BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – Fans of the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League really only had two items on their wish list this summer.
The first was for a postseason that was as interesting and intriguing as the regular season. Number two was for the best team in the circuit to emerge as its champion.
So far, local baseball fans have been treated to more than they could’ve hoped for.
On Thursday night, under the lights of Earl Wenger Memorial Field, regular-season runner-up Fredericksburg downed Myerstown 6-4 to win the third and decisive game of their best-of-three semifinal series. The victory also moved Fredericksburg into circuit’s best-of-five Warren ‘Lefty’ Grumbine championship series, opposite regular-season Campbelltown, which bested Annville.
What should be an exciting set between the Lebanon County American Legion League’s two most consistent performers will open Friday at 5:45 p.m. at Palmyra High School.
Consider this: To this point, the league has staged its maximum number of playoff games, and the home team is now a combined 6-0 in them.
Third-seeded Myerstown concluded its campaign 11-7.
“We finished first and second during the regular season,” said Fredericksburg manager Jim McKinney, whose club went 1-2 against Campbelltown during the regular season. “They (the games) were fairly evenly matched. It’s baseball. Anything can happen.”
For F-burg, perhaps the key moment of Thursday night’s contest with Myerstown came as early as the bottom of the first. A slumping Fredericksburg lineup was faced with a 3-0 deficit thanks to a trio Myerstown runs in the top of the frame.
But a Jon McKinney lead-off double keyed Fredericksburg’s own three-run rally, and a deadlocked scoreboard. Starting pitcher Lucas Gienow and Dustin Bachman performed the driving in of runs.
In the fourth, Fredericksburg grabbed a 4-3 lead it would never relinquish, when Tanner Dresch scored from second base on a Myerstown throwing error.
“That was probably the biggest part of the game, coming back and getting three runs in the first,” said McKinney. “Just keeping our heads up. Them (Myerstown) going up three runs, our guys were down just a bit.
“Jon McKinney’s double was the spark,” McKinney continued. “After that, everybody was up and cheering.”
“When you score three runs in the first inning and one in the next six, you’re not going to win a lot of ball games,” said Myerstown head coach Johnny Mentzer. “They’re (Fredericksburg) a good team and they’re experienced. They have a lot of older kids and they know how to close games out. All of their kids have graduated. The talent level is pretty equal, but it’s about finishing games. And that isn’t there for us.”
Starting on three days rest, southpaw Gienow recorded the win. Gienow struck out four and walked two and took a 6-3 lead into the sixth.
Reliever Ian Whitman got Fredericksburg out of a jam in the sixth and picked up the save. Whitman did most of his damage with a nasty hook.
“Ian’s curveball was working well,” said McKinney. “That’s what shut them down. The way it was breaking it would’ve shut anybody down.”
“We’re young,” said Mentzer. “We only lose four kids, and only two of our kids are going to be seniors. I’m loaded, in my personal opinion. I just hope we can learn from this.”
M-town jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead thanks to a two-run, two-bagger off the bat of Matt Lesher and a Chris Kreider RBI-grounder.
“They’re a good team,” said McKinney of Myerstown. “They played us hard. We just came out on top.”
“I wouldn’t say we over-achieved,” said Mentzer. “The majority of these kids played varsity ball (in high school). It’s that maturing stuff. All the little things we need to do better. The thing for us was being able to put it all together.”
Fredericksburg padded its lead to 6-3 in the bottom of the fifth. Dresch and Jordan Seltzer stroked run-scoring singles.
“It’s about half of the team that probably still has that taste in their mouths,” said McKinney of Fredericksburg’s playoff disappointment last season. “We’ve got something to show.”
“I’m completely happy with our year,” said Mentzer. “11-7 is not a bad first year. I can’t be any happier as a first-year coach taking over for my dad. Are there ways to improve? Yes. But we made progress this year.”
Consecutive singles from Lesher, Adam Shoemaker and Jake Stager pulled Myerstown to within 6-4 in the sixth, and chased Gienow. At the plate, Gienow collected a pair of Fredericksburg’s ten hits.
“Campbelltown’s another good team,” said McKinney. “They’re as good as anybody in this league.
“Boy, I wish I knew what was going to be the key to that series,” added McKinney. “The winning team is going to hit. If we can hit I think we can win. If we don’t, we’re in trouble.”