BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – In a game marked by long drives, big blows and and whacked jacks, one hit trumped them all.
The Grand Slam.
Sophomore Haley Hirn’s round-tripper with the bases-juiced in the bottom of the fifth inning proved decisive, as Annville-Cleona out slugged Northern Lebanon 13-8 in a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three-Four crossover contest on Thursday afternoon. Hirn’s four-run bomb gave the Little Dutchmen an 11-8 advantage that they would never relinquish, after her side had squandered an early 6-0 cushion.
It was a smash down the left-field line and came after Northern Lebanon had loaded the bases with walks. Hirn finished her afternoon with three hits in four trips to the plate and six RBIs.
Annville-Cleona, which is currently in hot pursuit of Pequea Valley for a Section Four title, improved to 9-4 overall and 7-4 in the league. Northern Lebanon slipped to 4-10 on the year and 3-8 in Section Three.
The teams combined for 25 hits, seven of which went for extra-bases, three dingers and numerous other balls which were hit on the button – some of which were caught and some of which weren’t.
“Yeah, there were plenty of hits and lots of long balls,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz. “There were some bombs. It’s an intra-county game. You can’t take any of these teams lightly. They’re (the Vikings) better than a four-win team. I knew it was going to be a struggle.
“Haley broke out,” Bentz continued. “She’s been struggling. But it (the grand slam) was a bomb, another blast. She needed it, big time.”
“Yeah, sometimes you make a decision and it doesn’t pan out,” said Northern Lebanon manager Mike Boyer of his choice to walk A-C clean-up hitter Kaylynn McKinney to get to Hirn. “I can’t put that one on the girls. There’s a reason she’s (McKinney) the four-hitter, and there’s a reason she’s (Hirn) the five-hiiter. I thought if we could keep the ball down that we could get a ground ball out of it.
“The girls hit the ball tonight,” continued Boyer. “Both teams did. I don’t know that I’ve seen the ball hit that hard all season. It’s momentum. It’s confidence. It’s all those things that are hard to figure out.”
Annville-Cleona had entered the bottom of the fifth facing an 8-7 deficit, thanks to back-to-back four-run rallies by the Vikings.
Down 7-4, Viking Paige Stuppy’s two-run triple and Katelyn May’s run-scoring triple were the big blows in the top of the fifth inning. An inning earlier, nine-hole hitter Tiffany Ginter’s three-run homer was the featured hit in Northern Lebanon’s nine-batter, six-hit and four-run outburst.
“We struggled the last two games,” said Bentz. “Today we pulled our pants up a little tighter and figured out what we can do. It’s interesting for sure.
“We’ve hit the ball well all year,” added Bentz. “Real well. This is the best hitting team I’ve ever been associated with, since I’ve been here. We were hitting .346 as a team in the league, and today that jumped up. These kids can hit.”
“It’s been like this the whole season,” said Boyer. “We have shining moments, and not-so-shining moments. Our hitting’s been up and down, just like everything else.
“It was a combination of both,” Boyer added. “The pitchers threw nice games, but they got behind. And when you do that, hitters are going to hit.”
Annville-Cleona hit Northern Lebanon with a three-spot in the home half of the first inning. Hirn got her team going with a two-run single.
In the bottom of the third, the Little Dutchmen doubled their lead to 6-0. Sandwiched around a Viking fielding blunder was Crystal Miller’s round-tripper and Chrisi Lerchen’s RBI-triple.
“You’re right,” said Bentz. “I think we took them for granted when we were up six. And then bang, bang, bang, they take the lead, and we’ve got to battle back.
“(Starter Lerchen) Chrisi wasn’t slated to pitch today,” continued Bentz. “She came back two days in-a-row. She threw pretty well. She’s not going to blow it by anybody. The same way with (Northern Lebanon starter, Emily) Marko. It’s a matter of waiting and waiting, and finishing your swing.”
“I’ve always got to be proud when the girls show a little heart,” said Boyer. “Even at the end, the girls were swinging the bats and putting the ball in play. I was proud of our team. All season long we’ve been missing heart, but tonight we showed a lot of it.
“It was a good game to watch,” Boyer continued. “It’s always fun to watch big-hitting games.”
Complementing Hirn offensively was teammate Casey Ditzler, who went three-for-four, and Anique Varela, who contributed a pair of safeties. Summer Cooke stroked three hits for the Vikings.
“These guys aren’t happy,” said Bentz of his charges. “They expect to win every game. There were games we took for granted and should’ve won. We’re still in the race. We’re one game behind Pequea Valley and play them next Friday. It’s (the direction of the season) in front of them. We’ll take it one game at a time and go from there.”
“I’m hoping we can learn a little bit of something from here on out,” said Boyer. “How to give them (his players) confidence has eluded us. I’m always playing for pride. At this point we’re playing for pride and fun. It’s been a long season. It hasn’t gone the way we hoped.”