BY JEFF FALK
ASSUMPTION HILL – The first fundamental of softball is learning to throw strikes. And if learning to throw strikes is the first fundamental, then the second is discovering what they look like from a batter’s box.
On Monday afternoon, Elco’s superior grasp of the fundamentals proved to be decisive, as the Raiders rolled to a 14-4 win over Lebanon Catholic, in a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three-Four crossover affair shortened to five innings by the mercy rule. The patient and selective Raiders coaxed 17 free passes and nine wild pitches out of Catholic pitching, which made five changes.
Elco scored all of its runs during its first four at-bats, while opening a 14-0 advantage. Lebanon Catholic plated four runs in the bottom of the fifth and nearly prolonged the contest, before hard-throwing Raider Claire Shaak came on to slam the door.
With the win, the Raiders upped their overall mark to 4-6 and their Section Three record to 4-5. The Beavers, who dressed ten players, slipped to 0-6 on the year and 0-6 in Section Four.
“We did OK,” said Elco head coach Dennis Morgan. “Batting-wise, you want to be disciplined in the strike zone. The umpire called a couple of high strikes and then we started swinging. There were so many walks, it’s hard to keep focused. But I wasn’t 100 percent happy with our batting.
“I want them (his players) to be disciplined and patient,” continued Morgan. “I want them to hit the ball the opposite way if they have to. I want them to still be in the game (mentally).”
“They beat us on rec league stuff – walks, wild pitches, laying down bunts,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Kerry Long of the Raiders. “I challenge any coach in the league, any coach in Pennsylvania, to come here and deal with what we’ve got to deal with. The kids are great character kids. They’re champions for showing up. The only way we’re going to learn is to be out there. I’m happy with how we did.
“The problem is no softball experience,” Long continued. “We always have to be happy with the small things – hitting the ball, getting on base, catching the ball. We have to be good at all the little things. We’re pulling players from wherever we can find them. Our numbers are really low. It’s still teaching, and that’s one of my strong suits. That and being patient with the kids. The key is making the game fun so they keep coming out.”
The Raiders’ first five hitters in a five-run top of the first inning reached base, and all five scored. Olivia Hess and Shaak got things going for Elco with singles, then teammates McKenna Achenbach, Vern Reinhart and Maddie Drescher came through with RBIs.
In all, 11 Raiders came to the dish in their opening at-bat.
And Elco’s keen batting eye spilled over into the second inning, when it tacked on two more runs to expand its lead to 7-0. Raider Courtney Hoegland smashed a sacrifice fly, while the other Raider run came home on a wild pitch.
“To get the momentum,” said Morgan, “and if you can add more on to it, you can keep the other team down and keep your team up. It’s most important for us to get on top and stay on top. When you have the lead, y0u play more relaxed and more heads-up ball.
“Things are not going bad for us,” added Morgan. “We’re not hitting the way we could. But when you lose your number-three hitter and one of your top two pitchers (senior Cheyenne Hassler to illness), things are going as well as may be expected. You just don’t replace a Hassler.”
“Everything comes down to pitching,” said Long. “We used four pitchers, and some of them haven’t pitched at all before. It’s not like we made a bunch of errors. When they (the Raiders) put the ball in play, we made the plays.
“That was the first time we went five innings,” Long added. “And we should’ve went six. I didn’t think we played that badly. We have five kids who have never played before (this season). You can’t teach them something as complicated as this in two weeks.”
The pitching victory went to Achenbach. The righthander carried a 14-run advantage and a two-hit shutout into the bottom of the fifth, where she hit the lead-off hitter with a pitch and then succumbed to many of the same things that had plagued Catholic throughout.
Six of the next seven batters Achenbach faced reached base, before Morgan turned to Shaak to douse the rally. Jess Bassili, Brittany Groy and Sarah Chobanoff collected RBIs during the Beaver rally.
“She didn’t throw bad until the last inning,” said Morgan of Achenbach. “She got out of rhythm when she hit that girl. Maybe I should’ve gone to Clair earlier. Claire’s been doing most of the pitching for us this year, probably 96 percent of it.
“She (Achenbach) has to be able to throw strikes and keep the ball down in the strike zone,” Morgan continued. “She has the tendency to lose concentration, and then she loses her strike zone. I believe she lost her concentration a little bit.”
“McKenna wasn’t bad,” said Long of Achenbach. “She struggled towards the end. She can definitely pitch. She can definitely hit. She should be proud of her performance. It was nice they (the Raiders) had to bring in one of their aces to finish us off.
“But our kids never give up,” Long added. “They’re character kids.”
Elco had pieced together another five-run rally in the top of the third inning, one which Hoegland capped with a three-run homer down the left-field line. Earlier in the frame, Achenbach had stroked a run-producing single.
Thanks to three walks and three wild pitches, the Raiders extended their lead to 14-0 without the benefit of a hit in the top of the fourth.
“We’re close to halfway through the season and our goal is to make districts,” said Morgan. “We have a bunch of seniors and that would be a good reward for all their hard work. Before Hassler went down our goal was to make the league playoffs, which isn’t out of our reach yet. What we’ve got to do is hit consistently. We’ve got the defense. Our pitching is looking up. But we’ve got to produce with our offense.
“They’re (the Beavers) trying,” Morgan continued. “You can only do with what you have. They have some kids who didn’t have a glove at the start of the season. I admire the girls just for sticking with it. It’s a difficult thing when you’re getting beat that bad.”
“Over the last three years, we’ve had to play with eight players several times,” said Long. “This year you have to have nine to start. The kids put in too much work not to play. They’re not worried about winning and losing.”
Section Three Standings
Section Four Standings