BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – It’s a long, long road to navigate.
But nothing has ever come easy for Fifth Ward. In fact, the Golden Gophers may even prefer it this way.
On a summer-like Wednesday evening at Annville-Cleona High School, on the third day of the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League’s six-team, double-elimination, postseason tournament, Fifth Ward scored a clutch 6-4, eight-inning triumph over Annville, in a loser’s bracket elimination tilt. After the two clubs had traded three-run, seventh-inning rallies, Fifth Ward emerged victorious when it pushed across the decisive runs in the top of the eighth.
Cody Kissinger knocked in Camryn Shaak for the eventual winning run, then later came around to score himself on an Annville error. The rally made a winner out of Lebanon relief pitcher Andy Ortiz-Vazquez, who came on in relief of Shaak in the bottom of the seventh.
The win snapped fourth-seeded Fifth Ward’s four-game losing skein and allowed the Golden Gophers to fight another day. That day is Thursday, when Lebanon takes on regular-season champion Campbelltown, which eliminated Conrad Weiser 8-6, at 5:45 p.m. at Palmyra High School, in another do-or-die scenario.
The setback dropped third-seeded Annville to 9-9 and eliminated Post 559 from the County Legion tournament. But Annville will represent Lebanon County in a Division Two regional tournament for smaller teams in Hershey, on the weekend of July 21-22.
Last night marked Fifth Ward’s first victory over Annville in four tries this summer.
“I’ll say ‘yeah,’” said Fifth Ward skipper Greg Kreiser, when asked if his side can fight all the way back through the loser’s bracket. “If we play our game, we can win. It’s just those mental mistakes we make. We need to eliminate them. We’ll see what happens.
“We’re in good shape pitching-wise, right now,” continued Kreiser. “We have three guys who haven’t thrown yet. We should be OK. But we need our starters to go deep into games.”
“I always want to win,” said Annville head coach Ken Sauley. “I want to go there (division two regionals) and look good. But we didn’t have the pitching. It is what it is. The kids who pitched, pitched well. But I don’t like to lose.
“I’ve got a better chance of going to states than anyone in this league,” added Sauley. “I think the league is down this year.”
With the score deadlocked at one in the top of the seventh inning, Lebanon tallied three runs, thanks in part to two Annville errors. Elijah Blouch stroked a two-run single, after Antonio Collazo came through with a tiebreaking single.
But Annville used four Fifth Ward wild pitches in the bottom of the frame to knot the game at four. Devin Singer, Cameron Freeman and Mason began the push with two walks and a single.
“I wasn’t real happy with the way we played,” said Kreiser. “Shaak was pitching well, but the sticks weren’t there early. The bats finally came alive in the last innings.
“I think our approach got a little better,” Kreiser added. “(Annville starter Hunter) Kelley had our number. He pitched well. But we became more patient and hit our pitches. We got some timely hits from Cody and (Ziaire) Leger, and Collazo had a big hit.”
“We didn’t quit. We fought to the end,” said Sauley. “To score three runs in the bottom of the seventh, and then get down again, it hurts. They (his players) kept battling. But we’ve got to stop doing that.
“We booted a couple of balls that cost us runs,” Sauley continued. “That’s three runs they probably don’t get. If you shoot yourself in the foot, those things are going to happen. And if you don’t score runs early, they’re going to get to you sooner or later.”
Annville jumped out to a 1-0 lead the bottom of the first inning. Kelley drove in teammate Cameron Hoch, who was hit by a pitch.
Then after both starters – Shaak for Lebanon and Kelley for Annville – settled in, Fifth Ward tied it in the top of the sixth. After two were out, Shaak and Kissinger collaborated on a run, with a free pass, a stolen base and a run-producing single.
“They make a big difference,” said Kreiser. “They’re the veterans – Shaak, Blauch and Kissinger. If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t be as good as we are. In the sixth I was thinking, ‘Can we get the lead-off guy on? Can we push across a run?’
“Shaak is throwing hard,” continued Kreiser. “He struggled with location early. But he made pitches when he needed to. He got outs. He kept us in the game.”
“He was throwing hard,” said Sauley of Shaak. “And he had a decent breaking ball. The first 12 games of the season we hit the ball well. But the last eight we had like three or four hits a game. That ain’t going to win games. You’ve got to make good contact.
“The only reason I took Hunter out (in the top of the seventh) was because I thought they were catching up to him,” continued Sauley. “But if we make plays, we win the game. You make three errors at the end of a game and that’s what happens. But Hunter did really well. He kept his pitch count low.”
Making just his second start of the summer, Shaak struck out six, walked four and yielded three hits over his six-plus innings of work. Kelley also went six-plus, fanned one, issued two free passes and surrendered five hits.
“He’s (Kelley) pitched well both times we faced him,” said Kreiser. “And we didn’t hit him. I don’t know what it is about this team. They just play us tough.
“We started out the season real well,” added Kreiser. “We were on top of the league for awhile. I was pretty confident coming into the playoffs.”
“We beat them three times this year,” said Sauley of Lebanon. “The last game (on July 5th) here was the exact same scenario. It was like deja vu all over again. But it doesn’t hurt as bad because we’re going to keep playing.”
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Lebanon County American Legion
Baseball League Playoff Standings
Team W L
Richland 2 0
Fredericksburg 1 0
Campbelltow 1 1
Fifth Ward 1 1
x-Annville 1 2
x-Conrad Weiser 0 2
Regular Season Standings