BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – Close to the vest. Well-played. Hotly-contested. Highly-competitive. Well-pitched, defensive struggles.
There is no team which would like to see the Lebanon County American Legion baseball playoffs unfold the same way the regular season did as much as Fredericksburg.
On Saturday night at Earl Wenger Memorial Field, Chase Dubendorf’s RBI-single to right-field lifted regular-season champion Fredericksburg to a thrilling 2-1, nine-inning triumph over Annville, in its postseason opener. Dubendorf’s clean hit fell in front of Annville rightfielder Taylor Prentice and scored Ryan Biever, who was running all the way, from second base.
In the bottom of the second extra frame, Post 915 had started its rally with two outs and nobody on, against Annville reliever Jordan Gohn. Biever and Isaac Wengert drew walks ahead of Dubendorf, who lined a 0-1 offering into right.
“For it to be a successful season, we had to win the regular-season championship,” said Fredericksburg head coach Jim McKinney, whose club received medals for its regular-season title prior to the contest. “The goal is to get to regionals. That’s the goal for every team in this league. Everything after that is icing on the cake.
“I’m pleased defensively,” McKinney continued. “I’m pleased pitching-wise. It’s the same story. We don’t hit in clutch situations. But we finally got it. They’re (Annville) a good team. They played their hearts out.”
“Yeah, it was just like the regular season,” said Annville head coach Steve Hostetter. “One key hit or one key error is crucial. This whole season, it’s been that way. It seems like it comes down to that one play.
“We competed,” added Hostetter. “We were right there. All we needed was a key hit somewhere along the line. We could’ve won that game 1-0, but they (Fredericksburg) gave us that run. We had every chance to win. We don’t hit, but nobody else does either. We’re not that far from this team.”
The outcome set up a showdown between top-seeded and now 14-2 Fredericksburg and second-seeded Campbelltown, which nudged Myerstown, in the Lebanon County American Legion baseball tournament’s undefeated game, Sunday at 7 p.m. back at Earl Wenger Field. Fredericksburg, winners of ten straight overall, is expected to send either southpaw Wyatt Beakler or lefty Jordan Nichols to the hill.
Fourth-seeded Annville’s loss, which left it 8-9 overall and 1-1 in the postseason, necessitated a Sunday 2 p.m. meeting with sixth-seeded Richland, at Annville-Cleona High School.
“The first part of the at-bat, he fouled it off,” said McKinney of Dubendorf. “I think it was an 0-1 pitch and he drove it to rightfield. It’s something he can do with a lot of ease. He’s strong and he’s a great hitter, but sometimes he’s a little anxious at the plate.
“Tonight, we actually looked at less strikes,” McKinney continued. “We did not swing and miss. I wanted us to stay aggressive at the plate. We didn’t have many strikeouts looking. He (the umpire) was fairly consistent behind the plate.”
“It was a good at-bat,” said Hostetter. “He made contact. But that didn’t lose us the game. The two walks hurt us as much.”
Two innings earlier, Dubendorf had missed out on a chance to win it when he and Ian Whitman left the potential winning run at third base. But the reason Fredericksburg won the war was because Whitman won a battle of attrition with Annville starter Alec ‘Gator’ Barr and Gohn.
Whitman needed 120-plus pitches to go all nine innings and pick up the pitching victory. The sturdy right-hander surrendered four hits, struck out eight and walked one.
Whitman retired Annville in order in the second, fourth, sixth and ninth innings.
“Ian’s an absolute horse,” said McKinney. “For him, that’s (120 pitches) his limit. We had someone coming in for him the next the next inning. He had great control. Everything was working for him. Nine innings, no earned runs, against a good team. What else can you ask for?
“Here’s the thing with Ian: at the beginning of the season, he didn’t throw a lot,” added McKinney. “He didn’t get a lot of throwing in and we had to work him into the lineup. He worked to a half a game, and then he worked to a full game. He’s a good pitcher. He can give you a lot of innings. His arm is finally up to full strength.”
“Whitman threw a good game, but so did Gator,” said Hostetter. “It seemed like we couldn’t adjust to his (Whitman’s) off-speed stuff. We swung at a lot of pitches that were low or out of the strike zone.
“I don’t know (what the problem at the plate is),” continued Hostetter. “That’s the million dollar question. We hit in batting practice. We look good. But in the game it doesn’t seem like that much of a difference.”
Down a run, Fredericksburg knotted the score in the bottom of the third inning.
J.C. Orta led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Beakler. Orta moved to third on a Dubendorf hit, and scored courtesy of a throwing error on the same play.
In his six-plus innings of toil, Barr scattered nine hits, whiffed four and issued a lone free pass.
“They played us tough all year,” said McKinney of Annville. “We always have trouble with Annville. They’re a good team. Their 12-13 guys are quality players. That’s all you really need.”
“He’s a competitor,” said Hostetter of Barr. “I knew he was going to be pissed off when I took him out of the game (in the bottom of the seventh). I don’t like holding on to pitchers a batter too long. He was at 85 pitches. I thought it was the right time.
“Sometimes Jordan (Gohn) is effectively wild,” Hostetter continued. “He came in and did the job. He got us out of that inning.”
Annville assumed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, without the benefit of a hit and courtesy of three F-burg throwing errors. Barr scored the run and three-hole hitter Hunter Long drove him home.
But Annville failed to get a runner past second base the rest of the way against Whitman.
“Our goal in these playoffs are the same as anybody else’s,” said Hostetter. “We didn’t finish the season very strong, but this is a whole new season. We got a break, I guess, by getting a forfeit from Fifth Ward. But I don’t want to be given anything. We came into this thing wanting to win it. There’s no reason we couldn’t.
“We have three starters, maybe not quite as good as Fredericksburg’s,” continued Hostetter. “But I have four guys – Barr, Gohn, Colton Long and Justin Ulrich – who can shut down anyone in this league.”
During the regular season, Fredericksburg outscored Campbelltown by a combined margin of 29-2 in three wins.
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Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League
Double-Elimination Playoff Standings
x-Fredericksburg 1 0
Campbelltown 1 0
Annville 1 1
Myerstown 1 1
Richland 0 1
Fifth Ward 0 1
x-regular season champion