BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – Apparently the players riding the pines during Myerstown’s championship summer of 2014 were not only paying attention, they’re also quick studies.
Leaders Cody Horst, Austin Douple, Kyle Bogdanovich and currently injured Conor Bawiec, the so-called leftovers? Well, their experience is more first-hand.
On Monday night at Earl Wenger Memorial Field, its past and future came together to paint a pretty present, as Myerstown Baseball Inc. shocked Fredericksburg 5-2, in the losers’ bracket final of the Lebanon County American Baseball League playoffs. Myerstown needed just one hit to plate four unearned runs in the top of the seventh inning to break a one-all tie.
The rally made a winner out of Myerstown catcher-turned-starting pitcher Cody Horst, who gutted out six-and-two-thirds innings before giving way to Douple, who picked up the save.
Myerstown, the third seed which improved to 4-1 in the postseason and 11-9 overall, will take on second-seeded Campbelltown on Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. at Palmyra High School, in the championship game of the summer circuit’s double-elimination postseason tournament. A Myerstown win would force an ‘if necessary game’ for all the marbles.
For Fredericksburg, the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League regular-season champion, the summer reached a disappointing 14-4 conclusion. In three playoff games, Fredericksburg scored a total of five runs.
“It’s awesome,” said Myerstown head coach Johnny Mentzer, whose club had dropped three regular-season meetings with Fredericksburg. “We basically had four guys returning from last year. That’s it. All of our second-year players and first-year players stepped in, and they’re hitting their stride.
“No, we weren’t the favorite,” continued Mentzer. “But I knew we were in games with these guys all year. The key is clutch hits. If you let us hang around, we have a chance.”
“It truly was a team effort in defeat,” said Fredericksburg head coach Jim McKinney. “There was no one to blame. We left them (Myerstown) in too long. We didn’t take care of business, and we ended up with a loss.”
Vinnie Vitelli opened Myerstown’s half of the seventh inning with a single against Fredericksburg starter Isaac Wengert, but it was two big F-burg errors and walks drawn by pinch-hitter Noah Marinkov and Kyle Knight that really ignited the rally. After Knight’s bases-loaded walk drove in the run that made it 2-1, Douple followed with a sacrifice fly to center.
Myerstown’s final two runs scored on a Post 915 throwing error, on a ball hit by Horst.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Fredericksburg did get the potential tying run to first base in the person of Brett Minnich, who had drawn his own bases-loaded free pass. But that’s when Douple came on to end the game with a strikeout.
“Wengert threw well,” said Mentzer. “He got a little amped up and started to get a little erratic. When he was rattled, we got inside his head. Yeah, we got a little help, but that’s what happens when you put the ball in play.
“That’s why I put Noah in there,” added Mentzer. “He has a good eye. That’s his role. Kyle (Knight) did the same thing. He got down (in the count) and still drew a walk.”
“That particular inning was just about execution,” said McKinney. “We threw away a ball. We should’ve made plays. We were walking guys we shouldn’t have. It was a combination of everything. We couldn’t get hits when we needed them. We had sort of a little meltdown there. It broke down there.
“He (Wengert) was throwing pretty decent,” continued McKinney. “We were a little low on pitching at that point. I thought we had enough to get through. That was my call.”
Behind a run, Myerstown knotted the score in the top of the fourth inning. Bash brothers K. Bogdanovich and Brett Bawiec collaborated for the score, with two hard-hit doubles.
But that was the only serious threat Myerstown could muster against Wengert, who struck out six and walked two. That is until the seventh.
“I knew all season we could do this because we were in every game,” said Mentzer. “I knew if we played good we had a chance. Am I surprised? Of course I’m surprised.”
“He’s a good pitcher,” said McKinney of Wengert. “He’s got good velocity. I thought we got away from his strengths at the end. He has the strength to go the distance, and the muscle for it. I don’t think he ran out of gas. He got a little wild there. Down three or four runs, we don’t have the firepower to come back from that.
“They (Myerstown) kept the ball over the plate enough,” McKinney added. “We swung at bad pitches. We didn’t capitalize.”
Fredericksburg touched Horst for a run in the top of the first inning, but it could’ve been worse.
Noah Gingrich led off with a walk, was sacrificed to second by Darrin Shirk, moved to third on Chase Dubendorf’s single and scored on Jordan Nichols’ sacrifice fly. But Horst stranded a pair of F-burg runners on the base baths.
Horst did not enjoy a 1-2-3 inning, scattered four hits, fanned three and issued nine free passes.
“I had no idea who I was going to pitch,” said Mentzer. “He (Horst) wasn’t supposed to pitch. I asked him how many innings he could give me. He said, ‘Seven’. He just wants to throw. He knows how to get guys off balance. That first inning was huge. Cody was mad at himself, but he got out of it. It kept his pitch count down.
“We can be very good in the future,” continued Mentzer. “We have the talent throughout our roster. It’s nice to be the coach of a team like this. Everybody who got a chance stepped up.”
“It’s good to get a team down and let a pitcher cruise,” said McKinney of the missed opportunities in the first inning. “It didn’t work out.
“He (Horst) threw fine,” McKinney added. “I don’t think he’s even close to being one of their normal starting pitchers. He did what he had to do to keep his team in the game. The first team to flinch was the team that was going to lose the game. It’s a game of mistakes. They (Myerstown) put themselves in a good position.”
After the contest, McKinney announced that this season would be his last.
“It’s been in the works for a while,” said McKinney, who’s been involved in Fredericksburg baseball in one form or another for the past 14 years. “Pretty much the whole season. This was one of the least controversial teams I’ve coached. They were a good bunch of kids. Generally, we stayed together, most of the season.”
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Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League
Campbelltown 2 0
Myerstown 4 1
Annville 2 2
x-Fredericksburg 1 2
Richland 0 2
Fifth Ward 0 2
x – Regular-season champion
Lebanon County American Legion
Regular Season Standings