BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Stuff. Cheese. Low-octane gas. She called it, “Junk.”
Here are some other words that could describe it. Effective. Baffling. Frustrating.
On Friday afternoon, sophomore hurler Chrisi Lerchen was D. all of the above, as she twirled the Annville-Cleona softball team to a 2-0 Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three-Four crossover triumph over Lampeter-Strasburg. The diminutive Lerchen worked all seven shutout innings, surrendered three hits, whiffed five and issued two free passes, but that was just part of the story.
Although she didn’t chuck it all that hard, Lerchen’s offerings had plenty of movement on them. But whatever she was doing, Lerchen had the Pioneer batters off-balance and guessing all afternoon.
And because she did, Annville-Cleona improved to 7-1 on the season and 5-1 in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The outcome made Lampeter-Strasburg 7-3 overall and 3-3 in Section Three of the L-L.
“She was pretty much spot on,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz of Lerchen. “She’s not going to blow anyone away. Some of these bigger teams are looking for heat and they’re not going to get it from us.
“That’s her way,” Bentz continued. “That’s her nature. She’s not a big kid. But she’s been throwing strikes. Lately, she’s been getting on top.”
Lerchen scattered L-S’s three hits over three different frames and faced the minimum number of batters through three-and-a-third innings. And the Little Dutchmen defense behind her was steadfast, committing just one miscue.
The only time the Pionners got a runner as far as second base was in the seventh, via a walk and a hit. But that came with two outs, and Lerchen induced a game-ending grounder out of the next L-S hitter.
“She plays enough,” said Bentz of Lerchen’s on-field regimin. “She works hard over the winter. It’s all repetition. You do it every day at practice and you do it at games. Pitching, hitting, everything else. If you can get into that mindset it becomes habit.
“If anyone was watching, it was a well-played game,” added Bentz. “Maybe one error. A good-pitched game. Outs were made. It always helps when you win. But even if we would’ve been on the other side of 2-0, I’d still be happy.”
Had Annville-Cleona been a bit more opportunistic, it would’ve made Lerchen’s job all the easier. Good pitching has a way of erasing mistakes.
The Little Dutchmen plated all the runs Lerchen would need in the top of the third. Annville-Cleona loaded the bases on a hit-batsman, a single from Lerchen and a base hit by Casey Ditzler.
And with two outs, clean-up hitter Kaylynn McKinney delivered a sharply-hit two-run single.
“Our hitting’s there. I’m not worried about our hitting,” said Bentz. “We seem to pick each other up. I think it (McKinney’s hit) was a 3-1 pitch. She was looking for her strike. She’s just swinging a real good bat right now. She’s having good at-bats.”
Annville-Cleona squandered shots at insurance in its fourth and sixth at-bats.
A Darian Brenner lead-off single and a double by Crystal Miller put Little Dutchmen runners on second and third with nobody out, but teammates failed to bring them home. Thanks to an error, Annville-Cleona got a runner to third in the sixth, but she did not score.
“I expected to be here,” said Bentz. “I’ve got the best first baseman (McKinney) and the best shortstop (Ditzler) in the league. And my catcher (Haley Hirn) is as good as anybody. I have kids who can hit, up and down the lineup. And I have kids throwing strikes. We’re going to stumble. I knew we were not going to go undefeated.
“For us, numbers are a concern,” Bentz continued. “Our motto is, ‘Quality, not quantity.’ We have ten kids. But they’re good kids.”
Annville-Cleona amassed six hits, two of which came off the bat of Brenner. With the win, Lerchen ran her personal record to 7-1.
“Today was the first day of crossovers,” said Bentz, “and crossover are going to be big. Nothing’s easy in Section Three. Pequea Valley stung us the other day. We’re going to battle with Pequea for the section.
“That’s (the Section Four championship) our first goal,” continued Bentz. “We want to get back to states again. We want to represent this school at the state tournament.”