it kind of woke us up a little bit. You’ve got to come prepared. You’ve got to come with enthusiasm.”
“Yeah, I liked that,” said Richland head coach Lyle Krall. “But nobody said, ‘We’re up 3-0, we’re going to win.’ That one run hurt us.”
Brightbill ignited the winning rally with his third double of the game, a hard-hit, bad-hop shot down the left-field line. An out later, after Tyler Napierala was intentionally walked, the two Annville runners executed a double steal, setting the table for Miller.
“Man, you can flip a coin,” said Hostetter, when asked about his club’s most crucial at-bat. “We needed to tie the game, so Matt’s (Hughes) home run was big. But that was our big bats up there in the seventh.”
“Oh yeah, absolutely, we were ready to play,” said Krall. “We’re never never ready to play. I think the home run was the momentum swing.”
The momentum swing was one huge swipe of Hughes’ bat.
With a mate aboard – and his club down 3-1, with one-out in the bottom of the sixth – the eight-hole hitting catcher drove a fastball over the fence in left-centerfield to knot the score.
“To me, when you’re at this point of the season, they’re all important,” said Hostetter. “But you’ve got to get off with a win. It’s critical we won with what we came up with tonight. But we’re not going to go very far if our bats don’t wake up.”
“Look at that bad hop in the last inning (Brightbill’s double),” said Krall. “Oh, my goodness. When you’re 1-15 you just don’t get the breaks. That’s the way it is.”
Before Annville got things going late, it had been shut down by Richland righthander Tyler Shanaman, who surrendered just two hits over his first four innings of work. Post 880 staked Shanaman to a 3-0 lead in the fourth, on Brian Clements’ two-run single with two outs.
“To me, I didn’t think we played real well,” said Hostetter. “We had some costly errors and we’re not hitting. We’re not putting the bats on the ball.”
“I’m pleased with the way we played,” said Krall. “I’m not pleased because we lost. There’s no such thing as a moral victory.”
Richland drew first blood in the top of the third when lead-off hitter Jared Kreiser walked, stole second and scored on an error.
“No, I don’t like this playoff format. I voted against it,” said Hostetter. “It should be the top four teams. To me, it gives no reason to come out and play to win in the regular season. We almost got knocked off by Richland, who won one game during the regular season.”
“We’ve had five or six good games this season,” said Krall. “We had a couple of games where we were ahead and the other team came back. We were in every game except for the first few. But we’re looking forward to our next game, wherever it might be.”
The pitching victory went to Annville starter Mitch Hostetter, while Napierala picked up the save. In addition to Brightbill’s three hits, Hughes registered a couple for Annville.
Camden Fullmer ripped two hits for Richland.