BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – Region American Legion baseball tournaments are mentally, physically and emotionally draining. They’re not marathons, they’re grinds.
And sometimes a player’s only fuel is adrenaline, emotion and an obligation to his teammates.
On a hot Thursday night at Earl Wenger Memorial Field, Fredericksburg realized a dream by winning the championship of the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four it hosted. Needing to win two games yesterday to accomplish the feat, Fredericksburg took down Pleasureville 10-4 in the championship nightcap, after shading Linglestown 3-1 in the afternoon’s final elimination game, or Game 14.
What should be noted is that F-burg prevailed in two totally different fashions. Against Pleasureville, Fredericksburg smashed a dozen hits and opportunistically feasted on six Pleasureville errors. Versus Linglestown, Post 915 rode the complete-game pitching of ace Isaac Wengert and its sound defense to victory.
The performance capped an amazing come back from an opening-day loss to the same Pleasureville club, as Fredericksburg employed strong pitching, solid fielding and red-hot hitting. And Post 915 got the job done with contributions from everyone, even beyond its starting lineup.
Five times F-burg stared down elimination, and never blinked. Now 25-7 overall, the Lebanon County champions will represent Region Four at the Pennsylvania American Legion baseball tournament, which gets underway on Tuesday at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field. F-burg will tangle with Region Five titlist Swoyersville, the reigning state champ.
For Fredericksburg, it was its fourth regional championship overall, but first since 1993. It was also the first it won at a regional it hosted.
Pleasureville ended its year with two straight losses and a 21-3-1 overall record.
“I’m tired,” said Fredericksburg head coach Tim Schaeffer. “Mentally, I’m just spent. It was difficult keeping track of all the pitch counts. The rain-out (on Monday) helped us because everyone got their number-one pitchers back. All these teams were good. You don’t come into regionals without being a good team.
“All year long we played tremendous,” continued Schaeffer. “We fought. Us as a coaching staff, we wanted a lot from them. We’re tough on them, but they respond. You don’t tear them down without bringing them back up.”
“Everything you’ve got, every day,” said Wengert. “Coach tells us, ‘After every game, I want you on the ground sucking air ‘. We don’t give up. We wanted it more than the other teams.
“It’s the team bonding,” Wengert continued. “We love each other. We’re basically brothers. We’re all best friends. You do everything for your team because you don’t want to let your teammates down.”
Fredericksburg’s pivotal inning against Pleasureville was the top of the sixth, when it batted around against Landon Ness, who had shut it down in its opener.
F-burg scored three times to push a one-run edge to 7-3. Bailey Keefer and Zach Seltzer came through with two-out RBIs, while the third run came around on a fielding miscue.
In its next at-bat, Post 915 put the outcome to rest, with three more runs that made it 10-3. As he did all tournament long, Michigan Daub came up with the big hit for Fredericksburg, a two-run double.
“It’s the Fredericksburg baseball team,” said Schaeffer when asked for his opinion on a tournament MVP. “There is no way I could pick one, because they all did their jobs. They hit the heck out of the ball. Those guys were picking each other up.
“We didn’t hit. That was our problem the first time we played them (Pleasureville),” added Schaeffer. “If we would’ve hit like we did today, we wouldn’t have been in the loser’s bracket. When we hit, we’re a team to be reckoned with.”
“We’ve been dreaming about this since junior legion,” said Wengert. “We accomplished it, but we’re still hungry.
“We’re relentless,” continued Wengert. “We kept scrapping and fighting, especially in this game. And we kept adding on.”
Fredericksburg parlayed a couple of two-run rallies in its initial at-bats into a 4-3 lead.
In the top of the first, F-burg plated its pair with two outs and nobody on. Seth Walmer smacked an RBI-double and Bailey Keefer contributed a run-scoring single.
Then in the second, Post 915 turned Zach Seltzer’s single and Austin Barry’s walk into Noah Gingrich’s sacrifice fly and Daub’s initial RBI.
“I’m just so proud of those guys,” said Schaeffer. “It was a team effort, from top to bottom. I’ll tell you what, these guys gutted it out. It was hot. It was brutal. Our kids were pissed when they found out they weren’t the (pre-season) favorites to win our league. But we played great.”
“We just have a chemistry,” said Wengert. “We just love playing ball together.”
Starter Hayden Johnson, who reached his limit of 120 pitches following six-and-two-thirds innings of work, picked up the win. Johnson yielded five hits, fanned seven and walked three.
From the first to the fifth inning, Johnson retired 12 P-ville batters in-a-row. Johnson’s relief, Will Rivera, was the ninth pitcher that Fredericksburg used in the tournament.
“Hayden did a heck of a job,” said Schaeffer. “He pitched out of the first inning. We gave them three runs in the first. But we came back and hit the ball hard and hit the ball hard.
“Up until then (when reliever Daub recorded the final out), I thought I was going to have heart attack,” Schaeffer added. “He’s (Daub) healthy and he absolutely wanted this for his team. He came in with a purpose, but so did everybody.”
“He’s a scrappy little guy,” said Wengert of Johnson. “He stays in counts and battles and battles. He’s like every guy on this team. It was a team effort, all the time.
“I was numb (when Daub got the last out),” Wengert added. “I was so excited. I knew Michigan was just going to throw strikes. It’s just unreal.”
In the afternoon opener, Wengert was even more spectacular than he normally is. Relying on locating his fast ball, Wengert struck out five and walked two.
He surrendered seven hits, six of which came after the fifth inning. At one point, Wengert retired 12 Linglestown batters in-a-row.
But dealing with the heat, Wengert was forced to get out of jams over the last three innings, including the ninth when Linglestown loaded the bases with two outs.
“I had a very difficult time calming him down,” said Schaeffer of Wengert, pre-game. “You don’t want to have him so over-hyped at the beginning of the game that he becomes spent. It’s awesome. Isaac came to me and said, ‘I want the ball.’”
“I watched the Linglestown-Pleasureville game last night, and they (Linglestown) smacked them (Pleasureville)” said Wengert. “I wanted to shut them down. I wanted to be the guy who got us there (the championship game).
Linglestown had also juiced the sacks in the top of the eighth, when Luke McNamara plated his side’s only run with a single. But Wengert minimized damage with a couple of fly balls.
“My key was locating the ball and making them hit my pitches, not their’s,” said Wengert. “And let my teammates do the work (defensively). I was just doing my job and keeping us in the game. I was staying calm and executing. One pitch at a time. That’s all you can do.”
Fredericksburg jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to Daub’s two-run single and Gingrich’s RBI grounder. It was Cole Felty and Austin Barry who had ignited the Post 915 fire.
“We needed both pitchers to go deep,” said Schaeffer. “We needed to put the bat on the ball and we needed to keep ourselves in the game, by not doing dumb stuff. We executed.
“We never hung our heads,” continued Schaeffer. “Not once in the tournament. And that had nothing to do with me.”
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