BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – Some things never change. In the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Yet there always seems to be something new, fresh and exciting in local summer baseball. This summer, Fifth Ward thinks it can be it.
On a warm Friday Night at Elco High School’s Lyle Krall Field, Fifth Ward continued to show some early-season promise during a 10-6 triumph over Richland. The Golden Gophers posted a seven-spot in the top of the first inning, then did an admirable job of minimizing damage while holding off the home team.
The victory lifted Fifth Ward to 2-0-1 in the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League. Richland slipped to 1-2.
“I’m very happy,” said Lebanon head coach Greg Kreiser. “We all coached at the high school and the high school season didn’t go the way we wanted. They’re (his players) starting to put things together. Hopefully it’s upward from here.
“The ultimate goal is to win the league and be the number-one seed in the playoffs,” continued Kreiser. “I want to be in the top three. What needs to happen is exactly what happened today. We hit the ball. We pitched the ball pretty decent. We were hitting the pitch we want to hit and not hitting the pitch that the pitcher wants us to hit.”
“We don’t know if we have enough guys for Monday,” said Richland head coach Travis Thome, singing a familiar tune. “We just hope we have enough to finish the season. The first game we had 15 guys. The second we had ten guys. And this game we had ten.
“We have talented enough guys, it’s whether they want to be committed enough to be here,” Thome continued. “Some guys just don’t show up. We don’t know what we’re going to get. We are, unfortunately, at the mercy of the kids.”
The contest was far from a gem. But the more aggressive team, the more opportunistic team was certainly rewarded.
Fifth Ward feasted on three opening-inning walks, two hits-batsmen and a Richland error to open a 7-0 lead. The Golden Gophers’ first five batters in the top of the first inning reached base, all without the benefit of a hit.
But Fifth Ward concluded the rally with two-run singles from eight-hole hitter Luis Palonco and nine-hole hitter Elijah Blauch, following earlier RBIs by Antonio Collazo, Wilfred Lopez and Cody Kissinger.
The Golden Gophers added to their advantage in the top of the third, when Collazo tripled and then swiped home.
“In the first two innings, we really stroked the ball,” said Kreiser. “We played our game. We gave them some life. But that was the best we hit the ball this year so far.
“It’s being patient,” added Kreiser. “You’ve got to make a pitcher work. I like them (his players) to not be so aggressive at the beginning of games. I want to drive a pitcher’s pitch count up.”
“They played well,” said Thome of the Golden Gophers. “You could see it in the first inning. If you put 20 guys on base and you win a ball game, you got lucky.
“It kind of kills what you want to do at the beginning of a game,” Thome added. “They put up seven, and we didn’t get to hit yet. But we had our chances. If it’s a different first inning, it’s probably a different outcome.”
After Fifth Ward starting pitcher Kissinger didn’t surrender a hit over the first two frames, Richland’s bats came alive in the bottom of the third. Richland chased the sturdy righthander with a rally that included five hits, a walk, a hit-batsman, a sacrifice fly and five runs that made it 8-5.
Nate Trovinger and Joey Ginder recorded two-run singles for Richland, while Joe Carpenter also contributed an RBI.
“We never lost our composure,” said Kreiser. “They (his players) could’ve just gave up there. They could’ve given the game right back to them.
“The thing with Cody is that he hasn’t pitched in over a year,” Kreiser continued. “He’s not up to snuff. Those two innings he threw were excellent. Hopefully he’ll get stronger.”
“We didn’t even hit yet,” said Thome of his club’s early deficit. “We have a decent lineup. We knew we were going to get a couple of runs. We were putting the bat on the ball pretty well. If we could’ve got another run it would’ve helped. But that killed any type of momentum we did have, and they put up two more runs.
“We were a little antsy at the plate,” continued Thome. “Their guy wasn’t overpowering, but their pitchers were effective. We swung at a couple of balls out of the strike zone. I thought we left a lot of guys on base, and we didn’t get a key hit. We sort of sat on that five-spot.”
Fifth Ward plated a pair of runs in the top of the sixth inning to pad its lead to 10-5. Raymond Colon and Kissinger each drilled two-out RBI-singles, after Blauch had been hit by a pitch and Luis Pena had singled.
Richland got one of those runs back in the bottom of the frame, courtesy of Carpenter’s RBI grounder. It followed walks to Deklan Bressler and Trovinger.
“Every game is important,” said Kreiser. “With the new playoff system, we need to be in the top three at the end of the season. Every win counts. It’s good not to lose in the first week of the season.
“They (Richland) can hit,” added Kreiser. “The (Travis) Weaver kid was great (on the mound). He throws the ball hard. We got to him as his pitch count went up. They’re probably one of the top teams in the league.”
“It’s (the season) short. You can’t fall down the ranks early because it’s tough to come back,” said Thome. “With us, we never know when we’re going to get nine guys showing up at a game.
“It’s been like this for two or three years,” Thome added. “If I was in a kid’s position, I’d be embarrassed. I don’t think there’s any sense of pride in being a part of a team. From a coaching standpoint, it’s really frustrating. If they want to play, they’ll be here. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.”
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Lebanon County American Legion Baseball