BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – There’s no denying that it was a tense, hard-fought battle for first-place. But in a balanced league whose playoff field is nearly set, what it really boiled down to was pride, post-season positioning and the foundation for a future mental edge.
On Tuesday evening at Palmyra High School, Campbelltown defeated Fredericksburg 3-1 in a top-of-the-standings showdown in the Lebanon County American Legion baseball league. The outcome created a virtual tie for the lead in the race for a regular-season crown that has no bearing on the overall league championship.
Campbelltown struck for an early 2-0 lead, then trusted the outcome to lanky lefty Josh Sollenberger. Talented and mentally tough, Sollenberger simply refused to budge in going the distance for the win.
Technically, Fredericksburg, now 8-2, still holds a half-game lead over Campbelltown, now 7-2, at the top of the local American Legion standings. Both teams have already qualified for the circuit’s four-team postseason.
Earlier this summer at Earl Wenger Memorial Field, Fredericksburg defeated Campbelltown 4-1.
“In the big picture you want to win the league, you want to win the county,” said Campbelltown skipper Tim Morgan. “You lose tonight and they’re (Fredericksburg) in the driver’s seat. You’ve got to show up to play. A lot can change in this next week-and-a-half.”
“There’s a number of reasons why this win was important,” said Sollenberger. “First of all because we lost to them last time. It was important to prove with what we have we can beat them. They have two losses and so do we. It puts us in good position.”
“There’s always bragging rights,” said Fredericksburg head coach Jim McKinney. “It’s true that in our league it (winning the regular-season crown) does and doesn’t matter. Whoever the top four teams are, it’s about scoring. You’ve got to hit. You’ve got to hit to win.”
Sollenberger certainly pitched like the outcome was important. He was both large, and in charge, the entire way.
The southpaw, who’s off to Elizabethtown College in the fall, scattered five singles, issued two free passes and fanned eight. After F-burg loaded the bases against him in the top of the first, Sollenberger wiggled off the hook with back-to-back whiffs, of the Chix’s fifth- and sixth-place hitters.
“The key for Josh was just being the way he has been all year,” said Morgan. “He started slowly. But as the game goes on he gets better. He was getting his curveball over, hitting his spots and (catcher, Conway) Colby was mixing it up.”
“I felt good,” said Sollenberger. “I was a little worried in the beginning because I couldn’t find the (strike) zone. I’d say in the third or fourth inning I felt like I found the strike zone. The umpire was calling inside pitches and I like throwing inside.”
“He threw a nice game,” said McKinney of Sollenberger. “He threw a lot of nice strikes. The umpire was very consistent. That’s something you don’t always see. We just didn’t hit.
“Defensively we played OK,” McKinney continued. “But we couldn’t move any base runners. We did not have enough productive outs. We had base runners every inning, but you’ve got to score them. If we do that a quarter of the time, we win this game.”
Zach Miller and Conway got the Campbelltown half of the first inning started with a walk and a single, respectively. With two outs, five-hole hitter Preston Bare muscled an outside pitch down the right-field line for two runs and a 2-0 lead.
“That’s what Preston is so good at when he’s on,” said Morgan. “You’ve got to take it to right field when the pitch is outside. But he didn’t look good in his other at-bats.
“We owed (F-burg starter Lucas) Gienow a little payback from last year’s playoffs,” added Morgan. “I don’t think he was really sharp tonight. He was behind in a lot of counts.”
“I’d say sort of,” said Sollenberger, to the notion that his and Fredericksburg are the cream of the circuit. “There’s a lot of good teams in the league. But as far as contention and winning it (the title), it’s us and them. We’d like to establish some things against them.”
“Lucas pitched a great game,” said McKinney. “He got us out of a lot of jams. It was a good game, both sides.
“Our hitting’s been hot and cold,” McKinney continued. “Sometimes we do the right things and sometimes we don’t. It seems like when the games are tight we don’t make productive outs.”
Fredericksburg touched Sollenberger for a run in the top of the second and shaved its deficit in half. A one-out walk to Ian Long, a single off the bat of Tanner Dresch and a sacrifice fly courtesy of lead-off man Jon McKinney made it a 2-1 ball game.
“One of our coaches keeps track of past at-bats so we know what they did,” said Sollenberger of F-burg hitters. “The way Colby calls pitches, they’re based off previous at-bats. You could say we do our homework.”
C-town failed in its attempt to add on in the bottom of the third, despite loading the bases with nobody out. But in the sixth, Campbelltown got a bit of insurance thanks to a Tyler Morder single and two Fredericksburg throwing errors.
“When you have the bases loaded and nobody out that should be an automatic two runs,” said Morgan. “But when you play Fredericksburg and win, it’s a plus. Things started out well offensively, but then our bats slowed down. With Josh, it was just the opposite. He started slowly and got stronger as the game went on.”
Gienow also went the distance, striking out seven, walking two and allowing eight hits.
“It’s always important when you play the second-place team,” said McKinney, “and when you win against a good quality team. It’s big. It’s huge.
“I’m sure we’ll see them later in the season,” McKinney concluded. “They’re a good team. We play them one more time in the regular season. We’ve got to get another win against them just so we can at least have the tie-breaker.”
Conway finished the evening three-for-three, while teammate and lead-off hitter Sully Bortner collected a pair of safeties. With two hits, McKinney was the catalyst of the Fredericksburg atttack.