BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – Somewhere along the way this spring, the Annville-Cleona baseball team adopted a ‘best foot forward’ mentality. And what the Little Dutchmen discovered is that their best is never not good enough.
On Thursday evening at Earl Wenger Memorial Field, in the semifinals of the District Three Class AA playoffs, A-C once again performed admirably, before dropping a 3-1 season-ending decision to Susquenita. The Little Dutchmen received good pitching from Colton Long and played its trademark steady defense, but just couldn’t crack Susquenita fireballer Brett Morrison.
All of the runs in the contest were scored from the fifth inning on, after C. Long and Morrison had been locked in a classic pitcher’s duel early on. It was the Blackhawks’ two-run bottom of the fifth that proved decisive.
Let the record show that fifth-seeded Annville-Cleona compiled a 16-8 overall mark during a 2014 campaign in which it was crowned champions of Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Top-seeded and now 16-5 Susquenita advanced to the May 29th District Three Class AA championship game against the winner of Berks Catholic and Delone Catholic.
“I think the eight seniors were really the key to the cohesiveness through the season,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Scott Shyda. “Every single one of them. That happened in a lot of ways. They have such a no-quit attitude. They’re a big reason for our success this season. And our pitching held up like we were hoping it would.
“I had a feeling we’d improve on last year,” Shyda continued. “The goal was to finish in the top two in the section, and get to districts. We wanted to go beyond where we were last year when we lost in the first round of districts. We won the section, got to the (Lancaster-Lebanon) league championship game for the first time in many years and we made it to the second round of districts. We certainly exceeded those goals. I’m excited and thrilled about where we’re headed.”
Having just surrendered two runs an at-bat earlier, the Little Dutchmen pieced together their only rally of the game against Morrison in the top of the sixth.
Caleb Setlock set it off with a single, and made it to second on a Blackhawk throwing error. Setlock advanced to third when Hunter Long struck out but reached base on an error by the Susquenita catcher.
A-C’s next hitter, Braden Elliott, laced a single to right that scored Setlock, then Zach Southall sacrificed the runners to second and third. But after three-hole hitter Mitch Rodkey reached on a walk, Morrison retired the next two Little Dutchmen on a strikeout and a fly out.
“Their pitcher pitched a great game,” said Shyda of Morrison. “We got a run in, and we had the bases-loaded and one out. And we had our (numbers) four and five hitters up. It just didn’t work out. We just didn’t get the big hit. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. That’s how it was going to be, win or lose.”
“That was definitely a tough one,” Shyda continued. “It is very tough. That’s (that A-C played well) just what I told them (his players). It’s not like we gave them anything. They earned it. Susquenita deserves the credit.”
The Blackhawks had just two hits off C. Long heading into the bottom of the fifth inning, when they assumed a 2-0 lead. Susquenita parlayed three singles and two crucial sacrifice bunts – the second of which was a safety squeeze off the bat of Evan Miller – into its runs.
“Colton is tough,” said Shyda of his starter. “He’s our number-two pitcher. He’s got that bulldog mentality, and he’s mentally tough. We knew Susquenita was going to be tough coming in.
“With Colton, we typically work fastball and change-up, but he didn’t have his change-up working real well today,” added Shyda. “His game plan is to keep hitters off balance. When he’s throwing his curveball he’s especially tough. But we had a lot of confidence in Colton today.”
Susquenita tacked on an insurance tally in the bottom of the sixth, in the form of Jordan Baker’s two-out RBI-single. Morrison had led off with a single and reached second on a grounder.
Morrison, a hard-throwing righthander, retired the first eight Little Dutchmen he faced – six of which were strikeouts – before Hunter Long singled with two outs in the top of the third. Morrison, who finished with 11 strikeouts and one walk, also retired Annville-Cleona in order in the fifth and seventh innings.
Annville-Cleona managed four hits off of him.
“I thought everything was working for him,” said Shyda of Morrison. “He was getting the fastball by us. The kids had to look for the fastball. That good fastball made the curveball hard to handle. He’s a very smart pitcher.”
C. Long fanned two, walked one and surrendered seven hits.
“I would be willing to say that we exceeded everyone’s expectations, except our own,” said Shyda. “We pretty much met every goal we set prior to the season. But we’re disappointed. We thought we could play with anyone. The kids were playing with confidence. Today Susquenita was a little better.
“We’ve got some guys coming back who are going to have to pick up leadership roles,” Shyda concluded. “Our JV team went 11-2 and had a great season, and they’re going to have to fill holes. I’m already optimistic about next year. It’s just going to be tough getting over the disappointment of right now.”