BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – The competitiveness of this summer’s Lebanon County American Legion baseball league has been well documented. But nothing exemplifies the parity of the circuit more than Fredericksburg vs. Myerstown.
On Wednesday, Myerstown and Fredericksburg played their second one-run game in as many nights. This time it was Myerstown’s turn to pull one out in its final at-bat.
Four-hole hitter Chris Kreider’s single up the middle of a not-drawn-in infield scored Zach Hostetter with the winning run in the bottom of the seventh, as Myerstown edged Fredericksburg 4-3 to even their best-of-three semifinal playoff series at a game apiece. With one out, Hostetter had doubled, then moved to third on a wild pitch.
More of the same is expected on Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Earl Wenger Field in Fredericksburg, when the decisive Game Three is contested. Adam Shoemaker will get the pitching nod for third-seeded and 11-5 Myerstown, while second-seeded and 12-5 Fredericksburg will counter with southpaw Lucas Gienow.
Fredericksburg won the regular-season series with Myerstown 3-0.
“Zach (Hostetter) had a double and at first, I’m looking for Chris to give me something in the outfield grass,” said Mentzer of Kreider. “Then after the passed ball, the mentality changed. I don’t know why their (F-burg’s) infield was back, but I told Zach, ‘Anything past the the pitcher and you’re going.’ Chris did the job that needed to be done.
“If you look at all five games with them, they were close until we had one bad inning,” Mentzer continued. “I think that’s how close the league is. Fredericksburg has a deadly lineup, just like us. And they have good pitching, just like us.”
“Winner takes all in the bottom of the seventh, that’s they way it’s been,” said Fredericksburg head coach Jim McKinney. “They’re (M-town) playing us within one run in games, so I’d say we’re pretty evenly matched.”
“There’s great talent on both sides,” said Hostetter, who, with his three hits, finished a single short of the cycle. “They (Fredericksburg) have amazing players up and down their lineup, but we’re just as deep. It’s nothing more than clutch hits. That’s what this series is about.”
Hostetter staked Myerstown to a 3-0 lead in the fifth when he blasted a two-run bomb through the gap in left-center field. The ball that Hostetter hit off former Falcon teammate and future Mount Saint Mary’s teammate Zach Smith wasn’t hit as long as it was hard.
But because the field at Myerstown does not have an outfield fence, the shot Hostetter hit rolled through the adjoining little league field. Hostetter scored easily, without a play.
“We played high school together so we know each pretty well,” said Hostetter of Smith. “I’d say he knows my swing better than I know his pitching style. But we saw each other a lot in practice.
“Coming from high school, I was hot,” added Hostetter. “This (legion) was completely different pitching and it got me in bad habits. But I straightened it out and I’m now just as hot.”
“I knew we were going to hit the ball,” said Mentzer. “Are we going to play defense or not, that was the question. If you take out one good inning each game, we played good defense. If we start getting those timely hits, I don’t think the games are going to be as close.”
On Thursday, Myerstown’s one bad inning was the top of the sixth, when it squandered its 3-0 lead. M-town was guilty of three errors and a wild pitch in the frame.
On the Fredericksburg side, Jordan Seltzer, Ian Whitman and Devin Elder kept the rally going with singles. Elder’s two-out hit up the middle tied the score at three.
It was also the only blemish on Myerstown starter Mike Wealand’s otherwise spectacular outing. Throw out the sixth and Wealand allowed just two hits, struck out one and walked two.
Wealand induced ten fly-outs and seven ground-outs in his complete game victory, and didn’t allow a hit to the top four hitters in Fredericksburg’s lineup.
“I can’t ask for anything more from my pitching,” said Mentzer. “The performances I got from Jake (Stager on Tuesday) and Mike were phenomenal. In the sixth, we had chances to make plays on balls and didn’t. But he’s (Wealand) absolutely a hustler. He’s an absolute 100 percent kid.
“The key for him is just pounding the zone,” Mentzer added. “His ball has a lot of movement. He missed the sweet part of the bat well, and he keeps the ball down. He makes them hit his pitches. He forces them to put the ball in play.”
“We can’t hit right now,” said McKinney. “We’re just in a slump. We showed it last night (Tuesday) and we showed it tonight (Wednesday). They’re (Myerstown) getting the hits and we’re not. He (Wealand) throws strikes and we aren’t hitting them. The pitcher is as good as the strike zone.
“Believe me, if I could figure out why we’re not hitting the ball, I’d fix it,” McKinney added. “We’ve worked on hitting. It’s the main thing we’ve been working on.”
Myerstown’s Shoemaker touched Smith for a solo dinger to straight-away center to open the bottom of the third, giving his club a 1-0 advantage.
“Yeah, they crushed two,” said McKinney of Myerstown. “But Zach threw a nice game. His curveball was working really well at the end of the game. Once he got that going and throwing it for strikes, he really settled in. He did a nice job for me tonight.”
“We dictated the way both games were going to go,” said Mentzer. “If we make the plays, we win that game last night (Tuesday). But if we let these guys (Fredericksburg) hang around, they’re going to capitalize.”
“We had three games with them in the regular season and lost them all,” said Hostetter, “and they were all because of one inning. I think if we play sound defense and hit we’ll be OK.”
In addition to Hostetter’s big game, Myerstown also got two doubles from Wealand. Whitman and Elder, Fredericksburg’s seventh and eighth-place hitters, combined for four of their side’s five hits.
“Coming into the series, the key to me was hitting,” said McKinney. “Defensively, we can do fine. I am always fine with one or two errors. We can win with one or two errors. We’re just in a huge slump.
“They (Myerstown) made some great plays out there,” McKinney continued. “They came to play tonight. They played a good game.”
“Our league is extremely competitive,” said Hostetter. “The top three teams all have Division One players. As far as that, we’re a very competitive group. Everybody could go somewhere (to college). It’s who comes with the best stuff each day.”