BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Is Claire Shaak the best softball player in Lebanon County?
Shaak is one of those rare difference-makers. The Elco senior possesses the ability to single-handedly affect the outcome of a game.
On Friday afternoon at Annville-Cleona High School, Shaak was the difference, as the Raiders blanked the home-standing Little Dutchmen, 2-0. Shaak starred in the pitcher’s circle, in the batter’s box and with her quiet, unassuming and humble approach to leadership.
The result pushed Elco to 6-4 overall and 5-4 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. With the loss, Annville-Cleona slipped to 8-2 on the season and 7-2 in Section Four of the L-L.
The triumph was one of only a couple that the Raiders have scored over the Little Dutchmen this century.
“I could say ‘yes’, she probably is the beat all-around player in the County,” said Elco head coach Dennis Morgan of Shaak. “With everything together, I think she is, hands down. But I’m being a little impartial. Since she was a freshman, on up, all she wanted to do is go out and play the game. Her best sport is field hockey. She’s a solid team leader.
“She threw well,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz of Shaak. “She’s one of the best pitchers in the County, but I haven’t seen everybody throw yet. I think Emma (A-C pitcher, Lerchen) can light it up too. But yeah, I concur, she’s (Shaak) one of the best players in the County. She had three hits today. She hit a 3-2 boomer, and she had two other solid hits.”
Shaak, a hard chucking right-hander, shut down and shut out the Little Dutchmen on two hits – Christy Snyder’s two-out single in the first and Kayla Gassert’s safety to lead off the top of the fifth. Snyder did reach third base courtesy of a stolen base and a wild pitch, and Gassert did make it to second thanks to a Kaci Zimmerman sacrifice.
But the only other Little Dutchman to advance into scoring position was Lerchen, with two outs in the bottom of sixth, on an error. In short, Shaak was in control most of the way.
Lebanon Sports Buzz’s reigning ‘Athlete of the Week’ amassed ten strikeouts and walked two.
“I think that’s the best I pitched in a while,” said Shaak. “I hit my spots, and I was hitting my corners. There were a couple of girls I knew that I couldn’t leave the ball over the plate.”
“I think she basically had control,” said Morgan of Shaak. “She had some deep counts, but she came back, and she got them (the Little Dutchmen) to chase bad pitches. She’s not overpowering. But she doesn’t throw a straight ball. Everything she throws has a tail on it.
“You can’t say enough about the girl,” continued Morgan. “She doesn’t come on as anything she’s not. She’s so humble about what she does. She has 21 hits already this season and she’s batting over .700. The contributions she makes on the field are immeasurable.”
“I think it’s both,” said Bentz, of Shaak’s pitching and his club’s approach to hitting. “You have to adjust to the pitcher, just like you’ve got to adjust to the umpire. I thought she was coming in with first-pitch strikes, and we’ve got to swing. If we don’t, she has us.
“We were taking the first strike, and if you take the first strike against a good pitcher, she can do whatever she wants – up, down, inside or out,” added Bentz. “We’ve got to come ready to play. They (the Raiders) got two, and we got zero. They’re happy, and we’re sad.”
Shaak also drove in the game-winning run in the top of the fourth.
Raider Beth Hess had led off the frame with a single and a stolen base, before Shaak used a line drive to split the left-center field gap for a run-producing double. Vern Reinhart followed with Elco’s third straight hit, an RBI-single that plated Shaak.
“I think we beat them my freshman year for the first time in like 11 years,” said Shaak of the Little Dutchmen. “So as a senior it’s nice to be able to beat them. I think if we play every game like we did this one, we’ll do well. I think we just have to play solid defense. Shaky defense has been the reason when we’ve lost.”
“That was a good game. Overall, it was probably one of our best games of the year,” said Morgan. “We have had good games. We got outs when we needed them, we got strikes when we needed them and we got runs when we needed them. I think everything fell into place, with hitting, pitching and defense.
“We beat a good team,” Morgan continued. “Over the years, we hadn’t beaten them a lot, and we figured out a way to beat them. I only know of two times when we beat them.”
“Nope, it didn’t work. It worked the other day, but not today,” said Bentz of a mid-game pep talk he delivered to his charges.”I coach the way I played. I’m passionate about the game. I love these kids. It kills me to stick them out there and make them run (after the game).
“I’m very disappointed with our effort,” Bentz added. “If we would’ve showed the effort, everything would have been OK. We wasted a good game pitched by Emma. She pitched well enough to win. I’m very passionate, and I wish they (his players) had the passion too. I said maybe we had too many 15-1 games, too many 12-0 games.”
Lerchen, a junior, was nearly as effective as Shaak.
Prior to the Elco fourth, she had retired seven Raider batters in-a-row, and after it, she retired seven in-a-row. Shaak collected three of the six hits that Lerchen surrendered.
Lerchen also struck out ten, and didn’t issue a free pass.
“She threw well,” said Morgan of Lerchen. “She was getting the outside pitches. She had control of her pitches. She has good location. We had a good game against her, but she threw as well as she can.
“I don’t think we can win the section,” added Morgan. “But if we continue to play ball like this, we can get to districts. I don’t think we can catch Lampeter-Strasburg and Donegal. You expect more sometimes from kids, but you’ve got to remember they’re kids. We have some young girls out there. But I think overall we’re hitting better than we ever have.”
“I thought she threw very well,” said Bentz of Lerchen. “A couple of plays in the infield and it’s a different game. We could still be playing. We need a take-charge person. But we don’t have that.
“I would think Section Three should be better than Section Four, just because of the number of kids,” Bentz concluded. “This year it is. There’s two really good teams (Lampeter-Strasburg and Donegal) in Section Three, and then you have Elco and Northern Lebanon, and they battle. They’re going to give you a game. We use the old adage: ‘You’ve got to learn from your mistakes’. We’re still young. We still need to play games. Teams aren’t going to give us runs.”
On Saturday, Annville-Cleona will host a mid-season tournament that will also include Cedar Crest, Lebanon High and Trinity. Opening-round games will be contested at 10 a.m,, while the championship and consolation games will be played at 2 p.m..
Section Three Standings
Section Four Standings
Elco 2015 Results
|4:15 PM||W 8-5|
|4:15 PM||L 0-12|
|4:15 PM||L 3-15|
|4:15 PM||W 12-5|
|4:15 PM||L 5-7|
|4:15 PM||W 16-6|
|4:15 PM||W 10-0|
|4:15 PM||L 6-7|
|4:15 PM||W 11-1|
Annville-Cleona 2015 Results
|4:15 PM||W 11-1|
|4:15 PM||W 6-0|
|4:15 PM||W 15-0|
|4:15 PM||W 19-0|
|4:15 PM||W 7-3|
|4:15 PM||W 21-1|
|4:15 PM||L 3-13|
|4:15 PM||W 10-7|
|4:15 PM||W 12-1|