BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Not sure it ever really gets off track. But if it does, it doesn’t take long for the Annville-Cleona softball team to get back on track.
That’s why it’s called the ‘Little Dutchmen Express’.
On Wednesday afternoon, the tradition-rich ‘LDE’ erased a modest two-game skid with a solid 8-4 victory over Garden Spot. Annville-Cleona rode a six-run fourth-inning rally and a steady outing from senior hurler Chrisi Lerchen to the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three-Four crossover triumph.
Teammate and sister Emma Lerchen supported Lerchen with a four-for-four, two RBI performance, while third-baseman Anique Varela contributed three hits and three RBIs to the cause. The Little Dutchmen collected a total of 12 hits.
The win moved Annville-Cleona to 6-3 overall and 4-2 in Section Four of the L-L. The Spartans fell to 3-7 on the year and 3-5 in Section Three.
“We played better than the last couple of games,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz. “Today, I thought we played a good game. We gave them a couple of runs early and we battled. Any win is a good win after you lost two in-a-row.
“We’re still trying to find our way,” continued Bentz. “I’m still trying to find out what kind of team we have. We have some kids we can move around. We have some kids who put the ball in play, which is a good thing. Today we came out and played pretty well against a pitcher who’s not bad.”
Staring into a 2-1 hole, Annville-Cleona sent ten hitters to the plate in the top of the fourth. C. Lerchen’s single knotted the score at two and Lateesha Mohl’s bases-loaded walk gave the Little Dutchmen a 3-2 edge.
Then E. Lerchen and Varela provided A-C with a little bit of wiggle room. The younger Lerchen ripped a two-run single, ahead of Varella and her two-run double.
“We finally bunched some hits together,” said Bentz. “We were patient at the plate. We’ve been good at swinging at strikes. And two kids who haven’t played much produced, and that made me look pretty good.
“We’re trying to get kids to swing at the first good strike,” Bentz continued. “If we’re aggressive with the first strike, then we have the advantage. Our kids will put the ball in play. We’re swinging at strikes and getting a lot of walks. That’s been one silver lining this spring.”
Employing a lively heater, C. Lerchen scattered seven hits, struck out five and walked one, during her seven innings of work. With some runs to work with, C. Lerchen moved the ball around the plate and generally worked on top.
“She pitched a good game,” said Bentz of his senior righthander. “She’s been struggling. She seems to get to the point of a game where she loses a little bit. I don’t know what it is. Maybe her arm is a little tired. Emma (Lerchen) is more power, and she’s more finesse. This is very big that she had a pretty good game. She was in command.
“Today she had pretty good pop on her ball,” added Bentz. “Maybe it’s the cooler weather. I think she can rare up and come with a little more heat this year. But I don’t think that’s her game. Her game is, ‘Corner, corner. Let’s play some defense.’ But pitchers are whacky, you know that.”
The Spartans reached C. Lerchen for a pair of runs in the top of the first, one of which was unearned. But the Little Dutchmen got one of those back in the bottom of the second, after Varela opened with a single and later came around to score on a ‘Spot’ error.
“I think if we had a (graduated senior) Darian Brenner again, we’d be a pretty good team,” said Bentz. “They’re (opponents) not giving Hayley (Hirn) a lot of pitches to hit, and there’s no Darian Brenner behind her. Hayley’s got to realize that. She’s aggressive and wants to drive in runs. We talked about what it’s like to be a leader.”
Garden Spot also registered an unearned run in the top of the sixth to get within 7-3 of A-C.
But the Little Dutchmen regained their five-run advantage in the bottom of the frame, after their first two hitters were retired. E. Lerchen and Hannah Fischer walked, and Varela followed with a run-producing base knock.
“It’s been a tough year weather-wise,” said Bentz. “We’ve got to get some practices in there. My goal is to be a district qualifier. The league is what it is. We’re the third smallest team in the Lancaster-Lebanon League, but we put a quality product on the field every year. With districts, what the kids have to understand is we’re playing teams who are the same size.”