BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – The early parts of practice were hampered by cold temperatures. Then teams were forced to deal with rain and precipitation. And finally, as the season approached, the wind wreaked its own havoc.
Since then, it’s been all down hill for the Lebanon baseball team.
On Wednesday after school at Coleman Memorial Park, the Cedars’ season of disappointment continued to move towards an unfulfilling conclusion, as they dropped an 11-0, five-inning home decision to Conestoga Valley. Lebanon High surrendered multiple bases to the Buckskins, managed just four hits and were victimized by two big Buckskin rallies.
The loss was Lebanon High’s 17th in its last 18 outings and left it 2-17 for the spring and 1-15 in Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, with one regular-season contest remaining. One of those losses had come at the hands of the Buckskins, 5-4 back on April 4.
Conestoga Valley, now 10-7 overall and 9-6 in the league, came in needing to win to keep its aspirations for making the league playoffs alive.
“At the beginning of the season, I expected to be in Conestoga Valley’s spot,” said a somber Lebanon head coach Robert Nordall. “I had expectations of the kids playing meaningful games at this time of year. With this group, we should be doing it.
“To me, as a player or a coach,” continued Nordall, “you come out and play the game. And you come out and play the game the way it was meant to be played.”
Conestoga Valley’s six-run, top-of-the-first-inning rally cast an eery sense of deja vu on the afternoon, or a ‘here we go again’ feel for the Cedars.
The Buckskins’ first six hitters of the contest reached base – on a double, two singles, a walk, a hit batter and an error – and in all ten CV batters came to the plate during the frame. Conestoga Valley scored its six runs on a total of four hits.
“If you look at every one of our games it’s been about that one bad inning,” said Nordall. “When we’ve won, we’ve had that one good inning. And when we’ve lost, we’ve had that one bad inning. Eliminate that one big inning and it’s a different season.
“This is the greatest group I’ve ever coached,” Nordall added. “The record doesn’t show it. But at no moment did I feel like their heads were down. It was that one bad inning, almost every game.”
Buckskin southpaw Nick Higgins struck out seven Cedars and didn’t walk any in his four innings on the mound.
Higgins yielded Kevin Schneck’s double to lead off the bottom of the second, but stranded him there.
In the fourth, Schneck and Christian Deleon smacked back-to-back one-out singles to set Lebanon up with a first-and-third situation. But Higgins got the next two Cedars on a pop-up and a strikeout.
“When you fall behind early you’ve got to get guys on base and make them (the Buckskins) do something,” said Nordall. “He (Higgins) moved the ball in and out. He kept us off balance. We haven’t faced him yet. We haven’t seen many lefties lately.
“We just weren’t ready to play,” added Nordall. “And we didn’t battle back from adversity. It comes down to the first inning. We had a heck of a game on Monday. We should’ve kept the momentum going, but we didn’t.”
Conestoga Valley brought the mercy rule into play with five runs in the top of the fourth. Again, the first five Buckskins who came to the plate reached base.
Conestoga Valley batters drove in only one of those runs, thanks to two Cedar errors, two wild pitches and a walk.
“Kevin Schneck had two solid hits,” said Nordall. “Danny (starting pitcher, Caricabeur) bounced back for two solid innings, and he’s only a sophomore. There’s always positives.
“Every returning player is set up for the summer,” continued Nordall. “They have weight training schedules and work-out schedules. We’re going to try and get guys more at-bats. We’ve got to get stronger, mentally and physically. We want them playing over the summer, preferably legion and teeners. And hopefully playing with each other, so they can learn each other’s tendencies.”
Eight of Conestoga Valley’s nine hits came in its first and fourth at-bats.
“We need to get more at-bats,” said Nordall. “But there’s only so much you can do in a gym. We’ve got to get on the field more. We had three practices on the field, and that didn’t help.
“It’s having depth at certain positions,” Nordall continued. “We’ll continue to work at it. You’ve got to have as many guys as you can throw, and throw strikes.”