LEBANON – This season, the Lebanon softball team has lived in the dark shadows of scholastic athletics, a part of sports that no one likes to talk about. The Cedar are faced with the prospect of another win-less campaign – which our culture relentlessly reminds us is in direct conflict of what the goal of sports should be – and they’ve had their competitiveness come into question.
But through it all, the Cedars have never backed down, never blinked, never wavered. Their spirit gives them hope.
On Wednesday afternoon at Stoever’s Dam Park, Lebanon lost again – or perhaps more accurately didn’t score as many runs as its opponent – this time to Manheim Township by an 18-2 count. It’s been so long since the Cedars have won a game – at least two years – that no one is quite sure when it occurred.
But please don’t get the impression that the Cedars have learned how to lose or that it doesn’t sting or that they’ve accepted losing. It’s just that their coping mechanisms have become so keenly honed that it’s hard to tell.
“I’m very competitive,” said Lebanon’s third-year head coach Bill Hower. “But winning isn’t everything. If we could get a win under our belt, it would be a positive for the girls. And yeah, I’d cherish it. It would be a positive statement for the girls and it would be a reward for their hard work. But winning doesn’t mean that much to me.
“Our players would go crazy,” Hower continued. “They were fired up today because we went five innings. That’s the frustrating part for me because I know how hard we worked. That (winning) would make my season. I go into every game still thinking they can win. I tell them, ‘if you do everything right, you can win a game.'”
“I don’t think winning is as important as getting better,” said Jen Hidalgo, the Cedars’ centerfielder. “But it would feel good for once. I think we can if we try hard, just do what we have to do and get it done.
“I think because of our lack of experience,” added Hidalgo, “there’s doubt that we can win.”
The Cedars are very familiar with the ins and outs of the ten- and 15-run mercy rules. Yesterday’s game did go five innings, but only one of Lebanon High’s games this season have gone the full seven innings.
On the season, Lebanon is now 0-13 overall and 0-11 in Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Manheim Township improved to 9-4 on the spring and 7-4 in Section One of the L-L.
“We’re pretty much in three-inning mode right now,” said Hower. “Our first pitcher today (Mariah Rodriguez) is a freshman, and walks aren’t good for a pitcher. Our girls are learning in-game experience. As we get the knowledge, we’ll get the experience. I’ve seen improvement but some days that improvement is a stalemate. We still make mistakes.
“My expectations were to get better each day, each game,” Hower added. “If there’s anything that’s done on a positive basis, it’s improve. I thought we would be able to compete a little more.”
“The season has not gone well at all,” said Hidalgo. “But as long as you get from where you start to the end, that’s what counts.
“I expected to do way better than last year,” Hidalgo continued. “We didn’t get along last year. This year we’re getting along so much better.”
In its 13 losses this season, Lebanon High has been outscored by its opponents by a combined margin of 227-18.
“Maybe in the first two innings we’re competitive,” said Hower. “We come out with a fist of fury every game. Some games we come out and we’re very competitive. And some games we come out and we’re not competitive at all. We pretty much got 15-runned every game. And we may have 15 runs total on our part.
“In the big picture, it’s going to take a big overhaul,” Hower continued. “If we can go with one less error than the day before, that’s a goal. If we can go with one less walk than the day before, that’s a goal. That’s a positive for me. But I’m not a good person with excuses.”
“I think pitching, and not making so many errors, that’s where we need to improve,” said Hidalgo. “And knowing the game is important. Making the little things count.”
The Cedars actually took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning of Wednesday’s game with Manheim Township. Rodriguez scored the run on a dropped third strike.
But the Blue Streaks scored nine times in the top of the second, with the benefit of just three hits. Eight walks absolutely killed the Cedars, who surrendered seven of those runs after two outs had been recorded.
Up 13-2, Manheim Township plated five runs in the top of the fifth, with two outs and nobody on. Lebanon High had scored its other run a half-inning earlier when Marissia Trokie singled, went to third on a wild pitch and a passed ball, then scored on Mollie Schultz’s RBI-grounder.
“We didn’t play bad, considering the situation we’re in,” said Hower. “We have kids with very little experience and they’re not understanding the game, even this late in the season. It’s a lot of growing pains. It’s a lot of teaching when I should be coaching.
“What’s nice is the girls are great,” Hower added. “Their attitudes are great. They want to come to practice. They want to work hard. I take pride in teaching the girls the game, inside and out. It’s been rough, but it makes it easier because of their attitudes.”
“We did not start out as good as we should’ve,” said Hidalgo. “But we did good for what we do. We played more than three innings and we played hard.”
Many of Lebanon’s players have not enjoyed the benefits of playing softball from a young age. That manifests itself on the field in the form of not knowing what to do with the ball in specific situations, not knowing what might occur next and a general lack of fundamentals.
Though the Cedars’ elementary and middle-school feeder program is once again up and running, it was on a hiatus for three or four years.
“Without a doubt, it’s one of the most important aspects of high school softball,” said Hower. “We’re not giving younger kids the knowledge of the game. With the JV program, it’s not about wins and losses, but how much you’ve improved.
“It’s hard for me to accept a mental error,” Hower added, “and sometimes we have a lot of mental errors. But it’s something to out grow. I’m a worker, and I expect a great deal from them (his players). I expect 100 percent from them every day.
“When you’re losing by 15 runs every game, it’s easy to be out on the field daydreaming. I’m not a very quiet person so I try to bring them back to the game. Sometimes we start drifting and don’t do what we’re supposed to do. But one thing I’ll give my team is that they don’t give up. I saw one game where they gave up this season. But I’m proud of them in that aspect.”
“We’re not a team that has a lot of experience,” said Hidalgo. “Getting better is more important than winning and losing. We don’t have the experience that these teams do.
“This is my third year,” Hidalgo continued. “I started as a freshman and I’m a junior. Most of us are just like me. I’m Dominican and we like baseball a lot. I went out for softball and really, really liked it.”
While a lack of participation continues to plague other female sports at Lebanon High, that has simply not been the case with softball. The Cedars got 40 girls out for the sport at the beginning of the season and actually had to cut players.
“Softball is starting to become popular in the district again,” said Hower. “We’re getting more heads, and I think part of that was moving (girls’) soccer to the fall. I’m not ashamed of anything. I’m sure there’s comments about our team, but we hold our heads high. We’re just not at that level. But we’ll get there.”
“I would like to play softball this summer, but I’m going to the Dominican Republic,” said Hidalgo. “I want us to get better. I want to win. We’re all actually juniors, sophomores and freshmen, so we’ll be together next year.”