MYERSTOWN – It is not important for Myerstown to believe that it is the best team in the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League. Nor is it important to Myerstown that other teams in the circuit believe that it’s the best.
But all pride aside, and intentional or not, last night Myerstown made a statement.
On a partly sunny Friday evening at Old Post 55 Field, Myerstown exhibited many of the same qualities that good teams possess, during an 8-4 come-from-behind victory over visiting Fredericksburg. Trailing most of the way, M-town exploded for a total of seven runs over its fifth and sixth at-bats to leave no doubt.
The triumph was Myerstown’s third straight to start the season, but it represented the first time it had faced adversity this summer. The result evened Fredericksburg’s Lebanon County American Legion record to 4-4.
“We want to win every game, that’s our approach,” said Myerstown head coach Johnny Mentzer. “It’s baseball, and there’s a good chance we’ll lose a game or two along the way. Our bar is high. We feel we’re going to have a chance to win every game, but we’re still not knocking the rust off.
“There’s always pride involved, especially in a game where there’s Cedar Crest kids on both sides,” added Mentzer. “I think there’s also pride involved when we get down 4-1, just knowing we’re not going to roll over. But we don’t have that philosophy (of proving they’re the best team in the league), and we don’t care what anybody thinks of us. We just have to control the things in our dugout. We just have to go out and play our game.”
“I look over there and I see Amani Jones and Jack Beasley and Luke Hains, the core of a Cedar Crest team that would’ve been really good in 2020,” said Fredericksburg rookie head coach Steve Beard. “Then add to it kids from a really good Elco team and current kids from Cedar Crest, and that’s a really good ball club.
“You can beat anybody on any given day,” Beard continued. “But for me, from top to bottom, they’ve got all these athletes. I think we’re a good ball club too. But they (Myerstown) have an advantage with experience, they’re well-coached and they never get too high or too low.”
Whatever it was, something clicked for Myerstown in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Trailing 4-1, Jeremy Eck’s clutch double cleared the loaded bases and tied the score. Jones and Luke Hostetter had walked, and Dakota Smith had singled, in front of Eck.
Then, in the bottom of the sixth, Myerstown scored four times on five hits, the most important of which was Jones’ two-run triple. But M-town had grabbed a 5-4 edge earlier in the frame on singles from Braden Boyd and Braden Bohannon, and a key Fredericksburg error.
“The pitching change to a right-hander helped us a lot,” said Mentzer. “We started making harder contact the third time around (the batting order). It’s just playing baseball the right way, and executing. It was something we didn’t do before the fifth and sixth innings.
“He (Fredericksburg starter Bryce McFeaters) threw strikes,” continued Mentzer. “He kept us off balance and they (Fredericksburg) played well defensively. In the first four innings, we got ourselves out.”
“They started to execute,” said Beard of Myestown. “Bryce had kept them off-balance, and then we came back with a kid (Zach Johnson) who threw a little bit harder. It was more in their wheelhouse.
“I think they (Myerstown) were flat for the first five innings,” Beard added. “We were up and the balance shifted. It’s a momentum game.”
Post 915 had taken a 1-0 lead in top of the first inning on Brandon Breidegan’s run-scoring single, and it represented the first time this summer that Myerstown trailed in a game.
In the top of the second, Fredericksburg pushed its advantage to three runs on Conrad Wasson’s two-rung single. The inning began with a Myerstown error and a Levi Matlosz safety.
“We just couldn’t string anything together early,” said Mentzer. “I think we needed to be pushed a little. But we got some clutch hits late.”
“We had the best team in the league on the ropes, and we let up,” said Beard. “We didn’t execute towards the end, and we had a couple of opportunities to score some more runs. They (his players) have to figure out how to come together as a team. But you’re never as good as you look when you win and you’re never as bad as you look when you lose.
“I think the important thing about tonight was to follow up on the two big wins we had last night (against Conrad Weiser on Thursday),” Beard continued. “But we did the same thing last week. The next game is the most important game. I think they’re going to respond.”
Myerstown pulled to within 3-1 of the lead in the bottom of the second. Eck singled and eventually came around to score on back-to-back F-burg miscues.
But Fredericksburg got that run back in the top of the third, without the benefit of a hit. Austin Beard led off with a walk, he was moved along by Tyler Hess’ sacrifice and scored on a wild pitch.
“It’s summer baseball,” said Mentzer. “You’re going to get what you get. We have expectations based on our talent level, and we’ve seen that in our first four games. It was good to face adversity. Do we have that ability to come back? Probably. But you don’t really know until it happens.
“It is early, but for us to be 3-0, that’s a good start,” Mentzer added. “We have the pitching and the depth to sustain this. We have older kids who can handle the grind of playing four games a week.”
“I’ve got kids who are ready to go off to college to play baseball,” said Beard. “I have other guys in the work force. All these games are going to take on a sense of urgency. This is my first year of coaching legion baseball, and it’s a different game.
“We’re where I thought we’d be,” continued Beard. “We could be 6-2, and we could be 2-6. We’ve gotten three complete games from Austin Beard, and he’s kind of been the guy who’s stopped the bleeding. We have veteran leadership.”