MYERSTOWN – The early going of the Lebanon County American Legion baseball season has produced a number of interesting story lines. But the most intriguing is the tale of Richland.
The ‘feel-gooders’ usually are.
On Friday evening at Elco High School’s Lyle Krall Field, Richland remained the talk of the local summer circuit, with its most complete performance to date. Post 880 scored a total of nine runs between the third and fourth innings and blew out Fredericksburg 12-2.
Behind the route-going effort of southpaw Dylan Ziegler, Richland, the league’s whipping post for the last couple of summers, improved to 3-4 in the Lebanon County League and 3-7 overall. Fredericksburg, which will host the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament next month, fell to 1-5 with its fourth straight setback.
Annville had defeated Fredericksburg 4-2 earlier in the campaign.
“I’d say according to the scoreboard it was,” said Richland rookie head coach Travis Thome of his club’s best outing. “We had a complete game. Ziegler pitched well. Everybody hit. And we made key defensive plays.
“You always got to think playoffs,” Thome continued. “You’ve got to be better than the last two (finishers from the regular season). We need to play like that (last night). With the playoffs in any sport, you’ve got to have all three phases of the game. In baseball it’s good pitching, good defense and good hitting.”
“I thought it was us playing very poorly,” said Fredericksburg head coach Jim McKinney. “We took one step up the other day (at Annville), but today we took two steps back. We got back in the rut of taking too many strikes.
“We didn’t find a whole lot of pitching yet,” added McKinney. “Our second pitcher (Quentin Rutkowski) did all right. There’s a new guy who was in. But when you have young pitchers it’s going to take some time. I’m not throwing away the season. But we’ve got to get on the ball and pick up our play.”
With the score knotted at one, Richland batted around and scored five times in the bottom of the third inning to create a little space between itself and Post 915. The big blow was a two-run single struck by Steven Rhoades, but teammates Jack Mays and Dylan Ziegler also contributed RBIs.
In Richland’s next at-bat, Mays’ three-run double cleared the bases loaded by Kyle Rosengrant’s single and walks to Phil Kline and Travis Zimmerman. That made it 9-1, before Rhoades and Wes Wentling collaborated on another tack-on run for Richland.
“Five or six games of not swinging all that well, we were way overdue,” said Thome. “We haven’t been hitting the ball. It’s fair to say that offense is not our strength. We have it in us. We showed it today. We were aggressive, and it helped.
“The whole game, the guys were being aggressive,” continued Thome. “They were chirping. They were into it. They were shooting the ball to the right side, and at this field, that’s where the ball carries. The last couple of games the guys were seeing what kind of ball club they can be. Hopefully we turned the page.”
“I thought I had a whole lot more guys returning, and they kind of disappeared,” said McKinney. “Some got hurt. Some went to other leagues. Some went to travel ball. That seems to hurt us quite a bit. We have some talent, but we’re young. So I didn’t have a lot of expectations coming into the season, because we’re young.”
Ziegler pitched as well when the outcome was on the line, as he did when he had a big cushion with which to work. Although he threw a lot of pitches and didn’t enjoy a 1-2-3 inning, Ziegler yielded just three hits, struck out six and walked seven.
After loading the bases with walks, with one out in the top of the fourth, Ziegler emerged unscathed, thanks to a strikeout and a ground out.
“He’s (Ziegler) probably one of our top guys,” added Thome. “He’s throwing well. When he throws strikes, he’s going to be one of our top competitors. We feel like we have a chance when he’s on the mound.”
“He threw fine,” said McKinney of Ziegler. “He was a little wild at times. We didn’t have much patience at the plate. He threw enough strikes to get us out.”
Richland grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, on a straight steal of home by Mays, with two outs. Fredericksburg answered in the top of the third when Nick Gonzalez led off with a single, stole second and scored on Darin Shirk’s RBI-triple.
“These guys are playing the game,” said Thome, when asked about running the team for grandfather Lyle Krall. “We just try to put them in good positions to succeed. Having Lyle around, the kids respect him a great deal. I think it’s a good balance with Coach Krall and myself. The kids respond well to all of the coaches. At this point, we are much better than last year. You can see it on the field. We’re playing much better.”
“I have three or four brand new players and I’ve had to start them,” said McKinney. “We don’t usually have to do that at Fredericksburg. It’s disappointing we’re not stepping up. I don’t expect more than where we’re at. I think pretty much where we are is where we are. But we’ve got to keep getting better.”
Richland threatened the league’s 12-run mercy rule in each of its fifth and sixth at-bats, but had to settle for Zimmerman’s RBI-double and then Rosengrant’s run-producing grounder.
“I hope we can,” said McKinney, about being competitive as the host of the regional tournament. “We definitely have to pick up our play. If not, we’re going to get smoked. We’ve got four weeks to get better. But we’ve got a lot of games, so it’s not like we’re gong to have time to work on stuff.”