LEBANON – The Lebanon baseball team is attempting one of the most difficult propositions in all of sports, it’s trying to reverse a culture.
Most times the real work is done during the off-season, and a good part of it involves changing mindsets and habits.
Getting off to a good start is not only critical, it’s imperative. And of course winning is the cure-all.
On Friday afternoon at Coleman Memorial Park, the Cedars took a step in the right direction that is bigger than it may appear. Amid breezy and cold conditions, Lebanon High opened its 2013 spring season with a 2-0 non-league whitewashing of Elco.
The Cedars got the job done thanks to a complete-game effort from junior righthander Cameron Martin and a mini two-run rally in the bottom of the third inning. The outcome was the first season-opening triumph for the Cedars in at least six years.
Lebanon went 2-18 a year ago, while Elco returns a solid nucleus from a club that went 10-10 in 2012.
“The biggest thing has been the player leadership,” said Lebanon head coach Robert Nordall. “On the coaching end, nothing’s different. The kids coming up from the JV level, they want to win. To me, it’s all about the players and their personalities.
“During our off-season we worked through the renovations (on LHS), got in the (batting) cage and focused on fundamentals,” Nordall continued. “And we took advantage of every opportunity to work out.”
“I would hope we’re going to be OK,” said Elco head coach Chris Weidner. “I hope this was an early wake-up call. The things we’ve been working on with hitting, they weren’t executed today.
“It’s just because we’ve been stuck inside for quite a bit,” Weidner added. “We only got one scrimmage in. But who knows. I told the guys, ‘Let’s be thankful we’re out here playing today.’ But everybody’s in the same situation.”
Martin was in command the whole way, and at times baffling. Moving the baseball in and out, and up and down, as well as changing speeds, Martin surrendered four singles – and never more than one in any inning – struck out nine and most impressively didn’t not issue a walk.
Martin faced the minimum number of Raiders in four of their at-bats, including the seventh when he got a game-ending unassisted double play out of teammate and first baseman Wes Dissinger.
Elco got a runner as far as second base once, in the fifth, thanks to an error and a single. But Martin slammed the door with a strikeout.
“Our outlook for the season is ‘One pitch at a time,'” said Nordall. “The biggest thing is finding our number one (pitcher). Today Cameron moved the ball around, changed speeds and did everything you can ask from a pitcher.
“We’re one step closer (to finding an ace),” Nordall continued. “I want to see what the other guys do next week. It would be nice to have four number ones. The key for Cameron was hitting his spots, keeping them off balance and making the hitters guess.”
“He made us look silly,” said Weidner of Martin. “Give him all the credit. But we’re disappointed with our approach at the plate. We didn’t approach and hit in those situations. Last year we led the league in ‘called thirds (strikes)’. We did it again today, at least four. The things we’ve been working on, we didn’t do today.
“Whatever that pitch (a knuckle curveball) was that he was throwing, he threw it effectively,” Weidner continued. “But our approach was not good.”
What made Martin the difference in the game was teammate Dylan Cramer’s two-run, two-out single to right field in the third. Cedar catcher Mark Pyles had ignited the rally with a one-out single and an Elco error fueled the fire.
“Offensively, I thought we were aggressive,” said Nordall. “It showed we were working hard in the off-season, the swings are getting better and the kids believe in themselves now. But what happens if you don’t start out well, the kids don’t believe in themselves.
“Confidence is everything,” added Nordall. “You make plays you know you’re going to make. You make pitches you know you’re going to make. When you start winning, you know you can do it.”
“Any time in baseball, in the early season, pitching is ahead of hitting,” said Weidner. “We said after the first couple of innings that one run wins it. And that’s the way it turned out. But give him (Martin) credit. He threw strikes as well.”
“I think Robert (Nordall) has made some in-roads in changing the culture,” Weidner continued. “I’ve seen their players. They have good athletes. This might go a long way in that reshaping of the program.”
The Cedars had something brewing against Elco starter Adam Shoemaker in each of their at-bats. But except for the third, Shoemaker did an admirable job of wiggling off the hook.
Shoemaker also went the distance, striking out eight, walking four and yielding five hits. Lebanon seven-hole hitter Brycen Loeper collected two of those safeties.
“He threw very well,” said Nordall of Shoemaker. “He hit his spots. We just got key hits.
“Our approach is very simple,” continued Nordall. ” ‘One pitch at a time.'”
“We have a predominantly junior and senior lineup with experience back,” said Weidner. “We’re trying to make the post-season. Our work is cut out for us.
“Last year, Section Three (of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) was the deepest section,” Weidner continued. “This year, it’s the same way. Everyone’s solid. Our section is very balanced and deep. There’s no gimmees. This puts a dent in what we’re trying to do for districts. You hate to say the opening game was a must-win. But we should’ve won it.”