LITITZ – Little Dutchmen leather versus the lively right arm of Brave pitcher Sabrina Ryan. With a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Four championship on the line, the Annville-Cleona and Pequea Valley softball teams engaged in a little staring contest.
It was the Little Dutchmen who refused to blink.
On Wednesday afternoon at Warwick High School, Annville-Cleona blanked Pequea Valley 2-0 in a special playoff to determine the L-L Section Four title. The Little Dutchmen played error-free defense behind junior ace Emma Lerchen, and Annville-Cleona scored both of its runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, thanks in part to two Pequea Valley errors on the same play.
The playoff had been necessitated by the Braves’ 1-0 victory at Annville-Cleona on Friday, a game in which Ryan whiffed 15 Little Dutchmen batters. The Section Four championship was the Little Dutchmen’s first since 2010.
Now 13-5 overall, the Little Dutchmen will take on Section One runner-up Hempfield during Saturday’s quarterfinal round of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs, at a site and time to be determined. The loss left Pequea Valley 12-6 on the year.
“It’s important to beat Pequea,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz. “I don’t put a lot of stock in it (the section title). It’s nice to hold hardware. If the girls don’t get confidence from that, I don’t know where they’ll get it.
“We were swinging the bats a little tight at the beginning,” continued Bentz. “We were nervous. They (his players) had butterflies, and I had butterflies too. I would hope it means something to them. We’ve practiced long and hard since January. This is when the good part of the season happens.”
“It’s so important,” said Lerchen of the section crown. “2010 was the last time we won it. It’s something we take pride in. We’re a small school and we’re from Lebanon County. And Lancaster County doesn’t give us respect.
“We played great defensively,” added Lerchen. “It was probably one of our best games of the season. We didn’t make a single error. We needed to play flawlessly, and we did.”
With the Little Dutchmen making all the plays behind Lerchen – some of them of the spectacular variety – and Ryan continuing her mastery of Annville-Cleona, the contest was score-less heading into the bottom of the fifth inning. But Veronica Wampler led off the frame with just A-C’s second hit off of Ryan.
Called upon to sacrifice, Cayla Gassert got down a good bunt that caused the Brave third baseman to hurry her throw. The toss skipped by the Pequea Valley first baseman, allowing Wampler to make it to third, and when her throw to third was wide and went out of play, Wampler was awarded home – and Gassert third base.
“It was the bottom of the lineup,” said Bentz of the decisive rally. “(Batters) Six, seven and eight. They came through, and it picked us up. Cayla had a nice bunt, and that passed ball was huge. That was big.
“I got in their (his players’) faces,” continued Bentz. “I challenged them the inning we got runs. I told them, ‘This can’t happen. You can’t let her (Ryan) throw anything she wants to’.”
“She (Ryan) did great,” Lerchen added. “Those two runs were a passed ball and errors. She’s a great pitcher.”
Pitching to contact, Lerchen surrendered only two hits. She retired 12 Brave hitters in-a-row, until Pequea Valley touched her for a single and a walk leading off the top of the seventh.
Lerchen had also stranded Brave runners at third base in the first and third innings. She whiffed three and issued three free passes.
“I can’t think of a game when she’s pitched bad,” said Bentz of Lerchen. “She is the back bone of the team. I don’t ever want to see what would happen to us if she had a bad game.
“You basically roll the dice defensively,” Bentz added. “I’ve been struggling with defenders. Our infield played really well. These kids are young. They played well. Hopefully we’ll come out with more confidence next time.”
“It got a little scary there,” said Lerchen of Pequea Valley’s half of the seventh. “I just had to bear down. Dave came out and settled me down. I’ve got to mix it up. I’ve got a lot of pitches.
Ryan fanned the first six Annville-Cleona batters she faced, before Gassert broke the string by drawing a walk in the bottom of the second. The Little Dutchmen’s first hit off her came from Christy Snyder leading off the bottom of the fourth.
Ryan finished with a dozen strikeouts and a single walk.
“It has to get into your head after awhile,” said Bentz of Ryan’s pitching. “It’s like we were waiting for someone to be a spark. We needed someone to put the ball in play, and when we did, we had better swings. I think our confidence was like, ‘Yeah, we can hit this pitcher’.
“It’s the riser,” continued Bentz. “We think too much. We take too many pitches. Then she has us.”
“I think she might have been a little bit in our heads, because of Friday,” said Lerchen of Ryan. “But it also pushed us, because its also like our team wanted to figure out a way to score.”
Lerchen stranded a total of five Braves on the base paths.
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Section Four Standings
|4:15 PM||W 6-0|
|4:15 PM||W 15-0|
|4:15 PM||W 19-0|
|4:15 PM||W 7-3|
|4:15 PM||W 21-1|
|4:15 PM||L 3-13|
|4:15 PM||W 10-7|
|4:15 PM||W 12-1|
|4:15 PM||L 0-2|
|1:45 PM||L 1-6|
|4:15 PM||W 12-3|
|4:15 PM||W 7-2|
|4:15 PM||L 0-17|
|4:15 PM||W 16-1|
|4:15 PM||L 0-1|
|4:15 PM||W 11-4|
Class AA Power Rankings
AA School W L T Rating
1 Susquenita 15- 3- 0 0.648427
2 Delone Catholic 14- 4- 0 0.634316
3 Kutztown Area 16- 4- 0 0.626518
4 Brandywine Heights Area 14- 5- 0 0.62375
5 Pequea Valley 13- 5- 0 0.601597
6 Annville Cleona 14- 5- 0 0.591763
7 Trinity 9- 7- 0 0.529514
9 Upper Dauphin Area 7- 9- 0 0.458198
10 Lancaster Mennonite 10- 9- 0 0.455589
11 Biglerville 7- 12- 0 0.426083
12 Tulpehocken 7- 12- 0 0.408640 0
13 Bermudian Springs 4- 16- 0 0.356019
14 Hanover 4- 16- 0 0.352847
15 Oley Valley 5- 13- 0 0.324863
16 Lancaster Catholic 2- 15- 0 0.276325
17 Wyomissing Area 2- 12- 0 0.25007