BY JEFF FALK
HANOVER – Even a bulldog’s leash has a limit.
Josh ‘Bulldog’ Sollenberger pitched eight masterful innings yesterday. Where he ran into trouble was the ninth, and his 145th pitch.
Ephrata touched Campbelltown’s stubborn southpaw for three unearned runs in the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday morning, and pulled out a 3-2 come-from-behind victory in the consolation bracket of the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four baseball tournament at Hanover’s Diller Field. Paul LaRusso starred in the role of hero for Ephrata, lining a Sollenberger offering over the center fielder’s head for a game-winning RBI-double, with two outs in the bottom of the final frame.
Sollenberger carried a four-hitter and a 2-0 shutout in the ninth, but immediately fell into trouble, in the form of two singles and an error, which loaded the bases with no out. Solleberger retired the next two hitters via pops, before Nat Cummings laced a two-run single to knot the game.
LaRusso took care of the rest.
To say, Sollenberger was a ‘hard-luck loser’ would be an understatement.
“I felt good out there, whether or not that was adrenalin or endurance,” said Sollenberger, whose previous career-high pitch count was 117. “That last inning I might not have had my best stuff. I’ve gone eight innings before, in college. It (his pitch count) wasn’t too crazy.”
“He pitches nine innings in college,” said Campbelltown head coach Tim Morgan. “He’s comfortable with it. Just try and take the ball away from him in that situation. We didn’t represent our County very well. We lost two games where I thought we were the better team.”
“Their pitcher had an outstanding outing,” said Ephrata head coach Derek Sipe of Sollenberger. “He kept us off-balance. To lose like that is as devastating for them as it was exciting for us.”
With the setback, Campbelltown, the Lebanon County champs, closed their summer at 17-6. Ephrata improved to 20-7.
“Sometimes the difference in a game is one pitch,” said Sollenberger. “We played as a team. We did really well. I felt good. I felt the team was behind me. It’s baseball.”
“It was our turn to get it,” said Morgan. “Things were going our way. I’m still stunned. That was a double play ball (in the seventh) and I don’t why he (the centerfielder) didn’t catch that ball.”
Sollenberger was at times brilliant, striking out eight and walking one. He retired nine hitters in-a-row from the fifth to the eighth inning, and he also put down 13 of 14 from the first into the fifth.
“Early on, I felt a little shaky,” said Sollenberger. “But in the second inning I was in my zone, My curve-ball was working well. Later on I started losing my control and I started to open my front shoulder.”
“That’s baseball. That’s the way it goes,” said Morgan. “We played a great game today. Josh was unbelievable. Things just didn’t go our way. Gosh, two days in-a-row. What can I say?”
Campbelltown parlayed a lead-off double from Bryce Betz into a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. Griffin Mitchell got Betz to third with a sacrifice, before Johnny Binner brought him around with a grounder.
“This season was a learning experience,” said Sollenberger. “It’s a wake-up call. We jogged through the regular season and when we got here it showed. When you get to regionals the level of competition goes up, so we need to elevate our level of play.”
Campbelltown upped its margin to 2-0 in the top of the sixth when it loaded the bases with no outs, thanks in part on singles from Tyler Morder and Bryce Betz. Campbelltown plated a single run on a grounder by Binner, but was denied more when the umpires ruled a double play, based on a questionable slide into second base.
“That team (Ephrata) was bunting number three (hitter in its lineup), because number four (Brandon Miller) can flat out rake,” said Morgan. “He (Sollenberger) did have his curve-ball working. It was effective. With him, that was key. He had them (Ephrata) off-balance.”
From the final count, Campbelltown out hit Ephrata 11-8. Betz registered three hits and Sollenberger recorded two.