BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – In our win-at-all costs culture, the notion of a ‘hollow victory’ has become an antiquated concept. But the end has never justified the means.
On Friday evening, the Myerstown American Legion baseball team got lost along the way to its desired destination. Myerstown recorded an 11-9 victory over Richland that moved it into first place in the local summer league, but didn’t look particularly good in accomplishing it.
M-town overcame its five errors, poor pitching and general lackadaisical play by pounding out 13 hits and 11 runs. Following a scoreless opening frame, both teams scored in every one of their next at-bats.
Still, the outcome lifted Myerstown, now 8-3, into a first-place tie with Campbelltown and Fredericksburg in the Lebanon County American Legion League. M-town has already qualified for the circuit’s four-team postseason, while 1-10 Richland has been eliminated from consideration.
“Sloppy and a lack of focus,” said Myerstown rookie head coach Johnny Mentzer. “It’s hot. I get it. It’s hard to stay focused against guys you play high school baseball with. I laid into them (his players) pretty good after the game. If we play like that against good teams we’re going to get lit up.
“Our focus wasn’t there defensively,” Mentzer added. “It was at the plate. Giving up nine runs to a team with three 15-year-olds in the starting lineup is disappointing. Coming off the high of beating Campbelltown, this kind of took the wind out of our sails.”
“They’re as equal as Fredericksburg, Annville or Campbelltown,” said Richland manager Lyle Krall of Myerstown. “Any one of those four teams couldwin that playoff. It’s going to come down to who has the best pitching, not the best hitting. I think Myerstown is going to have to score a lot of runs to win it.”
After Richland assumed a 4-1 lead in the top of the third, Myerstown tied it in the bottom of the inning on an RBI from Adam Shoemaker and two-out run-scoring hits by Jake Stager and Matt Lesher. Then, Myerstown broke open the game with a five-run fourth, thanks to RBIs from Shoemaker, Lesher, Tyler Starry and an R-land miscue that made it 9-5.
While the result was never seriously in doubt after that, it wasn’t officially settled until Myerstown’s third pitcher, Zach Hostetter was called upon to put out a Richland rally in the top of the seventh.
“We’re a very good offensive team,” continued Mentzer. “If you go one through nine, we’re solid. It’s like murders’ row, going two, three, four, five and six. We have hitters across the board. The three games we lost were because of errors. Defensively, if we make plays, we’re going to win baseball games.”
“Myerstown hits the ball one through nine,” said Krall. “We were fortunate to hold them to eleven runs. But we had the go-ahead run at the plate with one out in the seventh, so we’re still in the game. We’ve got to be excited by the effort. We had a couple of great catches in the outfield, and we were playing out there as far as we can.
“I’m not concerned about them (Myerstown),” added Krall. “We had some errors, so it was somewhat sloppy that inning (the fourth). But those were basically our two worst plays of the game.”
Richland used a Brandon Mays sacrifice fly in the fifth to pull within three runs of the lead, but Myerstown responded with Chris Kreider’s run-scoring single in the home-half of the inning to make it 10-6. A pair of M-town errors fueled Richland’s two-run sixth, but Myerstown got one of those back via Joe Gettle’s pinch-hit RBI-single.
“No, the regular season championship doesn’t mean much,” said Mentzer. “We’ve got a stretch coming up. Our goal would be to get homefield advantage. If we get two of our next three, we should be able to get home field. It’s one game at a time. But we’ve got to put forth a better effort than we did tonight.
“The good part of the league is that it’s close-knit,” Mentzer added, “so it’s (the regular season title) about bragging rights. It’s about who’s going to have something to say after the game when you shake hands.”
“These kids look at it like it’s playing against each other,” said Krall. “This is a rivalry of sorts. Most of our kids are from Elco, but they (Myerstown) have more Cedar Crest kids.
“It (the losing) didn’t seem like it was working on us tonight,” continued Krall. “We were pleased with the effort. We scored nine runs against a good team. If the effort would be there and they (his players) would have a bad attitude that would be the coaches’ fault.”
Steve Rhoades’ triple and Clayton Bauder’s RBI-grounder staked Richland to a 2-0 lead in the top of the second. Then after Jake Stager scored on a two-base wild pitch for Myerstown, Richland upped its advantage to 4-1 on a Brandon Mays safety and an M-town error in the third.
“I’m struggling right now,” said Mentzer. “Two of my pitchers are hurt, Adam Shoemaker and Mike Wealand. Those are two guys who have thrown a lot for me. I don’t know if I have a number one pitcher. But I have a lot of solid guys.
“I’d love to finish first (in the regular season),” Mentzer continued. “But my goal is to be healthy for the playoffs.”
“Oh yeah, absolutely I’ve seen improvement,” said Krall. “Tonight was a game where we hit the ball. We’re getting experience. We’ve got threee players who we had from last year. It’s been a struggle. But the biggest struggle has been getting enough players here so we don’t forfeit.”
Stager picked up a trio of hits for the winners, while teammates Austin Lawrence and Colin Miller stroked a pair apiece. For Richland, Travis Zimmerman, Jared Kreiser and Rhoades combined for six of Richland’s nine hits.