SOUTH LEBANON – It is chocked full of peaks, as well as valleys.
Long straight-aways balance out hairpin turns.
Some parts are smooth pavement. Other parts are pot-holed dirt.
But it’s a long road back to respectability for the Cedar Crest baseball team.
On Thursday afternoon at CCHS, the Falcons encountered another detour in their quest for competitiveness, as they dropped a 7-0 home decision to Penn Manor. For the most part, Cedar Crest played with the Comets out-for-out and pitch-for-pitch, save for a nightmarish top of the fourth inning.
After suffering through the worst stretch in program history, Cedar Crest had shown signs of revitalization over its last four outings. But yesterday’s result left the Falcons 2-6 overall and 1-3 in Section One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, while the Comets upped their seasonal record to 7-1 and their league mark to 4-1.
“We’re definitely improving,” said Josh Brown, the Falcons’ first-year skipper. “We’ve shot ourselves in the foot. From the pitching mound, if we throw strikes, we’re in every game. We’re improving every single day. We’ve had some positives. It’s kind of just getting that total improvement and coming together.
“As far as goals go, everything is staying the same,” Brown continued. “I want to go 12-8. That means we have to go 10-2 over our next 12 games. Is that unrealistic? Maybe a little bit. But I know how good we can be. I’ve seen it. We’re as good as everyone we’ve played, except Warwick.”
The Falcons were locked in a scoreless draw with Penn Manor through the first three innings of play. But the wheels sort of came off for Cedar Crest in the following frame.
The first seven Comet batters reached base in the top of the fourth – on two walks, a hit batsman, two errors and two hits – and in all, Penn Manor sent a dozen hitters to the plate. Two-hole hitter Jeff Taylor and clean-up man Jacob Herr both smacked two-run singles for Penn Manor, while Elvin Hernandez contributed one of the single-run variety.
“If you throw that inning out the window, it’s a whole new ball game,” said Brown. “Walks were the reason we lost the game. I think it’s fair to say that, but it’s baseball. It’s kind of been where we’ve been all year. We’ve got to bat better. We’re a better hitting team than we’re showing this year.
“They (his players) had the same attitude as when the game was tied,” Brown added. “(Shortstop Iziah) Trimble said, ‘Don’t worry, coach. We got this. We’re going to come back’. We can come back. But that’s what a leader does.”
The Falcons loaded the bases in their first at-bat, as well as with one out in their sixth at-bat,without scoring. In fact, Cedar Crest was retired in order only twice by winning pitcher Herr, in the third and fourth innings.
Cedar Crest collected a total of three hits, and struck out eight times against Herr, a sturdy right-hander. Penn Manor amassed eight hits and received seven free passes.
“He had a real good fastball, which was probably 82 or 83 (miles an hour), and he located it well,” said Brown of Herr. “We always sit fastball. But the problem is, when you take first-pitch strikes, you’re behind in the count.
“We haven’t been hitting the ball like we should,” added Brown. “That’s the one thing I’m really not happy with. My older guys seem to be pressing a little more than they should be.”
The Falcons employed three hurlers, starter Nate Cavic, middle man Luke Brunelli and closer Brett Bawiec. Before running into trouble in the fourth, Cavic had worked out of bases-loaded predicaments in both the top of the first and third innings.
“He had quite a bit of walks,” said Brown of Cavic. “If he can throw strikes, he’s going to be one of the best pitchers in this league. His problem is his pitch count gets up. He gets himself into trouble. But he’s so good, I can’t keep him off the mound. He’s the best that I’ve got.”
The Comets tallied their seventh run in the bottom of the sixth. It was a two-out, unearned tally plated by pinch hitter Justin Henson.
“We’ve got to be a little more aggressive at the plate,” said Brown. “We were coming off a game where we had 13 hits. For some reason, we just weren’t as aggressive at the plate. We can’t walk nine batters in a game. It’s not going to cut it. We loaded the bases a couple of times, but I’ve got to give their pitcher a little bit of credit for locating his pitches. But it’s hard once you’ve had 13 hits, you want to make some contact.
“You’ve got to look for consistency,” continued Brown. “I’ve got to realize we’re young. It’s a pill I’ve got to swallow. I can’t wait to see what they do when they’re juniors and seniors. We can compete with anyone. We really can, but we haven’t. One team beat us. The rest of the games we lost ourselves.”
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Section One Standings