BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – No franchise has won more Lebanon County American Legion Baseball championships than Fredericksburg’s 23. But the last time Fredericksburg won one was 2009.
So by the summer circuit’s law of averages, F-burg is a bit overdue.
On a soggy Friday night at Earl Wenger Memorial Field, Fredericksburg took an initial step towards rectifying that situation by downing Conrad Weiser 10-1. After the underdog, upstart visitors had given it all it wanted through five innings of play, Fredericksburg exploded for seven runs in the bottom of the sixth.
The outcome gave Fredericksburg a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three County American Legion semifinal series, a set that continues on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Conrad Weiser High School. With the win, Fredericksburg, the circuit’s regular-season champion, improved to 18-5 overall and 15-4 in the league.
Conrad Weiser, now 8-11, earned the league’s fourth and final playoff spot a night earlier, with an 8-5 victory over Fifth Ward. This summer marks Conrad Weiser’s first season of competition in the Lebanon County American Legion League.
Fredericksburg has now won all four of its meetings with Conrad Weiser this season, by a combined margin of 43-7.
The start of last night’s playoff opener was delayed by an hour because of rain.
“I do care about that,” said Fredericksburg manager Tim Schaeffer, when reminded of his team’s history in the league. “If your goal is not do that, it’s not worth doing. It should be the best you can do. Everybody thinks we lost everything from last year. But we’ve got some real good players on this team, and they’re starting to play together as a team.
“I don’t want to back into it (the Region Four tournament Fredericksburg is hosting next week),” continued Schaeffer. “That’s never our goal. Our goal is to have those other guys fighting for second place.”
“It’s pretty important,” said winning pitcher Seth Walmer of the overall league championship. “It’s a pride thing. We don’t like some of the other teams we play. We want everything. After last year, it left a bitter-sweet taste in our mouths.”
Fredericksburg set the tone with a first-inning run.
Lead-off hitter Hayden Johnson opened with a double and moved up a base on Isaac Wengert’s single. A few batters later, Johnson scored on Bailey Keefer’s sacrifice fly.
The home team extended its lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the third, and Johnson and Wengert were again the catalysts, with a walk and a single, respectively. Michigan Daub drove in one of the Fredericksburg runs, while the other came home on Walmer’s double to left.
“The first couple of innings we missed some golden opportunities,” said Schaeffer. “We’ve got to score those guys when we get them to third base. But when you score first, that puts pressure on them. Those three runs were huge.
“The first game is the most important game,” added Schaeffer. “It gets momentum on your side. But they (Conrad Weiser) played tough the first four or five innings. We’ll go to work tomorrow afternoon and see if we can finish this thing.”
“It’s (the opening game) really important, especially when you have home field advantage,” said Walmer. “It gives us confidence going into tomorrow. Now they’ve (Conrad Weiser) got to bounce back.”
On a strict pitch count, Walmer worked the first four frames, before exiting with a 3-0 lead. He surrendered only one hit, struck out two and walked one.
Walmer’s relief, southpaw Seth Daubert, tossed the last three innings. Daubert was charged with Conrad Weiser’s only run, which came courtesy of Brandon Wright’s two-out, RBI-single in the fifth.
“Both Seths did well,” said Schaeffer, who will go with Cole Felty as his Game Two starter. “They kept the pitches down and didn’t give up big hits. We kept Seth Walmer under 60 pitches so he can come back in two days. That’s important in the playoffs. That was the plan from the beginning.
“We kind of moved things around and set things up,” continued Schaeffer. “Seth’s (Walmer) been keeping the ball down and keeping his pitch count down.”
“Besides it being humid, I felt good on the mound,” said Walmer. “I don’t strike out a ton of guys. And I felt good at the plate. It felt good to contribute.
“It’s (exiting the game early) going to benefit us in the long run,” Walmer added. “I understand what’s going on. Seth (Daubert) came in and pumped strikes. It sets us up well.”
Fredericksburg sent 12 batters to the plate during its’ seven-run sixth.
The highlight of the rally was one-out RBIs from five consecutive hitters – Wengert, Daub, Walmer, Keefer and Noah Gingrich. But the frame began with two Conrad Weiser errors and walks to Zach Seltzer and Austin Barry.
“We’re getting closer,” said Schaeffer of a summer-long pursuit of consistent at-bats. “The last four or five games, we’ve gotten better. The Annville game is where it started. We’re taking the right approach when we’re in the batter’s box.”
“I thought we played pretty well,” said Walmer. “Our hitting was slow at the beginning. When our hitting is going we’re tough, especially with our pitching.”
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Lebanon County American Legion
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