MECHANICSBURG – They sweat together. They laugh together. They cry together.
Harmony and unity aren’t a by-product of success. They’re a pre-requisite for it.
Saying ‘they’re like a family’ has become an over-used expression, and it couldn’t be more true. But families don’t always get along, all the time.
Sometime in the future – no one knows exactly when – the experience will come to an end. And all that will be left are memories and relationships that are aged with adulthood.
To borrow a line from Stephen King, ‘you never have friends in your life like you do when you’re a teenager playing baseball’.
That’s what the Myerstown American Legion baseball team is living right now. That’s what Myerstown is playing for.
On a stuffy Monday night at Soldier and Sailors Memorial Park’s Rickenbach-Shirley Field, Myerstown endured its initial loss in the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four baseball tournament, falling to New Oxford 1-0. The Lebanon County champions made solid contact throughout the contest, but could never dent New Oxford starter Luke Rickrode.
With the setback, Myerstown, now 16-2, will take on the survivor of the earlier Paxton-New Oxford contest, on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the event’s winner-take-all championship game. The Region Four champion will advance to the upcoming eight-team, double-elimination state American Legion baseball tournament.
The loss represented the first time that Myerstown was shut out this season.
The result made New Oxford, the champion out of York-Adams County, 16-3 overall.
“For us as a coaching staff, we talk about that on the way home every night,” said Myerstown head coach John Mentzer. “When we’re here, we’re focused on what’s going on between the lines. When the kids are here, we want them to focus on the game.
“But I know how special this is,” continued Mentzer. “I never had an opportunity like this as a player. Myerstown has never been in this position before. They’re great young men, and living in the moment with them, makes it even more special.”
“I’ll play next year, but if this was my last year, I wouldn’t be disappointed,” said Myerstown first baseman Wyatt Manzel. “We’re a good group of kids. Outside of baseball, I’d hang out with all of these guys. During the games, we talk about stuff outside of baseball.
“In high school (Elco), we had a solid team. But I think this team is a lot better,” added Manzel. “There are no weaknesses on defense and we’ve got the pitching. We all get along. No one really fights with each other. We all pick each other up. It’s not like we’re every going to give up. We’re a team that’s going to play the full seven innings.”
Despite putting its bats on balls and striking out only once, Myerstown never really seriously threatened to score. Myerstown’s Dakota Smith singled twice, in the bottom of the first and fourth innings, and both times never made it to second base.
The only Myerstown batter to make it as far as second base was Amani Jones, who stroked a one-out double in the bottom of the fifth. New Oxford did not commit an error behind Rickrode.
“We hit the ball hard, but our hard contact was in the air,” said Mentzer. “We had hard contact on the ground, but it was at people. The only thing with our approach was when he (Rickrode) struggled to throw strikes, we got ourselves out.”
“I don’t think our approach really changed,” said Menzel. “We didn’t change our approach, which really didn’t help us. I think we were just unlucky.
“He (Rickrode) wasn’t the best pitcher we’ve seen,” added Menzel. “But he threw strikes, and he had a good curveball.”
New Oxford plated the only run of the contest, with two outs in the top of the fourth. Myerstown starter Evan Krall surrendered three singles in the frame, but the run scored on an error, after M-town leftfielder Braden Boyd had thrown a New Oxford runner out at the plate, attempting to score.
“He volunteered,” said Mentzer of Krall, who was making his first competitive pitching start in five years. “We were going to do it by committee. But Evan has decent velocity. He’s an infielder and he’s got a good arm. He might have thrown ten breaking balls all game. And we played solid defense, except for one play.”
“He’s a baseball player. He’s going to throw strikes,” said Manzel of his teammate. “He clearly kept them (New Oxford) off balance. Just like us, they hit the ball. They scored one run, and it wasn’t even an earned run.”
And like Rickrode, Krall also went the distance. Krall struck out two, walked four and benefitted from a pair of double plays turned behind him.
“It’s tough to get a bunch of high school kids focused on a game that doesn’t really mean anything,” said Mentzer. “What this game means, I don’t really know. Yesterday, we played 13 innings, and maybe we were a little flat, a little less energetic. It was a long day yesterday.”