BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – Ultimately, the cream did rise to the top.
But it took some churning to cause separation. And had the process taken any longer, the cream would have soured.
On Thursday evening at Palmyra High School, talented Campbelltown rallied from a 5-1 deficit and shook off gritty Annville for an 8-5 victory. With the triumph, Campbelltown won the best-of-three Lebanon County American Legion baseball semifinal series 2-1.
Down four, C-town rallied for five runs in the top of the fifth, behind a clutch triple from bench-player Griffin Mitchell, to take a 6-5 edge. In the next frame, Preston Bare placed an exclamation point on the Campbelltown comeback with a two-run jack over the left-field fence.
Now 14-4, regular-season champion Cambpelltown advanced to the best-of-five Warren ‘Lefty’ Grumbine championship series, opposite 13-5 and runner-up Fredericksburg, which dispatched Myerstown two games to one in the other semifinal set. That series gets underway Friday at 5:45 p.m. at Palmyra High School and continues on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Earl Wenger Memorial Field in Fredericksburg.
The winner of the final series will claim the overall league championship and the right to represent Lebanon County in the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament at Fayetteville, which begins on July 21.
Annville, last year’s league champion, ended its campaign at 10-8. Campbelltown won four of its six overall meetings with Annville this summer.
“The way we were playing, absolutely I was concerned,” said Campbelltown head coach Tim Morgan. “Hey, they’ve (Annville) got a good team over there, and a good coach (Steve Hostetter). Everybody was popping up and I was definitely concerned. I feel like a cat with his tail between his legs walking out of here with a win.
“We did have them on the ropes, ain’t no doubt about it,” said Annville’s Hostetter of Campbelltown. “But with this team (C-town) I didn’t feel like a four-run lead was safe. They still had four at-bats. But it wasn’t like we gave it away. They came back and earned it.”
In the bottom of the fifth, five straight Campbelltown batters reached against tiring Annville reliever Tyler Napierala. With one out and the bases juiced, Mitchell ripped a three-run triple into the left-center field gap to knot the score at five.
Trey Baker followed Mitchell with a single that drove in what would prove to be the winning run.
“I didn’t even feel it because I hit it square,” said Mitchell, who batted out of the seven-hole. “I was looking first-pitch fastball and I got it. I just wanted to hit it hard. After that walk (to Tyler Morder), I could feel the momentum switch. I just had to give it a little push.
“I’m younger,” added Mitchell. “I’ve been filling in when guys need a rest. I’ve been spot-starting. I got my chance today and had fun.”
“I’m going to have a heart attack, I’m telling you,” said Morgan. “The turning point in the game was when Morder got that walk. And then Mitchell got that triple. He’s (Mitchell) a bench player and he came through for me.”
“The big blow was the bases-loaded triple,” said Hostetter. “All of a sudden the score went from 5-2 to 5-5. I don’t know if other than that one play stood out. Of course I’m going to second-guess myself for pitching to Bare (in the sixth).
The pitching victory went to Campbelltown reliever Morder. Morder entered the game in the fourth, and at one point retired seven straight Annville hitters.
The only trouble he really encountered came in the top of the seventh, when, with one out, Annville loaded the bases on singles by Adam Connor and Napierala and a walk to Nat Hughes. But Morder got out of the jam with a strikeout and a fly-out.
In three-and-a-third innings of work, Morder struck out six, walked two and surrendered three hits.
“It’s just like any team, you can survive with three or four good players,” Morgan continued. “Annville is Annville. All these teams in the playoffs are pretty much even. It’s whoever shows up that’s going to win.”
“Ummm. Hmm. Well, I guess they’re (C-town) the better team because they won two of three,” muttered Hostetter. “I’m not going to say they’re the better team. I guess you could say they’re the better team. But in baseball, sometimes the better team doesn’t win.
“My kids played hard,” added Hostetter. “I told them, ‘Go out and play as hard as you can and whatever happens, happens.'”
Annville rallied for four two-out runs in the top of the fourth to open a 5-1 advantage. On the heels of two walks and a Cody Brightbill RBI-safety, Josh Henning smacked a two-run double to the gap in left-center field.
Henning came around on a hit off the bat of Mitch Hostetter.
“I knew we could be competitive with them, and that we could possibly pull it off,” said Hostetter. “I knew they’d be intense, competitive games. The whole playoffs was four evenly-matched teams. I think they’re (Campbelltown) the best offensive team. They do hit.”
Annville got on the scoreboard first, turning back-to-back two-out doubles from Henning and Adam Conner in the top of the third into a 1-0 edge. But Campbelltown answered in its half of the frame, on the strength of Josh Sollenberger’s triple and Colby Conway’s RBI-single.
“We played a good ball game against them last night (Wednesday),” said Hostetter of a 5-4 win. “Then Tyler (Napierala) shut them down. I liked our chances coming into tonight. For half the game we looked pretty good.”
“It’s absolutely mental mistakes,” said Morgan of three base-running boo-boos that hindered his club’s offense early. “These are seasoned high school players. And those plays are automatic.