BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – The grueling, every-day Lebanon County American Legion baseball postseason emphasizes quantity over quality, and is a true test of a team’s depth and balance. It also assures that the most worthy team will represent the locale in the Region Four tournament.
On Tuesday evening at Palmyra High School, Campbelltown flexed its flexibility and showed off its depth in an 8-5 playoff-opening victory over Annville. The regular-season champs looked very much the part, as they used an unrelenting hitting lineup and the steady pitching of sturdy southpaw Josh Sollenberger to pull away from Annville in the middle innings.
Campbelltown’s runs were driven in by five different batters and and seven of its nine hitters collected safeties. Meanwhile, Sollenberger, Post 831’s ace, recovered from a disasterous third-inning to pick up the complete-game triumph.
Campbelltown’s sixth straight win moved it to 13-3 overall and gave it a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three semifinal series. Reigning league champ Annville, the fourth seed and now losers of three of its last four, slipped to 9-7 in the circuit.
The series will resume on Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. at Annville-Cleona High School. Campbelltown is expected to send righthander Tyler Carberry to the mound.
“Well, you’ve got to hit,” said Campbelltown head coach Tim Morgan. “That’s exactly right. If you don’t hit the ball now you’re going to lose.”
“We’re going to have to hit with these guys,” said Annville head coach Steve Hostetter of Campbelltown. “They’re going to score runs off any of our pitchers. We’re going to have to hit the ball better than we did tonight.
“Probably the biggest key is scoring runs,” Hostetter continued. “If we come back to win this then we’re going to have to average eight runs a game. And I’m not sure that’s enough. This team (C-town) puts the ball in play. We’re going to have to score some runs.”
“It’s (116) a lot of pitches,” said Sollenberger of his count. “For some reason my arm has been really strong. I’ll need a few days rest, but we have a pretty deep pitching staff.”
Perhaps the turning point of the contest came in the bottom of the third, because it represented a re-shifting of momentum. After Annville had scored five times in the top of the frame to take a 5-4 lead, Campbelltown came right back with two of its own.
Campbelltown’s key at-bats were delivered by Tyler Morder, who knocked in a run with a grounder, and Trey Baker, who mashed an RBI-double. Then in the bottom of the fourth, C-town padded its advantage to 8-5, thanks to a Preston Bare sacrifice fly and Dom Failoa’s belly-flop into a pool of dust surrounding the plate, on a wild pitch.
“They went up 5-4,” said Morgan of Annville. “But the one thing I like about this team is that we came back and scored two or three. That’s what good teams do. That’s good stuff. Tonight we got contributions from the bottom of our lineup.
“That was just critical tonight to win,” Morgan continued. “Now we know we’re going to play at least two more games. I’m not worrying about anyone else. The only team I’m worrying about is us. I’m very confident, with the way we’re hitting the ball.”
“I don’t think it took the momentum from us,” said Hostetter of Campbelltown’s two-run third. “I knew we were going to have to score more than five runs. I didn’t expect to shut them out the rest of the way. This a bad (hard, dry) field to hit on, and some of these guys can hit.
“It’s huge, because in my mind we keep home-field advantage,” said Sollenberger of the result. “No matter what, we’ll play one more game here. And it puts the pressure on the other team, and it’s less on us. If we lose a game it wouldn’t be the end of the season for us.
Annville’s third at-bat wasn’t indicative of how Sollenberger threw the rest of the evening. After loading the bases with one out, Annville got an RBI-walk from Tyler Napierala, a two-run single out of Taylor Prentice and Cody Brightbill’s seeing-eye, run-producing single.
But Brightbill’s safety would be the last hit that Sollenberger would allow. He settled down, settled in and retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced.
“There was one bad inning,” said Sollenberger. “I had a hard time finding the strike zone. But once I found it, I was OK. My high school coach (Tim Gingrich) told me what I was doing wrong. I took his advice and then I settled in.
“I tried to forget that inning (the third),” Sollenberger continued. “But I guess the thing I remember about it was the play at the plate (Annville’s fourth run on a bang-bang play). I should’ve handled it better. I’d like to apologize to the ump for raising my voice.”
“It was probably Josh’s worst outing,” said Morgan. “But he came through when he had to. Their two, three and four hitters didn’t hurt us at all. I can’t ask more of him than that.
“I thought, to be honest, we could’ve scored a lot more runs early,” Morgan added. “We had a 4-0 lead, but you can never let up. Josh had a 3-2 count on four or five kids and got an out every time. But he had walks early and everyone scored.”
“We got off to a bad start,” Hostetter added. “That’s a big thing for us, getting off to a better start.”
Mike Furhman got Campbelltown rolling in the bottom of the first with a one-out double, and Colby Conway knocked him home with a single. Conway scored on a Carberry hit, and when Annville was guilty of an outfield error and a balk, Campbelltown had a 4-0 advantage.
“I always have pressure, but I love being in big games,” said Morgan. “The kids keep telling me, “Coach, we’re good.’ They have a good attitude. They just want to prove something. It’s the last time they’re going to play together. They don’t want to go down on the bad side of things. They want to do the best they can.”
“It’s a mixture of emotions,” said Sollenberger. “Sure we feel pressure to step up because it could be our last time playing together. We have some pressure, but not a great amount.”
“I told my guys, ‘We’re not done yet,'” said Hostetter. “I thought we played like that the last couple of innings. But that’s not to say we can’t come back.”
From his lead-off spot in the order, Sollenberger posted two of Post 831’s ten hits, as did Carberry.
“Nobody’s happy about the playoff format,” said Morgan, who was without the services of starting shortstop Sully Bortner. “Eight straight days. Who has the pitching for that? I believe in winning today. I’ve got four starters and three relievers. We have guys who can throw.
“But I want our guys to go out there and be ready,” Morgan added. “I don’t want no excuses. We do have pitching. But it’s (the everyday format) the same way for the other teams. How many teams have seven starters?”
“Our backs are against the wall,” said Hostetter, who was without the services of starting catcher Nat Hughes. “We’re going to have to come out swinging. We can’t expect to get to a third game. But I don’t have a whole lot of options.
“For us to take one or two pieces out of the puzzle, the puzzle doesn’t come together any more,” Hostetter added.