ANNVILLE – You have to look really closely. But given the circumstances, given all the unknowns and taking everything into consideration, it’s been a successful season for the Annville-Cleona baseball team.
Besides, the Little Dutchmen’s glass is always half-full.
On Saturday afternoon, under changeable skies at Annville-Cleona High School, the Little Dutchmen missed out on a chance to create a late-season, first-place tie when they dropped a 13-0, five-inning decision to perennial nemesis Lancaster Catholic. Annville-Cleona fell into an early 4-0 hole, then experienced difficulties generating any kind of offensive attack the rest of the way.
Despite the setback, the now 8-8 Little Dutchmen are still very much in line for Lancaster-Lebanon League and District Three Class AAA playoff berths. Annville-Cleona was situated sixth in the latest District Three power rankings for an AAA classification that takes six for its postseason tournament.
With the outcome, Lancaster Catholic, now 8-4 on the spring and 5-0 in the circuit, moved closer to yet another L-L Section Four crown.
“We’ve got to take care of those last two games, one at a time,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Mike Miller of remaining regular-season contests against Pequea Valley and Tulpehocken. “If that’s our ultimate goal, to get to the district and league playoffs. To be honest, I think we’re as worthy as anybody else (for those playoff berths). It’s tough when you play bigger schools. When we run out of pitching, we run out of pitching.
“I think our goal at the beginning of the season was just to be competitive, and we have been,” Miller continued. “It’s not over yet. We’ve improved. We’re a better team now than we were when we played our first game against Oley Valley. It’s spring baseball.”
Annville-Cleona put itself firmly behind the eight-ball right at the start. Lancaster Catholic scored four unearned runs in the top of the first inning, on just one hit and three costly A-C miscues.
The rally began with a walk and a pair or errors. Little Dutchmen starting pitcher Jake Mills needed 38 pitches to navigate the Crusaders’ initial at-bat.
“No, it hasn’t been a problem, just against some of the good teams,” said Miller, when asked about perceived first-inning difficulties. “They’re (the Crusaders) a talented team. We’ve got to play our best game to beat them.
“You cannot give a good team extra outs and extra bases, and that’s what we did,” added Miller. “We had too many errors, too many walks, too many wild pitches. If you don’t play good defense, this is what happens.”
Annville-Cleona also struggled offensively, with the bats, against Crusader starter Josh Beck. Beck allowed just a single hit, struck out six and walked one.
The Little Dutchmen failed to score in the bottom half of the first inning, after loading the bases with nobody out. Alex Lingle was hit by a pitch, Mills walked and Corey Swingholm singled, ahead of a double play and a strikeout.
Beck retired the last eight Annville-Cleona batters he faced.
“To be honest, the errors have hurt us,” said Miller. “We’ve been fortunate as far as the effort we’ve gotten. We get the max effort. The kids care. We just aren’t as talented as they are.
“Over the years, it’s been competitive with them (the Crusaders), but they’ve gotten the best of us lately,” Miller added. “We are what we are. When you look at our lineup, we’ve got two seniors.”
The score stayed 4-0 until Lancaster Catholic tacked on another run in the top of the fourth inning. Then in the top of the fifth, the Crusaders exploded for eight runs to evoke the mercy rule.
With five walks and a hit-batsman, Lancaster Catholic needed just four hits to get the job done. For the game, the Crusaders scored 13 runs on a total of six hits.
“It’s tough,” said Miller. “You’ve got to throw strikes. When you have walks, it hurts. They’re (the Crusaders) a good team, and they’re deeper with their pitching. It’s just something we don’t have at this point
“It feels like we’ve beaten the teams we should’ve beaten,” added Miller. “But we did steal a couple against some bigger schools. It just seems like when the wheels fall off, the wheels fall off.”