FREDERICKSBURG – They said, ‘Go to Regionals!’ ‘You’ll have fun there,’ they said.
‘It’ll be different this time.’ ‘This team has a real chance.’
Instead of rewriting history on Sunday morning, Myerstown fell into Lebanon County’s long tradition of disappointment at the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four American Legion baseball tournament, being contested at Fredericksburg’s Earl Wenger Memorial Field. The local representative surrendered two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and lost to Red Land 2-0, in a losers’ bracket game.
It was Myerstown’s second tough loss in as many days, but its second nonetheless – one that ended its campaign at 19-4. After winning its first Lebanon County championship in 30 years, Myerstown became the 21st straight – and 26th out of the last 27th – local club to fail to advance through regionals.
Red Land, the champions of Cumberland County, improved to 20-5.
“I don’t read too much into it,” said Myerstown head coach Johnny Mentzer. “I don’t think our playoffs put anyone in position to compete. If we have Conor (Bawiec) against Hummelstown yesterday, it’s a different game. Until we figure that out, as a league, we’re not going to be competitive.
“There’s not too many people who go 19-4,” continued Mentzer. “We probably got the toughest draw of anyone in the tournament. They’re (Red Land) a good baseball team. I can’t take anything away from our guys. I think it shows that if you take us out of little Lebanon County, we’re going to be competitive.”
“I really thought we could play better than we did,” said Bawiec, who was tagged with the tough-luck loss. “Honestly, I thought we could hit the ball better than we did. We have a solid team. But when you come here you’re going to see guys who throw in the low 80s and mid 80s, and they come at you.
“I thought we’d make it further than two games,” added Bawiec. “Our (Lebanon County) playoffs went farther than we hoped.”
With Bawiec’s pitch count mounting, Red Land loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the eighth inning. Bawiec got a temporary reprieve in the form of a ground ball to shortstop, but Red Land’s next batter, Josh Snyder singled to plate two mates.
Bawiec went unscathed over the rest of the inning, but the damage had been done.
“It was a tale of two different games,” said Mentzer. “Yesterday (against Hummelstown) we got the hitting effort and didn’t get the pitching. Today we got the pitching effort and we didn’t get the hitting. It’s baseball. We lost the game yesterday in the ninth inning and today we lost the game in the eighth inning. I’m proud of them (his players).
“It’s a good baseball game,” Mentzer continued. “They (Red Land) got one key hit, in the eighth inning. It was that one key hit that we just didn’t get. We played small ball. We tried everything.’
“It’s pretty much momentum,” said Bawiec. “They (Red Land) had a lot of momentum going their way. They just kept putting the ball in play. I wish we could’ve put the ball in play more.”
At one point, from the fifth inning through the seventh, Bawiec retired seven Red Land batters in-a-row. He stranded ten runners on the base paths.
“It’s almost the same thing that happened with Jake (Stager) against Annville in the (Lebanon County) playoffs,” said Mentzer of Bawiec. “He deserved a better result. He shut those guys down. Nobody else touched him. He threw very, very well. When I give him the ball, I know I’m going to get that effort.
“He’s a number-one pitcher,” Mentzer continued. “He took the ball. He wanted the ball. On top of being a great baseball player, he’s a heck of a kid. And the same is true of all of my kids. I wish him all the best in his college baseball career.”
“It’s not normal for me,” said Bawiec of his pitch count. “That was probably the first nine-inning game I pitched in. I had to battle. I actually felt really good, especially after pitching a lot in the (Lebanon County) playoffs. I just wanted to get out there and get things done.”
Myerstown’s potent attack didn’t generate much offense against Red Land righthander Zach Newmyer.
Its best chance may have come in the bottom of the fourth, when it parlayed singles by Stager and Chris Kreider and a steal into a first-and-third-with-one-out situation. But Newmyer settled down and retired the next two Myerstown batters.
Myerstown got runners to second with one out in both the eighth and ninth innings, but simply couldn’t come up with a key hit. Newmyer, who’s headed to Division Two Bloomsburg, scattered five hits, struck out 11 and walked two.
“He’s got good stuff,” said Mentzer of Newmyer. “He’s a Division Two pitcher. Erratic. Effectively wild. I wanted them (his hitters) to take pitches to make him work. But we took too many pitches and put ourselves in 0-2 holes.
“Being patient is good to an extent,” continued Mentzer. “Being patient to one strike is one thing, but being patient to two strikes is another. I thought we hit the ball decently. Even the best big league teams get shut out. I don’t read too much into that. We had guys on base. We did good things.”
“I really enjoyed playing with Myerstown,” said Bawiec, a recent graduate of Cedar Crest High School. “I’m good friends with the Elco kids. I couldn’t ask for anything more. We have to keep our heads up high. I’m proud of this season. It was a great season we played for Myerstown.”
Lebanon County American Legion League