MECHANICSBURG – It’s not something that could’ve happened at home. It had to include stepping outside of its comfort zone, of thinking outside of the box.
In spite of the result, somehow, some way, Myerstown became the best version of itself. And that certainly was no small task.
On a steamy Tuesday night at Rickenbach-Shirley Field at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Park, one of the greatest seasons in the long history of Myerstown American Legion baseball came to a head, with a 10-3 loss to Paxton in the championship game of the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament. Paxton strafed pitching-thin Myerstown for a total of 14 hits, and took advantage of five M-town errors.
It was a disappointing finish for a Myerstown club that came to the regional tournament with high hopes and reached the championship game of the event with three straight wins. But Myerstown, the Lebanon County champion which concluded its summer with a 16-3 record, did not play its best baseball in its two season-ending losses.
Earlier in the tournament, on its way to the championship game, Myerstown had scored a 5-4, 10-inning, come-from-behind over the same Paxton club. But it was Paxton, the now 18-5 Dauphin County champion, which advanced to this weekend’s state American Legion tournament at Ephrata.
The Myerstown American Legion baseball program has never won a regional championship.
“The season, overall, was a complete success,” said Myerstown head coach Johnny Mentzer. “To lose two games at the end in no way reflects the season we had. We’re a very good baseball team. We’re a very tired baseball team. This is not a reflection on one of the best teams I’ve ever coached. This is a very talented baseball team.
“To be honest, we don’t have much left in the tank,” Mentzer. ‘We got the most out of what we put out there. We got to where we wanted to be. Did we get the results we wanted? No. But I’ll take these guys every day.”
“Knowing our team, I’d say ‘No’,” said Myerstown shortstop/pitcher Amani Jones, when asked if he would’ve taken a runner-up finish coming into the tournament. “We have a good group of guys. I would’ve said we were going to find a way to squeak out the wins.”
Myerstown never led. Behind 2-0 in the bottom of the second inning, Luke Hostetter blasted a solo ding-dong to pull Myerstown to within a run of the lead.
“I don’t think we hit the ball poorly,” said Mentzer. “Again, we hit some balls hard. We left some guys on base. We had a chance to score some runs.
“I’ll take these guys against anyone if we have our pitching and we’re ready to go,” added Mentzer. “It’s unfortunate a regional championship comes down to something like this.”
“I thought we tried to be aggressive early,” said Jones. “But when we were stressed and things didn’t go our way, we pressed. It’s baseball. You’re not always going to hit it.”
“I wouldn’t say we hit as well as we did in other games,” continued Jones. “I think in the other games, we hoped we were going to score late. But today it never really clicked.”
After Paxton extended its advantage to 5-1 in the top of the fourth inning, Myerstown fought back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame. Hostetter led off with a single, both Wyatt Menzel and Evan Krall rapped RBI-doubles, but Myerstown left the bases loaded.
For the game, Myerstown stranded nine runners on base.
“It’s a darn thing to run out of pitching at the wrong time,” said Mentzer. “I was asking a lot out of the guys who threw. We threw strikes and they (Paxton) hit the ball. It’s easy to hit a fastball when you know it’s coming.
“It’s a product of the tournament. It’s unfortunate,” Mentzer added. “Strikes is what I was looking for. If we got beat by a team that hits the baseball, so be it. I wanted our guys to throw strikes and keep us in the game.”
“It was fun, for the first time I threw since I was 12,” said Jones, who started for Myerstown. “They (his coaches) didn’t expect me to throw a perfect game. I never really threw an off-speed pitch before. I tried to stay with the fastball, but when I went with the off-speed, it didn’t work bad.”
Myerstown recorded a total of two hits over its last three at-bats. Paxton posted two runs in the top of the fifth to push its lead to 7-3, then made it 9-3 in the sixth.
“I don’t know if the best team won,” said Mentzer. “We beat them once and they beat us once. We beat them when we had our better pitching. They had more pitching than us. It’s hard to compare the talent when the most important position on the field is being manned by someone who isn’t used to playing there.”
“Yeah, I’d say the best team won,” said Jones. “We didn’t really show up. They’re a good team. They deserve credit.”