BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – Fredericksburg wanted to give everyone a chance to play. But no matter who’s out there, players are expected to make plays.
On Wednesday night at Elco High School’s Lyle Krall Field, Fredericksburg, despite resting six key starters, remained red hot by slipping past Richland 3-2 in ten innings. Fredericksburg’s seventh straight win turned on two key plays made by reserves Cody Ream and Ryan Biever.
Right-fielder Ream’s outfield assist with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning proved to be the final out of the contest. Ream gunned down Richland’s Nate Hostetter, who was trying to go from first base to third on teammate Gavin Hain’s single to right.
In the top of the tenth, Biever’s sacrifice fly had driven home Noah Gingrich with what would prove to be the winning run. Gingrich led off the top of the tenth with a walk, stole second and reached third on Zane Merkel’s one-out single.
The result pushed Fredericksburg one step closer to the Lebanon County American Legion League’s regular-season championship and the top playoff seed that goes with it. Now 11-2, Post 915 had already clinched a first-round bye for the circuit’s postseason, which is expected to get underway on July 9.
With the loss, Richland slipped to 3-11. Yesterday marked the third time that Fredericksburg had defeated Richland this season.
“Cody has started about a third of our games, depending on our lineup and who’s pitching,” said Fredericksburg head coach Jim McKinney of Ream. “He’s a situational starter. But yeah, it was a good throw. You’re hepped up and you think you can get to third base. We had some guys who stepped up.
“It was important to get some non-starting players some playing time,” continued McKinney. “They all deserve to play. They show up. They work as hard as anyone else. Come crunch time, we’re going to need all of our players. A win is an absolute bonus. The overall goal is to claim the championship.”
“That’s my read,” said Richland head coach Travis Thome of his decision to summon Hostetter to third base. “I’m expecting, on a blooper to right field with two outs, to get from first to third. The kid (Ream) made a good throw.
“They’re (Fredericksburg) good,” Thome continued. “We didn’t see their true lineup tonight. But they have a bunch of solid hitters. And they have a bunch of solid pitchers. They’re doing something right.”
Richland forced extra frames by plating two runs against tiring Fredericksburg starter Merkel in the bottom of the seventh inning. Post 880 notched the tying run on a F-burg throwing error with two outs.
The outburst began with Jeremy Kreiser’s one-out single, and included a couple of stolen bases and Wes Wentling’s RBI-grounder that made it 2-1.
Brett Minnich came on in relief of Merkel, to get the final out of the seventh inning, and went on to toss three more innings of one-hit, three-strikeout, one-walk ball to get the win. Before hitting the wall around his 100th pitch, in the bottom of the seventh, Merkel had struck out five and walked six.
“He was fine,” said McKinney of Merkel. “Other than a couple of errors and a couple of walks, we’re out of here with a 2-0 win an hour ago. He pitched a fabulous game. He pitched a whale of a game. Everything was working great. He was one of our game highlights.
“Brett (Minnich) came in cold,” added McKinney. “He did real good for us too. His curve-ball was really working well for him.”
“He held us in check,” said Thome of Merkel. “It was 2-0 until the bottom of the seventh. He did his job.
“We’ve seen the guy three or four times now,” Thome added. “We should be more comfortable against him. We had a little better approach in that inning. He might have tired, and it led to some walks.”
After Fredericksburg had failed to score with the bases-loaded and nobody out, and Richland missed a chance to score with the bases-loaded and two out, Post 915 broke through in the top of the third, off R-land starter Cody Good.
The key blow was a two-run single struck by Jordan Nichols. Minnich had got things going for Fredericksburg with a one-out walk, just ahead of teammate Wyatt Beakler’s pinch-hit double.
“I’m happy to get out of here with a win,” said McKinney. “You can’t put it on any particular player. The whole team didn’t hit. We had too many unproductive outs. That’s something we’ve got to work on, get better at. We have to clean it up.
“The one thing is all our kids are coming to the games,” continued McKinney. “I know what my lineup card is. All of my starters are showing up. That’s the one thing we didn’t do early in the season. When my defense came in, we started getting better.”
“Good threw well,” said Thome of his starter. “We was effectively wild at times. He had walks, but they didn’t hurt us. He threw well enough to win. (Jeremy) Kreiser came in, and he’s been fairly consistent.
“We’re playing well right now,” Thome continued. “We’re a little more consistent. The guys are starting to get a little more comfortable.”
In his five innings of work, southpaw Good surrendered five hits, struck out five and walked two. Kreiser took over in the top of the sixth and yielded four hits, fanned two and issued two free passes.
“We’re taking too many good strikes,” said McKinney. “They (his players) need to improve their mental toughness at the plate. We’re looking for walks. We’re not looking for hits. Good hitters look for hits.
“The talent is there,” McKinney added. “They have the size. They have all the ability. They’re pounding the crap out of the ball in the batting cage. But we’ve got to get better at the plate. We’ve got to learn to protect the plate.”
“Obviously I’d be lying if I said I was happy with 3-11,” said Thome. “But the last couple of games have been one-run games, so we must be doing something right. The guys are making smarter baseball decisions. We absolutely did improve since the beginning of the season. But in the end, you always look at wins and losses.
“We have a game tomorrow at Campbelltown, and we want to play well, compete and hopefully come out with a victory,” added Thome. “We want to go into the playoffs on a positive note, and then take it one game at a time. If we play competitive baseball, it gives us a chance to win.”
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