PALMYRA – Experience may indeed be the best teacher. But all it really is is the older and wiser cousin of patience and persistence.
The Palmyra baseball team displayed a little bit of the latter yesterday, and it because it did, it gained a little bit of the former.
On Thursday afternoon, the Cougars’ patience and persistence paid some healthy dividends during an 8-2 Mid-Penn Keystone Division triumph over Susquehanna Township. After looking clueless in their initial plate appearances against towering Indian southpaw Laron Mitchell, the Cougars changed their approach at the dish, and ultimately the course of the game.
The hard-chucking Mitchell struck out seven of the first nine Palmyra hitters he faced, before the Cougars finally figured him out, and then chased him in the fifth inning. Palmyra tallied three runs against Mitchell and his relief in that decisive frame, and then plated three more in the sixth to break open the contest.
On the flip side, the Indians never did quite figure out Palmyra right-hander Tyler Morder, who finished what he started.
The triumph pushed the Cougars to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the division. Susquehanna Township slipped to 1-3 on the spring and 1-2 in the Keystone.
“Our approach at the plate could’ve been better,” said Palmyra rookie head coach John Karavage. “The first time through we didn’t adjust against the big left-hander on the mound. But the second time through, we were patient, and it paid off. We hit the ball down the middle of the plate. I think that’s what got him out of the game. We knew our count, and when you do that it changes the dynamic of the game.
“Today was a little better,” Karavage continued. “We’ve been working on our mental mistakes. We should’ve won our last two games, but mental mistakes cost us. The biggest thing about high-school baseball is teaching kids to overcome adversity.”
Palmyra’s key to getting tod Mitchell was taking pitches.
With the score tied at two, three of the first four Cougar batters who came to the dish in the bottom of the fifth inning received free passes. The eventual winning run came around to score on a wild pitch, before Palmyra clean-up hitter Mitchell Sauley made Township pay with a two-run single.
It was a similar scenario in the sixth, when Palmyra’s first two hitters were hit by pitches. After a sacrifice from John Binner, Cougar teammate Zach Miller delivered another two-run single. Miller scored Palmyra’s final run on a hit by Trent Filter.
“The significance of today was getting back on track,” said Karavage. “We wanted to play small ball against a good pitcher. That was our starting focus, small ball. That was getting back on track, not letting a little bit of velocity scare us away.
“Fundamentally, we’ve been going over our bunt defense,” Karavage added. “On the base paths, we learned from our two guys getting picked off early. Then we started staying off pitches that were out of the strike zone. And Tyler (Morder) had a positive outlook because he trusted his infield.”
Though he wasn’t necessarily dominant, Morder simply refused to give into Indian hitters. Though Township got runners on against him in each of its at-bats except the seventh, the only time it scored was the fourth, when it turned a walk and two doubles into a 2-1 lead.
Morder gave up six hits, fanned six and issued two walks. In his defense, Morder’s teammates did not commit an error behind him.
“He pitched good,” said Karavage of Morder. “He definitely threw well. The other thing is he kept his cool. He stayed in there. I’m more worried about these kids and how they’re going to grow up to be young men, not them becoming young baseball players.
“He’s (Morder) got to visualize what he needs to do,” Karavage added. “He’s our workhorse. When he’s on, we’re on. When he keeps the ball down, and his placement, that’s huge too.”
Morder almost single-handedly manufactured Palmyra’s first run with hustle, cunning and desire.
Scoreless in the bottom of the second, Morder reached on a bunt single and made it to second on a throwing error. He scored from second base when the Indian catcher was forced to record an out at first base on a dropped third strike.
“I’m pleased with the togetherness,” said Karavage. “We’re a brand-new team. Realistically, we had two or three guys coming back. The seniors are taking on a new role. But we have a system where they know they can trust one another. What we’ve got to work on is patience at the plate and making the routine plays. They’ve (his players) just got to bring it to the game. Those little things killed us in the games we lost.
“We’re happy with the way we’re growing, but we want to get better,” continued Karavage. “We’d love to be 5-0. Should we be? Yeah. We lost more than the other teams beat us. But we play them a second time, and we’ll get them then.”
The Cougars forged a two-all tie in the bottom of the fourth inning. Filter led off with a two-bagger and Sauley knocked him in with a single.
“These guys have been working all year, and they really hit the weight room hard,” said Karavage. “For them, this is what we’ve been working our butts off for.
“But we’re three games into the league season,” Karavage concluded. “We’re getting into the point of the season where it’s going to be game, game, game, and then it’s over. It’s going to go quick.”