BY JEFF FALK
YORK – Sometimes it seems that the Annville-Cleona softball team is always in a hurry.
The Little Dutchmen just couldn’t wait to get to their district opener. And once there, Annville-Cleona couldn’t wait to go home.
One could say that A-C put its own personal spin on ‘playing with a sense of urgency.’
Following a nine-day lay-off, Annville-Cleona needed just five innings to dispose of Delone Catholic, 12-1 at York Memorial Park’s softball complex, in Thursday evening’s quarterfinal round of the District Three Class AA postseason. The Little Dutchmen rallied in three of their four at-bats and got a solid outing out of steady sophomore pitcher Chrisi Lerchen to bring the mercy-rule into play.
The win pushed fourth-seeded Annville-Cleona to 16-6 overall and into Tuesday’s District Three Class AA semifinal meeting with top-seeded and 21-1 Brandywine Heights, which defeated Schuylkill Valley. The match-up will be a rematch of last year’s Class AA final, won by Brandywine Heights 6-5 in eight innings.
A win on Tuesday would assure A-C of a trip to the PIAA Class AA tournament.
Delone Catholic, the fifth-seeded, closed out its campaign at 12-4.
“It’s hard to say,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz, when asked if his club was ready to go.”You don’t know with girls. You don’t know what they bring to the table. I feel like I’ve got to be in their faces for us to win.
“We stumbled a little bit at the beginning,” Bentz continued, “but getting four runs, that was big. Was it easy? I guess it was pretty easy. We didn’t do too much sweating.”
“We had a long break,” said Little Dutchman senior first baseman Kaylynn McKinney. “We had a tough loss in the league playoffs, and we wanted to come out strong. I don’t think the younger girls understand, but our team wants it this year. You never know when it’s going to be your last game.
“The beginning is where it starts,” McKinney added. “We’ve come back before. But if you don’t start well, you can lose the game early.”
Annville-Cleona didn’t come out with guns ablazing until after the Squires had touched Lerchen for a first-inning run on a couple of hits. But when the Little Dutchmen did fire, it was on all cylinders.
Taking advantage of two walks and a D.C. error, the Little Dutchmen scored four times in the bottom of the first. McKinney drew a bases-loaded free pass and Kelsey Schubert capped the rally with a two-run single.
“Kelsey Schubert’s two-run single in the first was big,” said Bentz. “We ususally have someone bat for her, but we gave her a chance to hit today, and that made it 4-1. That put smiles on faces. That was the big hit.
“I think after the first couple of innings, we made it easier than it was,” added Bentz. “There are some good teams who are going to lose early. It’s a matter of who wants to win more.”
“Everyone can hit,” said McKinney. “Top to bottom. No one’s a sure out. Everyone can hit doubles and knock in runs. That’s (hitting) our strong point, along with our defense.”
The Little Dutchmen setted the outcome with a five-run second that made it 9-1. Annville-Cleona strung together three singles, two doubles, a hit-batsman and a walk, as McKinney highlighted the rally with a two-run two-bagger.
“I did a lot of checking lately on the internet,” continued Bentz. “I saw who they (the Squires) play. And I knew we played better competition. It’s a matter of them (his players) coming out and doing their jobs.”
“To not play for nine or ten days is hard,” said McKinney, “because you’re not in the swing of things.”
Lerchen has evolved into quite a gamer for the Little Dutchmen. She now has 13 wins this season, after not allowing a hit over her final four innings of work, striking out four and walking two.
“She throws strikes,” said Bentz of Lerchen. “She’s not going to blow anybody away. She hits spots. They (the Squires) didn’t have many good swings against her. And we have a good defense.
“There hasn’t been a loss where she’s pitched badly,” Bentz continued. “Coming into the season we expected Chrisi to be the back-up. But low and behold, she jumps in here. As long as you have a pitcher throwing strikes, you’re in the game.”
“Her fastball was working,” said McKinney of Lerchen. “I don’t think any one of them could catch up with it.
“She’s doing amazing things this year,” continued McKinney. “She filled in a spot. She played a key role. If she’s going good, we’re right there behind her. And if she’s going bad, we’re right there behind her.”
Annville-Cleona’s three-run fourth brought out the ten-run rule. Sophomore catcher Haley Hirn smashed a run-producing double, Crystal Miller stroked an RBI-single and Veronica Wampler plated a run with a grounder.
“I don’t know what their expectations are,” said Bentz of his troops. “I have one goal. I play for this. I want to play in districts, because you get to play teams you don’t usually see.
“I just hope it’s (the semifinal) in Berks County,” added Bentz. “I think they (his players) do (want to play Brandywine Heights). They’re the best. And if you’re going to be the best, you might as well beat the best.”
“We’ve had some ups and downs,” said McKinney. “There were some games we should’ve won. I feel like this season has been really strong. Coach says you need offense, defense and pitching. I feel we have all of that.
“Me and (senior shortstop) Casey Ditzler have a goal of getting our pictures on the district wall (in the hall at A-C H.S.),” continued McKinney. “You’ve got to win districts to do it. If we play our game, we can do it.”
Seven different A-C hitters knocked in runs. McKinney collected three RBIs, while Hirn, Schubert and Miller had a pair each.
Of the Little Dutchmen’s nine safeties, three went for extra bases.