FREDERICKSBURG – There exists this standing joke about the spring scholastic sports season that goes something like: ‘Just when the weather gets nice enough to play in it, the high school baseball season is over’.
From a competitive standpoint, purists argue that weather conditions are ‘a wash’ because both sides have to deal with them equally.
But when one hails from the North, he or she is more accustomed to – more acclimated to – cold and harsh battle conditions. And when you’re a Viking, the ability to block out surroundings and focus on goals is innately built in.
On Monday evening, the Northern Lebanon baseball team braved a cold spring wind and a resilient Lebanon High outfit to post an 11-6 victory, in the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three opener for both sides. Yesterday marked the second time during this uncooperative spring that the Vikings had graced a baseball diamond, and the second time they emerged victorious.
After Northern Lebanon had jumped out to a 4-1 lead behind the solid pitching of lefty starter Jordan Nichols, the Cedars pulled to within 4-3 and then 8-6 of the Vikings. But each time Lebanon rebounded, the Vikings had a response, including a three-run bottom of the sixth which put the outcome to rest.
Northern Lebanon, which is coming off a 2014 campaign in which it finished second in Section Three and qualified for the District Three Class AAA postseason, improved to 2-0 overall. The Cedars, who are in their first season of competing in Section Three, slipped to 1-2 overall.
“Those guys (the Cedars) battled all night. He’s (Lebanon head coach Mike Toomey) got a good squad there,” said Northern Lebanon skipper Daryl Hess. “But I just got done telling our guys that when they (the Cedars) threatened, we answered. That’s one of the best things we did tonight. That’s key. That makes all the difference in the world.
“If we come in and go one, two, three after they score those runs, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” continued Hess. “I thought that was one of the keys to the game.”
“Physically, we made too many errors,” said Toomey, the Cedars’ rookie manager. “But our attitude stayed strong throughout the game. We didn’t quit. We didn’t hang our heads. We fought back. I was proud of the way we handled things mentally and emotionally.
“When you make physical mistakes, you tend to lose it emotionally,” Toomey continued. “I thought we did an excellent job of fighting back. We took the approach: ‘Just let it go and make the next play’.”
Northern Lebanon’s last answer was final.
Protecting an 8-6 edge, the Vikings scored three times in the bottom of the sixth. The big blow was a two-run triple struck by nine-hole hitter Hayden Johnson, while Noah Gingrich brought Johnson home with a hustling, RBI double.
“I’m pleased with the result,” said Hess. “This is the second time we’ve been on a field this spring. You can’t simulate a lot of things. There’s still a lot of teaching. There’s some things we’ve got to sure up.
“It’s early,” Hess added. “Hopefully the small mistakes will go away.”
“These guys, over the past few years, have a lot of respect to earn from opponents,” said Toomey. “The way you earn it is by playing hard-nosed ball.
“What I said to the guys after the game was that we made too many physical errors to win a game like this,” added Toomey. “Northern Lebanon is a very good team. But we’ll clean up the errors.”
Nursing a one-run advantage, the Vikings posted a ‘four spot’ in the bottom of the fifth. Seth Walmer, Wyatt Beakler and Chase Dubendorf all drove home runs, while the fourth NL run came in courtesy of a balk.
But thanks in part to a couple of Northern Lebanon fielding blunders, the Cedars tallied three two-out runs in their next at-bat. Colin Minerick contributed an RBI-double to the Cedar cause.
“Look at the players we lost from last year, they were some quality players,” said Hess. “Of any year, this was the year we needed a preseason and scrimmages. We had to go on our best thoughts from what we saw inside. But it’s not like we totally cleaned house. I knew we had some quality kids back.”
“They’ve got a great lineup,” said Toomey of the Vikings. “One through nine, they can hit. They’ve got power in the middle and they had a lefty (Nichols) on the mound. They’re going to be a tough team to compete with. Their coach (Hess) does a great job of getting them prepared.
“I’m proud of the way our guys continued to fight,” Toomey continued. “We have a lot of work to do. But the first step is to be competitive.”
Despite yielding an unearned run in the top of the third, Nichols carried a no-hitter and a 4-1 into the top of the fifth inning. Then after Nichols recorded the first two outs in the frame, a Viking throwing error opened the door to Cedar Michael DeLeon’s two-run double that made it 4-3.
Nichols was lifted with two outs in the top of the sixth, after striking out 12 and walking two, in just under a hundred pitches.
“I thought he threw well,” said Hess of Nichols. “He hits good spots and changes speeds. Changing speeds sets up his fastball well. I thought he battled. I thought he threw well.
“His velocity has gotten better as he’s gotten older,” continued Hess. “He threw the ball well, but he sets it up well. It gives the effect that he throws harder. And he’s a lefty. Balls move differently from that side of the rubber.”
“He’s got good stuff,” said Toomey of Nichols. “He commanded his breaking ball and fastball very well. He worked ahead, and he was able to use every pitch when he was ahead in the count. I thought we did a great job of making adjustments, and it got us back in the game. But he’s a great pitcher.”
Northern Lebanon opened the scoring with Isaac Wengert’s RBI-double and Gingrich’s run-scoring rounder in the bottom of the second.
In the bottom of the third, the Vikings made it 3-1 when Nichols walked, advanced on an error and scored on a wild pitch. Then in the fourth, Gingrich walked, was balked to second, stole third and scored on a double play.
“Isaac Wengert, who came in in the sixth (to pitch), is going to help us this year,” said Hess. “Zane (Merkel) is a senior who got some time on the mound last year and got a lot of experience last summer. I feel good about our pitching. I think we have enough complements to help out. But you just never know.
“The one thing about our section is it’s always competitive,” added Hess. “It’s going to be tough. Our goal is to win the section. Do I think we can? Yeah, I think we can. I always go into each year confident.”
“It’s (the spring) been up and down so far,” said Toomey. “We started out with a tough game against Penn Manor. Then we had a great win against Milton Hershey where we able to knock guys in and make some progress. We did a great job of battling Northern Lebanon today. That’s our mindset: battle and compete. If we do that, we’ll be alright.
“We try not to get too result-oriented,” Toomey continued. “A lot of our goals are one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time, one game at a time. It is important for our guys to stay focused on the process. We can’t control results. If we’re focused on the process, we’re going to be successful.”