ANNVILLE – There’s an old sports adage that says a team’s best player automatically becomes its leader.
Not sure whether or not Mitch Rodkey is grounded Annville’s leader. But he is one of the best players in the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League.
On Wednesday night at Annville-Cleona High School, the soft-spoken Rodkey let his play speak for itself, as he led Annville to a 4-1 triumph over Fredericksburg, in the first game of a best-of-three semifinal playoff series. Rodkey picked up the pitching victory with a complete-game effort and also bashed a two-run dinger in support of himself.
Annville, the now 11-5 second seed, will carry its 1-0 lead into Thursday’s second game of the set, at 7 p.m. at Fredericksburg’s Earl Wenger Memorial Field. Fredericksburg, the third seed in the postseason, slipped to 5-11 in the local circuit.
“I don’t know if this is Mitch’s team,” said Annville head coach Steve Hostetter. “You could say that. But if he is our leader it’s by example, by his play on the field, by his actions. It seems like we have a team where everyone knows what their job is, and they go out and do it. They don’t need a rah-rah type of player.”
“I would say he’s one of the better players,” said Fredericksburg skipper Jim McKinney, “one of the top five all-around players, this year. He’s a great offensive player. He’s a good solid ball player.”
To say Rodkey took matters into his own hands would be an understatement. He was the catalyst of Annville’s three-run second inning against Fredericksburg starter Zane Merkel,an at-bat that snapped a one-all draw.
With two outs, Rodkey took Merkel deep over the centerfield fence to give Annville a 4-1 cushion. Rodkey’s bomb also scored teammate Braden Elliott, who had given their side a one-run edge with an RBI-double.
“That’s been our nemesis a little bit,” said Hostetter, “hitting with two outs and getting key hits. But we didn’t bury them. We left them hang around. We need to get a little more of a killer instinct.
“The game was a lot closer than a 4-1 game,” Hostetter continued. “Some 4-1 games aren’t that close. But I felt uncomfortable all night long. We just needed to get one or two more runs. I think we had ten one-run games this year, and we were 8-2 in them. It seems like we don’t put anyone away.”
“We played alright,” said McKinney. “We didn’t play the way we needed to to win. We just need to pick it up.
Rodkey struck out five, walked three and gave up eight singles. Three of those singles came in the top of the sixth, when Rodkey worked out of a bases-loaded predicament.
He was also aided by a double play in the third, one which allowed him to escape further damage. Rodkey retired Fredericksburg in order in both the first and seventh innings.
“Yeah, he did step up,” said Hostetter of Rodkey. “That was a big blow in the second. I don’t know if he had his best stuff tonight, but he sucked it up. He did a nice job of getting out of trouble.
“That’s kind of a killer for the other team, to get the bases loaded and get nothing out of it,” added Hostetter. “Mitch hasn’t worked a whole lot this season. He was away for a week-and-a-half and when he came back he wasn’t as sharp. But he seems to bear down and get outs when he needs them.”
“He did fine,” said McKinney of Rodkey. “I’ve seen him pitch better. He was kind of all over the plate, and we didn’t have the patience with him. We were swinging at 3-0, and at 2-0 pitches that weren’t strikes. We were not near patient enough.
“It’s a three-game series,” added McKinney. “It’s six of one and a half-dozen of the other. It’s better to be up one game, but you’ve got to win two. They’re in a better position than we are, but it’s not a total loss.”
Annville raced out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, after Elliott stroked a one-out double. Two batters later, clean-up hitter Robbie Beidler slapped the single that scored Elliott.
Fredericksburg got that run back in the top of the third. Singles by eight- and nine-hole hitters Wyatt Beakler and Dylan Blauch gave Fredericksburg a first-and-second-nobody-out situation.
“It seems like the last couple of games of the year we weren’t playing for anything,” said Hostetter. “Sometimes that’s hard to get out of. Sometimes it’s hard to turn the switch. I think the boys knew what was at stake tonight. We made a couple of nice plays in the field.
“Yes and no,” said McKinney. “It was a little more intense than a regular-season game. But to me it didn’t feel that much different than a regular-season game. Maybe we were just happy to be there.
“We definitely got better as a team,” continued McKinney. “We still have error issues, which is common for younger players. When you jump into legion, it’s a different level of baseball. I’ve got seven first-year players. They did get stronger and smarter as the season went on. Tonight we didn’t have too many breakdowns.”
“I thought Merkel did a nice job of keeping our guys off balance,” said Hostetter. “I thought he threw a nice game after the second inning. He hung around.”
“Zane threw the way he normally does,” said McKinney. “He pitched Sunday and had to come back on two-and-a-half days rest. He did well enough to win the ball game. The home run hurt us. It took the wind out of our sails. It was a breaking pitch up, and he (Rodkey) mashed it. But we had guys on base and couldn’t get them in. That’s part of baseball.
“I don’t know that he changed a whole lot with his pitching (after the second inning),” McKinney added. “They (Annville) just didn’t hit as well. I thought he was about the same throughout the game. He throws a lot of pitches.”