MECHANICSBURG – Do you know how Myerstown looked like the best team before winning the championship of the Lebanon County American Legion baseball league earlier this summer? Well, it’s starting to feel like deja vue all over again.
On a seasonable Sunday night at Rickenbach-Shirley Field at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Park, Myerstown stormed into the championship game of the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament with a 7-1 blasting of Upper Dauphin, in the event’s undefeated game. Myerstown scored the first four runs of the game, and it proved to be more than enough for starting pitcher Luke Hostetter, who went the distance on a seven-hitter.
The result put Myerstown, the now 16-1 champions of Lebanon County, firmly in the Region Four driver’s seat. The only remaining team without a tournament loss, Myerstown is now assured a spot in Tuesday’s championship contest.
But first, Myerstown will take on York-Adams rep New Oxford on Monday at 5:30 p.m., at Rickenbach-Shirley Field. If M-town wins that game, it will have to be beaten twice on Tuesday in order for it not to win the Region Four title.
Earlier on Sunday, in the completion of a contest suspended by rain on Saturday, Myerstown had reached the undefeated game of the tournament with its fourth straight come-from-behind playoff victory, a 5-4, ten-inning triumph over Dauphin County champion Paxton.
With the loss, Upper Dauphin, the runner-up from Dauphin County, fell to 15-6 overall and into the loser’s bracket.
“I definitely think we’re the oldest team, but we’re not that much older than some of these other teams,” said Myerstown head coach Johnny Mentzer. “There are definitely some mature teams here. These guys (his players) have been in a lot of tight games throughout their careers. And I think it’s shown here.
“We’ve played some clean baseball games,” added Mentzer. “We’ve made some errors that didn’t hurt us. Our offense is coming around. But it’s not finished yet.”
“Now we only have to win one game to win the championship,” said Hostetter. “Coming in, we knew we could beat anybody. We’ve been confident all year. We’ve just been having trouble scoring runs early.”
Myerstown’s three-run rally in top of the third inning represented a departure from its recent norm. Lance Hains, Dakota Smith and Jeremy Eck all produced RBI-singles, after teammates Braden Boyd had singled and Amani Jones had walked.
Then, in the top of the fourth, M-town tacked on a run to make it a 4-0 game. Jack Beasley walked, and after an Upper Dauphin error and an Evan Krall single, came home on Boyd’s well-struck sacrifice fly.
“It felt different today,” said Mentzer. “When we scored those four runs in the Paxton game, it felt like the offense was coming. I think because of that, we had more confidence coming into this game. It felt different getting the lead and not having to score late to win.”
“When we’ve got the lead and I walk someone or give up a hit, I’m not as hard on myself,” said Hostetter. “Sometimes I tighten up and it’s hard to throw strikes. I feel like I’m one of our three normal starters (pitchers). I can fill in at the corner infield spots, and when I’m at the plate, I’m just trying to hit the ball hard.”
Hostetter, who was coming off a tough outing against Annville in the championship game of the Lebanon County American Legion playoffs, made the most of his early support. Among his 105 pitches, Hostetter struck out nine and walked one.
The only run Hostetter surrendered came in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Upper Dauphin strung together three hits, including Dillan Gray’s two-out, RBI-single.
“Luke threw great,” said Mentzer. “I think for him, it was time to prove himself after the start against Annville. He trusted his stuff. He trusted his ability. He kept the ball down and threw a heck of a game.”
“I felt good warming up before the Annville game, but tonight I got to go right out there,” said Hostetter. “I felt good in the bull pen. Today was definitely one of my better outings. In the bullpen, I felt like I had all five pitches going for me.
“When I’m out on the mound, I’m just focused on throwing right to Jeremy (catcher, Eck),” added Hostetter, “and having one good compliment to the fastball, that I can throw for strikes.”
Myerstown pieced together a second three-run rally in the top of the seventh inning to extend its lead to six and pretty much put the outcome out of reach. Hostetter and Eck both singled during the rally, which was fueled by a pair of Upper Dauphin miscues.
“I don’t know if anyone is in the driver’s seat, with the way pitching is on the fourth or fifth day of a tournament,” said Mentzer. “It comes down to hitting the ball. Offensively, we’ve just got to stay where we’re at,
“We have some guys who have thrown,” continued Mentzer. “They’re guys who I trust to throw, but they’re not regular pitchers.”
In the morning victory over Paxton, Myerstown trailed 4-0 before posting four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. The contest stayed tie until the bottom of the tenth inning, when Hostetter walked it off with the game-winning RBI.
“We’re always confident in the dugout,” said Hostetter. “But for whatever reason, we can’t string hits together early. But we never stop being confident in the dugout.”