BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – The Palmyra baseball team is pressing right now. And the harder the Cougars try, the deeper their struggles become.
A Cougar club that is loaded with talent and features a number of future college players simply hasn’t lived up to its preseason expectations, yet. On Wednesday afternoon at home, Palmyra was blanked 3-0 by rival Lower Dauphin.
Palmyra just didn’t get it done at the dish against Falcon southpaw Matt Kroboth, who fanned 14 and scattered eight hits over seven shut-out innings of work. Lower Dauphin, which threatened all afternoon, broke a scoreless draw with two runs in the top of the fifth inning.
The loss – the first time the Cougars have been shut out this spring – all but dashed any designs Palmyra, now 8-6 overall and 6-4 in the Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference, had on a league title. Currently, the Cougars sit 17th in the District Three Class AAA power rankings.
The triumph made Lower Dauphin 8-2 on the year and 8-1 in the Keystone.
“I’ve never questioned the effort,” said Palmyra head coach Tim Gingrich. “It seems like when we need to come up with something big, we come up a little short. I’m hoping they (his players) stick with it. We’ve got six more games. If they want to continue on, we’ve got to win some ball games. I want to go 4-2.
“Oh yeah (the division’s out of reach),” Gingrich continued. “Hershey doesn’t have any losses. Unless they self-destruct, we’re not going to win the division. We’re playing for pride, pride and getting in the (district) playoffs. Once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen.”
Offensively, the Cougars could not string safeties together or come up with the big blow in crucial situations. Palmyra managed only one extra-base hit – Tyler Morder’s one-out double in the sixth – and ended six of its at-bats with strikeouts.
Palmyra also didn’t draw a single walk from Kroboth.
“He threw really well,” said Gingrich of Kroboth. “He had a nice curveball. He got us out on that pitch whenever he needed to. That was the first time all year we got shut out. I didn’t think that could happen with this lineup. We have too many good hitters.
“We didn’t get any key hits,” added Gingrich. “The first two or three innings we didn’t take a good approach. We took too many pitches. But as the game wore on, we took a better approach and became more aggressive.”
Cougar starter Morder worked in and out of trouble over the first four frames. But the odds -as well as the Falcons – caught up to him in the fifth.
A ringing triple to right-field, with two outs and on a 1-2 pitch, staked Lower Dauphin to a 1-0 edge. And the Falcons went on to add an insurance tally when their next batter’s fly ball to left-field was misplayed for an error.
For the game, Lower Dauphin stranded a dozen runners on the base paths.
“Morder was wildly effective,” said Gingrich. “He did well enough to get a win. They left a lot of guys on base.
“We didn’t do well,” Gingrich added. “We didn’t get any key hits and we had some costly errors. That’s been the blue print. It seems like when we make physical mistakes they cost us.”
On 97 pitches over five innings, Morder, who was clocked in the low 80s, struck out five, walked four and surrendered five hits. The Falcons touched Morder’s relief, Nick Slobozien, for a third two-out run in the sixth.
“Hitting hasn’t been the problem,” said Gingrich. “We just haven’t been able to put it together. I said at the beginning of the year that if our pitching comes around we’ll be OK. But I thought we’d play better defense. I knew we’d hit.”
Palmyra’s three-hole hitter and best player, Preston Bare, went three-for-three, and Morder posted two hits in two official at-bats.
“We need to play better defense and throw strikes,” said Gingrich. “When we get behind (in the count) the other team hits it. And when they hit it, we’re not there.”