BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – Each group is special.
Each displays its own collective personality.
Each takes on its own unique identity.
Sure players come and go. But play for Coach Daryl Hess and one becomes part of a lifelong Northern Lebanon baseball fraternity.
On Monday night at Earl Wenger Memorial Field, a hard-working group of Viking seniors unceremoniously passed the torch to its successors, following a 7-1 season-ending loss to West Perry, in the opening round of the District Three Class AAA tournament. Northern Lebanon experienced difficulties in the field and its normally potent offense was held in check by Mustang hurler Ben Stum.
With its second straight postseason setback, fifth-seeded Northern Lebanon ended its very successful spring season at 16-7. West Perry, the tourney’s 12th seed, moved to 16-5 overall and into Thursday quarterfinal round opposite Bishop McDevitt, a 3-0 winner over Susquehannock.
“I always hate when seasons end because you’ve got to say ‘goodbye’ to guys,” said Hess. “I had to say ‘goodbye’ to a great group of seniors. That’s the tough part of this job. They’ll always be part of the family. I just won’t see them on a day-to-day basis any more.
“I’m so proud of these guys and the way they came out and played,” Hess continued. “We only got out on our field on April 1st, and at one point we played five games in six days, and I never heard a complaint. One of the things I said at the beginning of the season was that there were going to be guys who weren’t going to get playing time, and if they had a gripe, they’d be right. This group had four wins last season.”
West Perry touched Northern Lebanon sophomore southpaw Wyatt Beakler for single runs in each of its first two at-bats. But the Vikings halved their deficit in the home half of the second.
Jon Walizer reached on an error and Ian Whitman kept things going with a single. Brett Minich picked up Walizer with an RBI-single.
“I thought that kid on the mound was a good pitcher,” said Hess of the 9-1 Stum. “He threw well. We gave away some outs here and there. But he stepped up and made some pitches.
“There was maybe a little bit of nerves,” Hess added. “For some of the kids, it was the first time stepping into the district realm. They (the Mustangs) got hits when they needed, and they also added on. It was some nice bunts. I don’t know if you could’ve rolled them much better.”
It stayed a 2-1 game into the top of the fifth, when West Perry broke it open with a four-run outburst highlighted by Brady Smith’s three-run double. An inning later, Whitman relieved Beakler, whose pitch count had reached 95.
Of the six runs that were charged to Beakler, only one was earned.
“I thought he had good stuff,” said Hess of his senior reliever, “and Beak had good stuff too. Both hit good spots. That’s a good team. They (the Mustangs) played well.
“They did a nice job of executing,” Hess added. “You can’t give extra outs at this level. They took advantage of some things.”
The Vikings threatened Dum in the bottom of the fifth when they loaded the bases with two singles and a walk. But Dum wiggled off the hook with a fly-out and a comebacker.
Dum finished with 11 strikeouts and one walk.
“We played them in districts before,” said Hess of the Mustangs. “I knew a little bit about them, like who their top hitters were. I knew we had our work cut out for us. It was a tough game.
“Every year our goal is to make the playoffs, and do the best we can,” Hess continued. “We want to do well in the section (Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) and hopefully get into the league playoffs and get a district berth. In my opinion, we hit our goals this year. There were games this year we could’ve folded, and we didn’t do that. And that’s what makes me proud of them.”