BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – It was a classic case of a tight pitchers’ duel evolving from a meaningful first-place showdown. And the outcome? Well it was decided by the most miniscule of mistakes, the tiniest of miscommunications, the shortest moment of indecision.
On Thursday afternoon, Pequea Valley edged the Annville-Cleona softball team 1-0 in a clash for supremacy of Section Four in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Brave southpaw Amanda Houck outdueled Little Dutchmen sophomore Emma Lerchen for the triumph, thanks in part to a one-out infield single in the top of the sixth that set up the game’s only run.
The result gave first-place Pequea Valley a two-game lead over runner-up Annville-Cleona, with four regular-season Section Four games to play. The Little Dutchmen, now 11-4 overall and 8-4 in the circuit, will get their shot at redemption on Friday when they travel to Pequea Valley.
But even if A-C should prevail in that contest, it would need the Braves, now 11-3 on the season and 10-2 in the section, to lose somewhere else along the way, just to create a first-place tie. The fact that that prospect seems unlikely made Thursday all the more important.
“It was an old-fashioned slugfest, with three hits,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz. “Yeah, it was the type of game I expected, but I expected us to put the ball in play more. But that’s the way it goes. I think it’s basically over. We have to win tomorrow, and then they’d (the Braves) have to lose again.
“I hate to lose as much as the next person,” continued Bentz. “But it’s alright to play in a game like this. We haven’t played in a game like this this year. It’s going to make us better. We were right there at the end. We just didn’t get the break. Hats off to them (the Braves). They scored more runs than us.”
E. Lerchen retired the first 15 Braves she saw and carried a perfect game into the top of the sixth. But with one out, PV’s Jordan Walsh hit a ball into the hole between first and second bases that two Little Dutchmen fielders hesitated just a second on.
The hesitation allowed the speedy Walsh to beat them to the bag. Then after moving to second on a ground out, Walsh came around to score the game’s only run on a well-struck double to left field off the bat Tori Dehaven.
“Yeah, I think that was the best Emma threw all year,” said Bentz. “She was around the plate and didn’t have a lot of walks. It took a mistake to win it. We had a miscommunication at first, and they took advantage of it. That’s what good teams do.
“She (E. Lercchen) pitched really well,” Bentz continued. “We were short some kids today. That’s one of the main reasons she (E. Lerchen) threw, because Chrisi (Lerchen) had to play short. I only have so many pairs of dice.”
The Little Dutchmen did get the potential tying run to second base – in the form of Hayley Hirn – in the top of the seventh, but it came with two outs and she was stranded there. Hirn singled to open the seventh, and then stole second.
“I talked to her about it,” said Bentz of the potential of having E. Lerchen sacrifice Hirn to second. “But she didn’t want to do it. So I told her she had to get the bat on the ball.
“We try to preach to swing at the first good strike, and we didn’t do it today,” added Bentz. “They (his players) were on the defensive a little bit. She’s (Houck) a good pitcher. She throws hard. I would’ve loved to have won it. But tomorrow we’ll travel to the bowels of Lancaster County, we’ll battle, we’ll give them a game and then leave with our heads held high.”
For the first five frames, E. Lerchen matched Houck pitch for pitch, strike for strike, whiff for whiff.
E. Lerchen finished with a complete-game two hitter, struck out six and walked one. Pequea Valley hit only four balls to the outfield off of E. Lerchen.
A fireballing left hander, Houck fanned 15 and issued a single free pass. Houck yielded a single to E. Lerchen in the second, the walk and a stolen base to C. Lerchen in the third and Hirn’s single in the seventh, but did not permit an A-C runner to reach third base.
“I talked to them about it,” said Bentz of his batters’ approach to hitting against Houck. “Pitchers get into a rhythm. I told them, ‘Break up the rhythm. Tie your shoes. Go talk to the coach.” But she’s an established pitcher. We’ve seen her for four years. She knows what she’s doing.
“They (his players) want to win,” Bentz added. “A lot of them play travel ball with each other. There’s a lot of back and forth going on.”
It appears that Annville-Cleona has lost the stranglehold it once owned on Section Four.
“Everybody wants to win the section and hold up the trophy,” said Bentz. “I want to win the section. I want to play tough against Section Three (in crossover games). I want to sweep Section Four. But I’d rather play at a high level and get ready for districts. I play for districts. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to win the section.
“As long as we’re in districts, I don’t care (where they’re ranked),” Bentz concluded. “From one to ten, it doesn’t matter. These guys all battle. They want to win.”
Class AA Rankings
RANK SCHOOL NAME POWER RANKING TWWP (55%) OWWP (45%)
1 Brandywine Heights Area (13-1) 0.725452
2 Susquenita (11-2) 0.681175
3 Pequea Valley (10-4) 0.655846
4 Annville Cleona (12-3) 0.634402
5 Delone Catholic (10-2) 0.627443
6 Bishop McDevitt (9-6) 0.616159
7 Trinity (10-5) 0.585235
8 Schuylkill Valley (8-6) 0.554481
9 Littlestown (8-6) 0.551580
10 Kutztown Area (8-5) 0.548446
11 Oley Valley (9-7) 0.509231
12 Lancaster Mennonite (7-7) 0.485583
13 Tulpehocken (4-11) 0.355013
14 York Catholic (3-9) 0.339969
15 Fairfield (3-9) 0.336645
16 Columbia (2-10) 0.328150
17 Biglerville (2-9) 0.29340
18 Hanover (2-13) 0.277085
19 Camp Hill (0-12) 0.253285
20 Newport (2-9) 0.240429
21 Wyomissing Area (0-15) 0.229063