BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – When your back is against the wall, there is one of two ways you can go – out or down.
Fighting for its playoff life, the Annville-Cleona baseball team came out swinging yesterday and took down Columbia 6-1. The Little Dutchmen jumped out to an early lead, got RBIs from five different sources and rode the compete-game pitching effort of junior southpaw Tanner Fitting to victory.
Pretty much having to win out to qualify for the District Three Class AA postseason, the Little Dutchmen improved to 7-11 on the year and 6-8 in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. With regular-season tilts against Pequea Valley on Friday and Lancaster Catholic on Monday remaining, Annville-Cleona is ranked 14th in an AA classification that takes ten teams for its District Three playoffs.
With the loss, Columbia, which suffered a 9-5 home loss to the Little Dutchmen earlier in the spring, plummetted to 2-16 overall and 1-13 in the section.
“We think we basically have to win out,” said Annville-Cleona manager Mike Capriotti. “We don’t know what the other teams ahead of us are doing. The loss to Lebanon Catholic on Monday was big. That hurt. We’ve got to take it one game at a time, and we’ve got to win out.
“They know. The kids know what we’re up against,” Capriotti continued. “They know what they’ve got to do. But they have to prepare themselves. There’s a lot of distractions out there. We want two to three hours of their time. They need to be focused on the ball game at hand.”
Fitting retired the first seven hitters he saw, and by the time the Crimson Tide reached him for their first base knock, he was sitting on a 3-0 cushion. Fitting allowed a total of just two hits, issued two free passes and struck out 13 among his 101 pitches.
In the top of the fourth – when Columbia scored its lone run – Fitting accomplished the rare baseball feat of striking out four batters in one inning, thanks to a dropped third strike.
“Ain’t he a piece of work,” said Capriotti of the animated Fitting. “He’s got personality. He keeps things loose. He stays positive, even in negative situations. He’s very comical. But he’s his worst critic.
“It (Fitting’s) was a solid performance,” continued Capriotti. “That’s something we expect of him. He wanted the ball. He got it. But he needs to throw strikes. He’s got a nifty curve and he’s left-handed. With his fastball, he needs to get ahead in the count.”
The Little Dutchmen wasted precious little time getting Fitting a lead with which to work. Presented a first-inning opportunity caused by a Columbia error, Mitch Rodkey and Nat Hughes cashed in for A-C RBIs that made it 2-0.
Then in the bottom of the second, Adam Connor’s sacrifice fly plated Justin Ulrich for a 3-0 advantage.
“We had the potential in one inning (the fifth) to really blow the game open, and we got two runs,” said Capriotti. “We got our first three batters on, and we could’ve had a bunch more. Their pitcher was smart. He had our guys fishing.”
Mitch Hostter’s two-run single in the fifth expanded the Annville-Cleona advantage to five runs. The Little Dutchmen had taken a 4-0 lead in the third, courtesy of a bases-loaded walk to Cody Brightbill.
“We’ve won more games this year than we have in the two previous years,” said Capriotti. “It’s an improvement. We’re a young team. We only have two seniors. I think we had higher expectations at the beginning of the season. We wanted to be competitive. But game-in and game-out, we don’t know which team is going to show up. When we’ve had losses, we’ve thrown the ball all over the plate. A .500 season would’ve been nice.
“I don’t know if we’re a playoff team,” Capriotti added. “It depends if we come to play. Sometimes we struggle against teams we should beat. It’s our performance we’re not sure of. They’ve (his players) got to go out and perform. Eighty percent of the game is mental. Most people can do the physical things.”