FREDERICKSBURG – When push comes to shove and the chips are down, all things revert back to tradition. That’s one of the aspects of tradition that makes it so resistant to change.
In a contest that amounted to a regular-season play-in game to the playoffs, perennial powerhouse Fredericksburg shaded aspiring Fifth Ward 8-2, Wednesday night at Earl Wenger Memorial Field. Post 915 scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, one in the fifth and three more in the sixth to break open a 1-1 deadlock.
A night earlier, Fredericksburg had shut out Fifth Ward 5-0, meaning the two outcomes gave F-burg a two-game lead and the tiebreaker – with three to play – over Fifth Ward in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the Lebanon County American Legion baseball league. Fredericksburg, the most storied program in the history of the summer circuit, is now 6-6 on the season, while Fifth Ward, which hasn’t qualified for the playoffs in recent memory, slipped to 4-8.
Fredericksburg won the season series with Lebanon 3-0, holding it to a total of four runs in the three games.
“We looked at it like we needed to get some wins,” said Fredericksburg manager Jim McKinney. “We wanted to win the first one (on Tuesday night) to get the head-to-head tiebreaker. Tonight we wanted to win to get two games up on them.
“It had to be,” said Lebanon head coach Tony McDonnell when asked if the contests amounted to playoff games for the playoffs. “It was in my mind. But I don’t know if the kids thought about it that way. These were our playoffs, to get to the playoffs.”
“We came in tied for fourth place and they (the Chix) took it to us,” McDonnell continued. “That’s disappointing. That’s why we’re at where we are now, out of the playoffs again.”
Fredericksburg’s Tyler Leonard stroked an RBI-double ahead of what would turn out to be the key swing of the game.
Teammate Austin Startoni lofted a fly down the right-field line on which two Fifth Ward fielders came together and collided trying to make a catch. By the time the Golden Gophers had returned the ball to the infield, Startoni was standing on third with a two-run triple that made it 4-1.
In the fifth, Drew Bene laced a run-scoring single to up Fredericksburg’s advantage to 5-1. And an at-bat later, F-burg tallied three more times – courtesy of a wild pitch, a Johnny McKinney sacrifice fly and Devon Elder’s two-out RBI-single – to open a seven-run lead.
“The approach at the plate is what we’ve been working on,” said McKinney. “The kids did a little better with it tonight. For us, we wanted to move runners and make productive outs. We did better than we have been.
“Josh (Fifth Ward starter Hammaker) pitched a good game for them,” added McKinney. “He was around the strike zone. He seemed to be getting stronger towards the end of the game.”
“I don’t know if this eliminates us or not,” said McDonnell. “Mathematically, no. But psychologically, I think so. We had been playing so well, and we came out with no energy. It’s frustrating. Maybe the coaches want it more than the kids.”
Fredericksburg starter Ian Whitman didn’t yield much after surrendering a two-out RBI-double to Lebanon’s Kevin Schneck in the top of the first inning. Whitman threw 110 pitches in his route-going performance, struck out four, walked two and scattered seven hits.
“The key for Ian is staying in the strike zone,” said McKinney. “His biggest thing is competitive pitches. All of his pitches were in the competitive zone. He pitched as well as I’ve seen him pitch all season, including high school.
“Ian kept us in the game,” McKinney added. “His pitch count was right at his limit. That’s as far as he can go. Other than that, we tightened our defense.”
“He’s been better, honestly,” said McDonnell of Whitman. “The difference was what we were trying to do with pitches on the outside of the plate and what they were trying to do with the pitches on the outside of the plate. Their third-baseman was busy. He’s (Whitman) the ace of that staff, but I’ve seen him throw better.
“It’s not one of their (F-burg’s) best teams,” added McDonnell. “But position by position, they’re solid. I don’t know about their pitching, but man-for-man and pound-for-pound, they’re as good as anyone in the league.”
F-burg knotted the score at one in the top of the second when Bene doubled, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly to center off the bat of Elder.
“I can’t say that I feel like I’ve got a good team,” said McKinney. “I think we still got some work to do. I think it’s (the victories) a step in the right direction. This team has a lot of potential. We’ll see how we do against teams over .500. That’ll be the tell tale.
“Tonight was important for playoff contention,” McKinney continued. “We’re two wins ahead of them (the Golden Gophers). It helps us in the playoff picture. They have some decent players on their team. This late in the summer, this is the best I’ve ever seen them.”
“This program needs to get to the playoffs for the season to be considered a success,” said McDonnell. “We can’t be satisfied to be competitive. When we started practice, we had high expectations. Maybe we set the bar too high. Overall, it’s a very disappointing end. We thought we really had a shot.”
Fifth Ward scored the game’s final run in the top of the seventh, on Kevin Schneck’s RBI double. The game ended when a Fredericksburg fielder pulled ‘the old hidden-ball trick’ on a Fifth Ward base runner.
“I didn’t call that,” said McKinney of the hidden-ball trick. “That’s not my call. The kids did that on their own, the hidden-ball trick. Some people think it’s a cheap play. It’s in our arsenal, but I didn’t call it.”
LEBANON COUNTY AMERICAN LEGION BASEBALL STANDINGS
W L T Pts
y-Campbelltown 9 2 0 27
y-Annville 8 3 0 24
y-Myersotwn 8 5 0 24
Fredericksburg 6 6 0 18
Lebanon Fifth Ward 4 8 0 12
x-Richland 1 11 0 3
x-eliminated from playoff contention
y-clinched playoff berth