ANNVILLE – A suspended game means ‘nobody wins’. And in this instance, given the circumstances, ‘nobody wins’ could take on a whole other meaning.
On Wednesday evening at Annville-Cleona High School, an already intriguing and compelling Lebanon County American Legion baseball best-of-five Warren ‘Lefty’ Grumbine championship series took an unexpected turn when Game Four was suspended by darkness, after 12 full innings and the game tied at three apiece. The contest went to extra frames after Annville tied it – but did not win it – in a fateful and controversial bottom of the seventh inning.
With M-town still up in the series 2-1, Game Four will be picked up where it left off – with Myerstown coming to bat in the top of the 13th inning against Annville reliever Braden Elliott – on Thursday at 4 p.m., back at Annville-Cleona High School.
Should Myerstown prevail, it would win its first Lebanon County American Legion baseball championship in 30 years. But if Annville wins, it would force a fifth and decisive game, later on Thursday, at 5:45 p.m. at Myerstown – or at a lighted field like In The Net Sports Complex, should the conclusion of Game Four take an extended period of time.
But perhaps more than anything, what yesterday’s suspended game served to do was chew up valuable pitching innings, for whichever side survives and advances to represent Lebanon County at the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament, being contested at Fredericksburg’s Earl Wenger Memorial Field beginning Saturday.
“I don’t think it serves anyone,” said Myerstown head coach Johnny Mentzer. “It puts us both in a predicament. I know he’s (Annville head coach Steve Hostetter) trying to get kids here.
“I’m not frustrated with the series,” continued Mentzer. “I’m frustrated with the organization of how our playoffs go. If you get one rain day, you’re in a pickle. The league has got to help the team that goes to regionals.”
“No, it doesn’t help anybody,” said Hostetter. “What it does is hurts everybody. That’s going to hurt them, and it’s going to hurt us as well, for regionals. I guess you could say they (Myerstown) should have ended it with (Conor) Bawiec on the mound and we pitching Braden (Elliott), who hardly threw at all this season.”
Annville plated a run in the bottom of the seventh against Bawiec, Myerstown’s ace who had come on in relief of Chris Kreider to close out the series.
With his one-out single that plated Zach Southall, Game Three hero Robbie Beidler came through again for Annville. But on the play, Annville’s Justin Ulrich was thrown out at the dish by M-town leftfielder Kyle Bogdonovich, attempting to score the winning run.
Ulrich had reached on a controversial call while trying to sacrifice Southall to second. Originally called ‘out’ at first base on a bang-bang play, the home plate umpire overturned it, ruling that the throw had pulled the Myerstown first baseman off the bag.
“The base ump had him (Ulrich) out,” said Mentzer. “He came in and the home ump said he saw something funny. I don’t think you make that call. That’s why I was so mad. That’s the winning run. I’ve never seen an ump overturn a call like that. I’m surprised it got overturned.”
After that, over the next five extra frames, Bawiec matched ‘goose eggs’ with Annville’s Derrick Fallinger and then Elliott. Only once did either side advance a runner as far as third base during ‘bonus baseball’, and that was Myerstown in the top of the tenth when Bogdonovich and Cody Horst stroked back-to-back singles.
“I saw it,” said Hostetter of the controversial play. “I thought he pulled his foot off the bag. I thought he (the umpire) made the right call. To me, it looked like he came off early. Apparently he (the umpire) did see it too.”
Myerstown registered two runs in the top of the fifth to take a 3-1 lead, after Annville botched a routine rundown play between third and home. Austin Douple and Bawiec drew one-out free passes from Annville reliever Jordan Gohn, ahead of Jake Stager’s RBI-grounder and Tyler Starry’s run-producing safety.
Annville got one of those runs back in the bottom of the frame, after loading the bases with nobody out. Mitch Rodkey knocked in the run with a single, but Kreider did an admirable job of avoiding further damage.
“Throw out the second game, and it’s all that anyone could’e wanted,” said Hostetter of the series. “There were a lot of people here tonight. It’s drawing attention. And one reason is because it’s a competitive series. My hat’s off to my boys. They’ve given me everything I could’ve asked to try and win these games.
“They played hard tonight,” continued Hostetter. “We made some mental mistakes that cost us this game. That rundown hurt. They (Myerstown) scored a run there. There was a lot going on in this ball game.”
“It’s a great game,” said Mentzer. “A broken bat single scores the tying run. That’s the way the whole series has gone. It’s how the playoffs have gone.
Myerstown opened the scoring with a run in the top of the third inning against Annville starter Ulrich. Bawiec singled, Stager doubled him to third and Starry brought him home with a sacrifice fly to right.
Annville tied it in the home half of the third, after Taylor Prentice had coaxed a lead-off walk out of Kreider. An error moved him along, before Prentice scored on Ulrich’s ground out.
“I think we’re frustrated that we’re not getting breaks,” said Mentzer. “We haven’t got a break the whole series. You’re starting to see a little of that frustration coming out.
“It should’ve been a three-game series when we saw how the weather was going to be,” Mentzer continued. “We knew a five-game series would be a crap shoot. Now no matter what happens, the team we have at regionals is going to be short on pitching.”
“I can’t say what’s going on in their dugout,” said Hostetter. “When we turned that double play (in the 12th), that was huge. They had nobody out. Then I saw the frustration.
“I think they took us for granted a little bit after Game Two,” continued Hostetter. “It’s a possibility, after beating us four straight games. It would be a storybook ending if we could win this series. I feel we would have the advantage in Game Five if we could win this game.
“I look at it like this (more than regionals) as being our championship.”