BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – In baseball circles, it’s commonly known as ‘the double steal’.
With the third baseman vacating his bag to defend against the possibility of a bunt, it boils down to a foot race. If the runner on second can beat the covering shortstop to third, the base is his.
On Friday evening at Annville-Cleona High School, Annville runners won those exact types of foot races twice, and because they did, the home team scored a dramatic 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Fredericksburg. The contest served as the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League season-opener for both squads.
Annville’s double steal was the key element in its three-run, bottom-of-the-seventh-inning rally that erased Fredericksburg’s 3-1 lead. Annville, which sent six hitters to the dish in the decisive volley and didn’t have any retired, tied the game at three when Justin Ulrich was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, and won it a batter later when Hunter Long’s grounder to shortstop was thrown wild at home, in an attempt to cut down the winning run.
But it was Tyler Schrader’s and Eli Setlock’s daring double steal of third and second, respectively, with Alec Barr showing bunt, that set the whole thing up. Schrader had started the rally by reaching on an error, ahead of E. Setlock’s single to right field.
Barr ultimately walked, as did Caleb Setlock, who forced in the run that made the score 3-2. With the bases still loaded and nobody out, the rest was left to Ulrich and H. Long.
“It wasn’t so much by design,” said Annville manager Steve Hostetter. “I preach that I like being aggressive on the bases. I have no problem seeing if they (his runners) can beat a guy to third base. Base-running is so instinctual. I think that type of aggressive base running is good, because we did that twice. I’ve told the kids, ‘If you can beat that shortstop to the bag, do it’.
“I would say Jim (Frederickcsburg head coach, McKinney) is snake-bit a little bit against us,” continued Hostetter. “I don’t know if I can give you an honest answer, but it seems like it’s one thing one game, and then something else the next. I’m not sure we turned it on at the end. We took advantage of some walks and errors. We really didn’t tear the cover off the ball. But that’s probably one of the better pitchers (F-burg’s Jordan Nichols) in the league.”
“The third baseman is supposed to come in and crash the bunt, the first baseman is supposed to come in and the shortstop is supposed to cover third,” said McKinney. “That didn’t happen the way it was supposed to. But there was a lot of stuff. If you want a key point to the game, we didn’t move runners.
“It was the first game of the season, so I can overlook some stuff,” McKinney continued. “We were missing some guys, and guys had to move into positions they don’t normally play. But I’m not making excuses. Guys have got to make plays. It’s hard when you were up 3-1.”
Annville executed an eerily similar double steal in the bottom of the second, and it led to the game’s first run, against Nichols. This one was pulled off by Noah Connor and John Easter, also with nobody out.
Nichols, a crafty lefty, surrendered a sacrifice fly to right to Schrader, but escaped further damage. He finished with ten strikeouts and four walks, and yielded four hits in his six-plus innings of work.
“I thought he threw well,” said Hostetter of Nichols. “He can keep you off balance, and he’s got enough pop to throw it by you. But I said to our guys, ‘Don’t hang your heads.’ I don’t think we’re going to see much better pitchers in the league. But I did like that we were patient at the plate.
“After the whole week, it was nice to get a game under out belts,” Hostetter added. “But I told them (his players) not to read too much into this. As the season unfolds, you can fall back on this. It’s a good confidence boost for the kids.”
“They find a way to beat us at the end every stinking time,” said McKinney of Annville. “We seemed to lose some focus at the end. Should’ve I pulled Jordan at the end? Maybe. But he was well under control. He wasn’t tired. He wasn’t at his pitch count.
“Normally, we see more balls called (strikes) at the knees,” added McKinney. “Jordan kept it down. He pitched a great game.”
Annville starter Jordan Gohn was just as effective as Nichols, especially early.
But Fredericksburg got to him for a tying run in the bottom of the fourth inning, after he had retired the first two hitters, on a walk to Brett Minnich, a single from Wyatt Beakler and J.C. Orta’s RBI-single. An at-bat later, F-burg jumped in front 2-1, thanks to Isaac Wengert’s lead-off double and Christian Weaver’s two-out, run-producing safety.
When Gohn exited with one out in the top of the fifth, he had five strikeouts and six walks.
“I thought Jordan was strong early,” said Hostetter of his starter. “But he started to get behind in the count. Alec (reliever, Barr) kept us in the game. He kept us where we needed to be. I told the guys in the seventh, ‘Anything can happen’.
“His (Gohn’s) velocity was there,” Hostetter continued. “I didn’t realize he was at 96 pitches. It seemed like the inning before we took him out that he was leaving everything up. I figured that was it. But Alec came in and did a nice job.”
“He pitched a good game,” said McKinney of Gohn. “He didn’t make any real mistakes. He was around the strike zone. They had a few errors like us, and we capitalized on some. We didn’t have a ton of hits, but the biggest thing to me is not moving the runners. I guess for the first full game it wasn’t bad.
“It was nice to play a game,” continued McKinney. “We had a rain-out Sunday and we had a rain-out Tuesday. Finally today, we got to play. But we had no field to work on, and that didn’t help.”
Fredericksburg made it 3-1 in the top of the sixth inning, when, with one out, three consecutive batters reached base. Orta walked, Darrin Shirk singled and Wengert laced an RBI hit.
“I haven’t played anyone else,” said Hostetter. “But going into this, I looked at Fredericksburg as being at least one of the top three teams in the league, and maybe the team to beat. We’re going to be fine with arms, and so are they. I think we’ll play decent defense, but our nemesis is going to be scoring runs.”
“We’re a year older, but we didn’t get some kids to return,” said McKinney. “The young guys we’ve got up, they’re going to do a lot and contribute to the team. With the all-around talent, the kids’ attitudes are much more coach-able. Maybe we’re a year maturer. I think we’ll be OK. We just have to clean it up.”
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Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League Standings