BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – They say he who laughs last laughs best.
Given the aggressive approach that the Elco and Northern Lebanon softball teams took towards hitting, one had to figure the team that batted last would bat best. It was the Raiders who batted last – and laughed best.
Ninth-grade nine-hole hitter Beth Hess’ single to shortstop with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning lifted the Raiders to a 9-8 triumph over the rival Vikings on Wednesday afternoon at Elco High School. Hess’ safety capped Elco’s two-run rally that was fueled by Emily Yingst’s single and ignited by a two-base throwing error by NL.
After enjoying a 7-3 advantage in the middle innings, Elco entered the final frame on the short end of an 8-7 score. Northern Lebanon had batted around and scored five times in the top of the sixth to assume its initial lead of the contest.
With the result, the Raiders, who started five sophomores and two freshmen, improved to 3-4 on the year and 2-3 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The Vikings slipped to 2-5 on the campaign and 1-4 in the circuit.
Elco out hit Northern Lebanon 13-12. The Raiders were guilty of two errors afield, while the Vikes committed six.
“Beth is a freshman,” said Elco head coach Dennis Morgan. “I kept telling her, ‘Keep your back shoulder up.’ She kept battling and and she’s strong for her size. She never gave up.
“We had a problem hitting earlier in the season,” Morgan continued. “But we worked off tees and on getting aggressive. I tell the girls, ‘Don’t put your at-bat in the hands of the umpire. If that ball is there, go after it.’ Everything they did well today was a confidence builder.”
“I thought we played OK,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Mike Boyer. “We hit better than we have been. Both teams struggled on the field and gave extra outs and it made it an interesting game. Both teams hit. We hit the ball hard.
“Our hitting has been up and down,” Boyer added. “I want them (his players) swinging the bats when the ball is close.”
Facing a four-run deficit, Northern Lebanon got RBIs from four different sources in the top of the sixth, including catcher Taylor Albert, who stroked a two-run single. Elco didn’t help its cause with an error, a walk and a wild pitch.
“Nobody gave up, either team,” said Morgan. “It’s somewhat of a rivalry. Their number three and four hitters (Paige Stuppy and Albert), I know they can hit, and that’s exactly what happened. It was hard to pitch around them.
“(Sophomore starter, Hassler) Cheyenne threw a good game,” Morgan continued. “She had one walk. How can you argue with that?”
“Any Lebanon (County) game is a rivalry,” said Boyer. “Our girls get up for the Elco game. Any time you play someone from Lebanon there seems to be more fire.”
Elco plated four runs in the bottom of the fourth to snap a three-all deadlock. Claire Shaak and Cheyenne Crist ripped RBI safeties for the Raiders, but the big blow was a two-run single struck by senior Erika Stamm.
“I felt a little comfortable until they (the Vikes) got some base runners and Stuppy and Albert were coming up,” said Morgan. “That’s why they (Stuppy and Albert) hit three-four. When we got down one, I thought, ‘Now we’ll see what we’re made of.’ They (his players) had patience and came back.”
“We’ve definitely got to find our game,” said Boyer. “We’ve got to play more consistent in the field. There’s a lot of season left and a lot of things can happen.”
But Northern Lebanon broke through in the top of the fourth. The combination of Stuppy’s lead-off double, Albert’s run-producing single, Ashley Albright’s RBI-grounder and a wild pitch pulled the Vikings even at three.
“Each day is a step in the right direction,” said Morgan. “We’re improving. We lost seven starters and we knew each day was going to be an adventure. We’ve got to be patient and it’s got to be repetitive. And we’ve got to keep it going.”
“I don’t put a lot of expectations on the team,” said Boyer. “I want us to work hard, execute the fundamentals and let the season play out.”
Stamm finished the afternoon with three hits and three RBIs, as did Albert for NL. Elco’s Crist went three-for-four with a couple of RBIs, while Hassler contributed a pair of singles.
For the Vikes, Kaitlyn May, Kaitlyn Neidigh and Kelsey Dresch all enjoyed multiple-hit games.
“When I look at them I see danger,” said Morgan of the Vikings. “They have the capability. They have hitting and you know they’re going to score runs. You respect them. I fear no one, but respect them all. They (the Vikes) know it’s a rivalry game, so you know they’re going to play hard.”
“From game to game it seems like it changes,” said Boyer. “We were struggling with the bats, and now tonight we hit the ball. We’ve been playing good defense, but then we struggled. We’ve got to find a little bit of a groove.”
Grooves have a way of providing direction.