BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – They are both fluent in fundamentals.
They’re extremely well-versed in the situational aspects of the game.
And they practically invented the ‘hit and run’.
But do you know what the Northern Lebanon and Elco baseball teams really know a lot about? Tiebreakers.
On Monday after school at Elco High School’s Lyle Krall Field, Northern Lebanon accomplished the seemingly impossible – it tightened an already snug Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three race. Behind a five-hit gem from starter Seth Walmer, the Vikings white-washed the hometown Raiders 3-0 in a tilt dripping with playoff implications.
Technically, yesterday’s outcome clinched a playoff berth and at least a tie for the section crown for front-running Manheim Central. But for the Vikings and Raiders, the result created a lot more ‘yet to be determine’.
Northern Lebanon, which had defeated Elco by a similar 3-0 score in Fredericksburg on April 13, improved to 11-8 on the season and 9-6 in the league. It was Northern Lebanon’s seventh win in its last eight outings.
Elco slipped to 9-6 on the year and 8-5 in the circuit. The Raiders were situated 18th in the latest District Three Class AAA power rankings, while the Vikings were seated 24th.
“I know most of them,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Daryl Hess, of the section tiebreakers. “It’s in the back of my mind. Once we get things figured out a little more, I’ll take a closer look at them. But I’ve got most of them down.
“You usually have one or two teams take control late,” continued Hess. “But as far as everyone being in the mix at this point of the season, it’s pretty wild. It’s tight. But the games are just as close and tight as the standings. It’s a unique season. It’s always kind of been like that, where it can go either way. Now we’ve got to sit back and watch a little bit.”
“I read a piece on them the other day,” said Elco head coach Chris Weidner, of the tiebreakers, “but I have to go back and look over them more closely. All I know is that if there’s a tie at the top, there has to be a playoff. I don’t about the tiebreakers for finishing second in the section.
“This makes our task a little more difficult,” Weidner continued. “I was talking to Daryl before the game and this is the first time I remember every team being alive for the section championship this late in the season. We made our job a little more difficult. But we’re not done. Things are still on the table for us. That’s not the first time we lost a tough game this season. We’ve just got to bounce back.”
Walmer was locked in a pitcher’s duel with Raider southpaw Cole Blatt, until he and his Viking mates broke through for the game’s all important first run in the top of the fourth frame.
Walmer did part of the work himself, with a lead-off double. But it was Zach Seltzer who brought him around, with an RBI single.
“If you get good pitching and get good defense, you can be a successful team,” said Hess. “That’s what happened today. I really tried to stress defense and pitching. That was my main theme after the game.
“We have to keep winning to keep our playoff opportunities alive,” added Hess. “Our backs are against the wall. The other thing is, they’re (the Raiders) a quality team.”
“I would like to think we’re a better hitting team than we’ve shown,” said Weidner. “It’s there. For some of the guys who have been scuffling, it has become a mental thing. Unlike the major league season, you only have 20 games to figure it out. You’ve got to remember they’re 16- and 17-year-old kids. But the effort is there. I can’t say anything negative about their hustle and their work habits.
“This is kind of how it’s been,” Weidner added. “Because we have been playing games like that, it should help us. But there definitely is this difference when we score first.”
Walmer fanned six and more importantly didn’t walk a batter. Just as important was the fact that he spread the five hits he allowed over five different Raider at-bats.
Elco got a runner as far as second base once, in the bottom of the seventh when Nate Hostetter stroked a two-out double. Walmer retired the Raiders in order in the second and sixth frames.
“Seth’s off-speed stuff was tremendous,” said Hess. “He kept them off balance, and that was key. Another thing he did, he jumped ahead (in the count). He didn’t fall behind. He kept the count in his favor.
“He’s been throwing well,” Hess continued. “He came off a good outing, and he had a good outing.”
“He did what he did last week,” said Weidner of Walmer. “He kept Lebanon scoreless through eight. We knew what we were getting. You have to credit the pitcher. He kept us off balance. He threw that little split-finger.”
The Vikings gave Walmer a little room with which to work by notching an insurance tally in the top of the fifth inning.
Kody Ream led off with single. Then an out later, Chase Dubendorf doubled, and when the ball was bobbled in the Elco outfield, it allowed Ream to scurry home and make it 2-0.
“I thought he threw similar to Seth,” said Hess of Blatt. “He had a sneaky fastball. And his off-speed stuff had us off balance.”
“Cole’s had a great season. He’s our ace,” said Weidner. “He was pretty much typical Blatty today. They (the Vikings) scratched out some hits against him.
“You hope when your pitcher keeps the other team to two or three runs you’re able to score a few for him,” added Weidner. “But we’ve talked about the pressure we put on our pitchers. We ask them to throw a lot of goose eggs. If we hit at all, we’re sitting at eleven wins.”
Blatt, who entered the contest with an ERA below 1.00, struck out five and walked three. He surrendered seven hits and just one earned run, over his route-going effort.
Northern Lebanon touched Blatt for its third run in the top of the seventh inning. Noah Gingrich walked, Ream singled and Isaac Wengert reached on an error.
“We lost five one-run games in the league,” said Hess. “It got to the point where I was scratching my head in front of them (his players). I told the guys we’re playing well.
‘We’ve been consistent,” added Hess. “But I think it gets in their heads a little bit. They stuck in there, and they got that confidence.”
“We need to win them all,” said Weidner. “We’re still alive in the section for that two-spot. To win the section, we might need a little help.”
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Section Three Standings
PIAA District Three
Class AAA Power Rankings