BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – A rare playoff meeting between two Lebanon County clubs.
Seven in-a-row against 13 of the last 15.
Red-hot hitting versus lights-out pitching.
Something had to give. And with two outs in the bottom of the last inning, it finally did.
Justin Ulrich’s sharp single to right field with two outs in the bottom of the seventh propelled the Annville-Cleona baseball team to a thrilling 5-4 triumph over Northern Lebanon, in a very entertaining Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinal playoff game, Tuesday night at Earl Wenger Memorial Field. Ulrich’s line drive capped Annville-Cleona’s two-run rally, after the Vikings had taken a 4-3 edge with four runs in the top of the sixth.
Little Dutchmen senior Zach Southall had ignited the rally with a one-out single, but it may have been an aggressive base-running move by teammate Mitch Rodkey which keyed it.
On a two-out single to right field off the bat of Colton Long, Rodkey hesitated at second base, before completing his first-to-third jaunt. The throw from the NL right-fielder went awry at third, allowing Rodkey to score the tying run, and putting C. Long at second base with the potential winning run.
A few pitches later, Ulrich turned potential into reality.
“I think the two of us, Daryl (Northern Lebanon head coach, Hess) and I, were happy for each other,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Scott Shyda, “that we got to this point. We were happy to have an all-Lebanon County, Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinal. We thought we were in control, and then they scored four.
“I expected a very good game,” Shyda continued. “The first time it was 3-2 (Northern Lebanon in the regular season), and I expected a similar type of game. Both pitchers pitched well. Northern Lebanon is tough. They’re a quality team.”
“They’re playing well,” said Hess of the Little Dutchmen. “The first game. It went down to the wire. It was right there. I knew it was going to be a battle.
“I’m proud of Lebanon County,” added Hess, “and the way it’s going. I said that from the beginning, ‘It’s nice to have two Lebanon County teams play in the league semifinals.”
With the win, Annville-Cleona, the L-L Section Four champions, improved to 15-6 and qualified for its first Lancaster-Lebanon League title game in more than three decades. The Little Dutchmen will take on Hempfield, a 5-1 winner over Ephrata, on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.
The loss dropped Northern Lebanon, the runners-up from Section Three, to 16-7 overall. The Vikings will see their next action on Monday, in the opening round of the District Three Class AAA tournament.
“We’ve got a couple of kids who are just tough,” said Shyda. “You put those kids in certain situations and they’ll do it. Justin (Ulrich) doesn’t have a high batting average, but he thrives in those situations. The kids are so excited. They believe they can win, and that’s key.
“I’m not going to be able to talk,” continued Shyda. “Unbelievable. I’m just so proud of these guys. These guys never quit. You know you can do it. A couple of guys came through when we needed it.”
“There’s no good losses,” said Hess. “It was a well-played game, and they (the Little Dutchmen) showed a lot. I was proud of our guys. Their kid (Colton Long) was throwing well. But they (the Little Dutchmen) made the plays when they needed some.”
It was Northern Lebanon which appeared to have momentum squarely in its corner after plating four runs in the top of the sixth to erase a 3-0 deficit. David Brooks’ two-out RBI-single had given the Vikings a 4-3 margin.
The rally started with Wyatt Beakler’s lead-off double and Jon Walizer’s run-scoring single. But the big blow was designated hitter Ian Whitman’s two-run ‘big fly’ down the leftfield line that knotted the score at three.
“If you were watching carefully, Colton didn’t have his curveball working,” said Shyda of Long. “He relies on his curveball to keep hitters off-balance, and he was struggling with it. But he’s one of those kids who are tough. He’s a fighter.
“Before tonight, we had given up three runs in our last 35 innings pitched – not three earned runs, three runs,” continued Shyda. “Our pitching has basically come through for us. That’s what’s impressive to me, and there were some good teams in there. (Pitchers) one through four have been coming through for us. It’s not been a one-man show.”
“The thing about baseball, you can have a lot of momentum swings,” said Hess. “And they can happen like that. Ian’s hit was a huge momentum swing for us.
“He (Colton Long) did a nice job,” continued Hess. “He kept us off-balance. He threw some balls by us.”
C. Long and Viking starter Jordan Nichols were locked in a pitcher’s duel until Annville-Cleona broke through in the bottom of the fourth.
After C. Long had led off with a single, a throwing error on a base knock from Ulrich allowed his courtesy runner to come all the way around to score. Then after the Little Dutchmen had loaded the bases on walks to Robbie Beidler and Adam Bennett, they plated two more runs, on Hunter Long’s RBI-HBP and a grounder from Braden Elliott.
“That’s the kind of kid who make it tough for us,” said Shyda of the southpaw Nichols. “He mixed his pitches well. That’s the way to approach us. We’ll hit the fastball.”
“He did a nice job,” said Hess of his starter. “He battled the whole way. Yeah, he had his good stuff. Jordan has his good stuff when he changes speeds, and I thought he did that tonight.”
Both Nichols and C. Long probably deserved better fates. Before running out of gas in the seventh, Nichols struck out ten and walked three.
C. Long whiffed four and issued two free passes, before being relieved by Jordan Gohn with two outs in the top of the sixth. The win actually went to Gohn, who is expected to start Thursday’s league title tilt.
“We talked about it,” said Shyda of the possibility of playing for a league championship. “At the beginning of the season we were optimistic we’d have a good team. That’s eight in-a-row for us, and the kids have come together and they’ve played well against good teams. I think right now, they think they can beat anyone. And I don’t think their heads are too big. We’re fortunate.”
“The one thing at the beginning of the season was we had those three pitchers coming back with varsity experience,” said Hess. “Any time you have kids coming back, you’re pretty positive the pitching is going to keep you in games. And we’ve played great defense behind them. If you play good defense and get good pitching, you can be a very successful baseball team. It definitely gave us positive thoughts.”
RANK SCHOOL NAME POWER RATING
1 West York Area (17-2-0) 0.749182
2 Greencastle Antrim (17-2-0) 0.734091
3 Lampeter Strasburg (17-3-0) 0.729693
4 Hamburg Area (16-3-0) 0.695484
5 Susquehannock (15-4-0) 0.676538
6 Northern Lebanon (15-5-0) 0.675565
7 Manheim Central (14-6-0) 0.657726
8 Northeastern (12-8-0) 0.654051
9 Donegal (13-7-0) 0.644452
10 Oley Valley (15-4-0) 0.643886
11 Northern York (15-5-0) 0.634548
12 West Perry (15-5-0) 0.632645
13 Eastern York (13-6-0) 0.627786
14 Bishop McDevitt (12-8-0) 0.625012
15 Fleetwood Area (12-7-0) 0.604872
16 Middletown Area (10-10-0) 0.584549
17 Eastern Lebanon County(ELCO) (11-9-0) 0.570711
18 Boiling Springs (10-9-0) 0.554223
19 Littlestown (11-7-0) 0.536235
20 Cocalico (7-13-0) 0.532287
21 Shippensburg Area (8-11-0) 0.530120
22 Susquehanna Township (8-11-0) 0.529366
23 Bermudian Springs (10-10-0) 0.529110
24 Palmyra Area (7-13-0) 0.521449
25 Lancaster Catholic (11-9-0) 0.519126
26 Conrad Weiser (7-10-0) 0.516864
27 Twin Valley (8-10-0) 0.512251
28 Garden Spot (7-12-0) 0.483017
29 Dover Area (5-13-0) 0.454284
30 Big Spring (5-14-0) 0.446039
31 James Buchanan (6-13-0) 0.444568
32 East Pennsboro (6-12-0) 0.431620
33 Pequea Valley (6-14-0) 0.390885
34 York Suburban (4-14-0) 0.381698
35 Kennard Dale (2-14-0) 0.381561
36 Wyomissing Area (5-13-0) 0.378927
37 Milton Hershey (5-13-0) 0.378197
38 Gettysburg Area (4-16-0) 0.371982
RANK SCHOOL NAME POWER RATING
1 Susquenita (14-4-0) 0.652109
2 Berks Catholic (12-6-0) 0.630456
3 Delone Catholic (14-5-0) 0.620565
4 Upper Dauphin Area (16-3-0) 0.604377
5 Annville Cleona (13-6-0) 0.589099
6 Camp Hill (12-7-0) 0.571899
7 Trinity (10-9-0) 0.541219
8 Tulpehocken (10-9-0) 0.507015
9 Biglerville (10-8-0) 0.500696
10 Hanover (9-9-0) 0.487168
11 Brandywine Heights Area (8-10-0) 0.455442
12 Halifax Area (9-6-0) 0.439885
13 Kutztown Area (6-11-0) 0.416956
14 Lancaster Mennonite (5-14-0) 0.374552
15 Columbia (4-14-0) 0.336524
16 Schuylkill Valley (2-17-0) 0.314823
17 Fairfield (1-15-0) 0.264600