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 BY JEFF FALK

 ANNVILLE – If history has taught us anything, it’s that it’s difficult to draw conclusions from a small sample. Especially in baseball, things have to shake out, sort of play themselves out.

 In some ways, that’s what summer is for.

 On a cool Wednesday evening at Annville-Cleona High School, Richland nudged Annville 8-5 in an early season battle of preseason contenders, in the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League. After Annville had erased an early 5-0 deficit, Richland mounted what would prove to be the decisive rally in the top of the fifth inning.

 The result was the first triumph of the year for Post 880, the reigning County Legion baseball champion. Richland is now 1-2 in the early going, while Annville slipped to 1-3.

 “It’s too early to tell,” said Richland head coach Travis Thome. “But a win’s a win. I like the group of guys we have. We have guys who can play. But we’ve only been together for three or four games.”

 “I hope we’ll get better,” said Annville head coach Ken Sauley. “Maybe we need more work. We don’t have a lot of continuity yet. There’s no cohesiveness. Sometimes it just takes some time. We need to play as a team. But I’ve got a good group of kids. The kids know I always have their backs.”

 With the game’s momentum seemingly swung toward the home side, Richland reclaimed it in the top of the fifth inning.

 The score was tied at five, when Reilly Peiffer got things going with a lead-off single. Following a Matt Peipher walk, Blake Hoover laced a two-out, two-strike single up the middle, which gave Richland a 7-5 lead.

 Then in the top of the seventh, Richland padded its cushion on Pat Gibble’s run-scoring safety.

 “We hit the ball,” said Thome. “We definitely weren’t outstanding, but we did enough. We put pressure on and we got a couple of key hits.

 “Ultimately, we played a little more of a complete game,” continued Thome. “Anytime you’re scoring runs throughout, it’s important. It wasn’t like we completely fell apart. We had one poor inning. We just had to get back into the dugout with the least damage possible.”

“I’d say we’re even,” said Sauley of Richland. “They beat us by three runs, but they didn’t make the mistakes we did. You can’t have that.

 “We’ve been making a lot of mistakes,” Sauley continued. “I’ve been trying a lot of things to figure it ou. They (Richland) hit a couple of balls hard and Sonny (Annville starter Sal Biondollo) didn’t have his best stuff.”

  R-Land starter Dalton Reinhart didn’t give up a hit over his first three frames of work and carried a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth. But three of the first four Annville hitters in the frame singled, including Alex Santiago, whose hit drove home teammates Cameron Freeman and Junior Bours.

 Two batters later, six-hole hitter Benny Miller clanged a Reinhart offering off the scoreboard in left-centerfield for a three-run bomb that tied the score at five.

 But to Reinhart’s credit he settled down and finished what he started, and the fourth would prove to be the only inning Annville got a runner as far as first base against him. He finished with a four-hitter, eight strikeouts and a pair of free passes.

 “He did well,” said Thome of his starter. “He kept them off-balance. He didn’t have very many walks, which was important. He was under a hundred pitches. He threw strikes and got ahead. He was attacking them.

 “He was cruising (into the fourth),” added Thome. “He was feeling himself in the first three innings. Then he left a couple of balls up and they tug a couple. He was cruising and got a little too comfortable. They (Annville) caught up. They looked like the better team that inning.”

  “Other than that one inning, we didn’t do much against him,” said Sauley of Reinhart. “He kept us off balance. We were down 5-0 and came back to tie it. If you would’ve asked me, I would’ve bet we would’ve won it. But after you do that, you’ve got to go out and shut them down the next inning. And we didn’t do that.

 “The first couple of innings we hit dribblers,” Sauley added. “Then we started squaring him up. Our problem is we’re getting in the hole right out of the gate. When you’re down 5-0, it’s hard to try things. We’re not a good enough team to overcome mistakes. We have to play good defense and pitch. But we don’t play good enough defense to support the pitchers.”

 Post 880 touched Biondollo for a trio of unearned runs in the top of the second. Bojanic plated Richland’s second and third runs with a two-out, two-run single.

 In the top of the fourth, Richland upped its advantage to five runs, again after two outs had been recorded. Included in that rally were a Pat Gibble single, a Mitch Spittle double and Bojanic’s third RBI.

 “We have to be aggressive,” said Thome. “The first couple of games we were on our heels. Tonight we looked like we were ready to hit. And we didn’t have a lot of strikeouts.”

 “Right out of the gate, we may have played the two toughest teams in the league (Ephrata and Campbelltown),” said Sauley. “There was a little positive tonight. There’s something to build on. But you can’t put up one crooked number and expect to win. It’s going to be a trying season. It’s just the way it is.”

 This season marks the first time that the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League has opened its boundaries to Lancaster County players. In addition to the Ephrata entry in the circuit, both the Richland and Annville rosters sport a pair of teenagers from Lancaster County.

To purchase images in this article email jkfalk2005@yahoo.com, or to view more go to https://lebanonsportsbuzz.com/photo-gallery/.

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