LEBANON – There are only two rules governing play in the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League’s postseason.
The first one is win. Win at all costs. The only result that matters is winning.
The second rule is, if there are any questions about subsequent rules, please refer to the first one.
On a warm Monday night at Fifth Ward Athletic Field, home-standing Lebanon opened play in the local summer baseball circuit’s seven-team, double-elimination playoffs with an important 4-3 triumph over Fredericksburg. Fifth Ward got a strong outing from starter Braden Collazo, established a working margin in the middle innings, then held off a late Fredericksburg charge.
With the victory, fourth-seeded Fifth Ward improved to 7-6 on the summer and booked a Tuesday evening date with top-seeded Myerstown in the winner’s bracket of the tournament. Now 6-8, fifth-seeded Fredericksburg slipped into the loser’s bracket and will play again on Wednesday at Earl Wenger Memorial Field, against an opponent to be determined.
The survivor of the Lebanon County American Legion League playoffs will represent the locale in the upcoming eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament in Mechanicsburg.
“The goal is to win every game,” said Fifth Ward head coach Greg Kreiser. “Then win the next game and the next game and the next game. But you can’t be looking ahead.
“We need to pitch,” continued Kreiser. “That’s been carrying us all year. When we throw well, we’re always in the game.”
“What we talked about is, you’ve got to win this first game,” said Fredericksburg manager Steve Beard. “So you pitch your best pitcher in the first game. Myerstown has such an advantage with the bye, and rightfully so. But we’re trying to win the game in front of us. It’s brutal coming back through the loser’s bracket.”
Collazo and Fredericksburg starter Austin Beard were trading goose eggs, before Fifth Ward broke through to score three times in the bottom of the fourth inning. Derek Perez’s RBI-double snapped the score-less draw, then Fifth Ward went on to add two important insurance tallies on a Post 915 throwing error.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Lebanon padded its lead to 4-0. The frame started with a Deklan Marks single and Julien Coleman being hit by a pitch, before Ronnie Cabrera came through with a run-producing grounder.
“At the beginning of the season, our approach at the plate wasn’t very good,” said Kreiser. “But we’ve changed it. Now we’re getting into hitters’ counts and we’re starting to recognize balls we should be swinging at and balls we should be letting go.”
“I thought both teams battled,” said Beard. “We knew we were going to get Collazo, and we knew he was going to pound the fastball. So, tip your cap to him.
“Right now, we’re a game or two below .500, and that’s who we are,” Beard added. “But don’t sleep on that team (Lebanon). They’re a ball club who could make some noise.”
Sailing along with a 4-0 cushion, Collazo began to tire in the top of the sixth inning.
The hard-throwing southpaw issued three free passes in the frame, and yielded RBIs to Brandon Breidegan and Eric Marinkov. Fredericksburg pulled to within 4-3 of the lead on a Fifth Ward error.
In his six innings of work, Collazo threw 106 pitches, fanned a total of 11 and walked five. He was credited with the win, after reliever Griffin Gonzalez pitched a perfect seventh inning.
“We make everything exciting,” said Kreiser. “But he (Collazo) did exactly what he was supposed to do. I would’ve liked for him to get into the seventh inning. But he was getting to his pitch count. That batter in the sixth was going to be his last batter, no matter what.”
“Austin (Beard) and Collazo worked together in the off-season and both picked up a lot of velocity,” said Beard. “For Braden to be effective, he has to command the ball on the outer half of the plate. He got a lot of swings-and-misses on his change-up. He did a good job of changing our eye level.
“Situationally, we have that one or two half-innings where we have great approaches,” continued Beard. “But the rest of the time at the plate we’re a little bit below average. We talk with them (his players) about their approaches and letting the ball get deep and taking it to the biggest part of the field.”
Austin Beard pitched into the fifth inning for F-burg, before leaving in favor of Bryce McFeaters. A. Beard struck out five and walked four.
“He always throws tough,” said Kreiser of A. Beard. “We faced him in the first game of the year, and he was tough then. He always pitches well against us.”
“Austin’s fastball control got a little spotty in the middle innings,” said Beard. “He was probably throwing as hard as he has all year. He’s been our workhorse all year. He’s a ground ball pitcher, and I thought he did a pretty good job of that tonight.
“After the pandemic last year, my focus was on the boys who are not going to play beyond legion baseball,” Beard continued. “The goal is to encourage these kids to play the game. The season has been a success just getting out here and playing. I like our group of young men. We’ve had our ups and downs, but they’ve shown up.”