BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – Myerstown is the defending Lebanon County American Legion baseball league champion in name only. More than anything else, this summer has been a transition season for M-town.
Yesterday, we were afforded a glimpse of Myerstown’s bright future. That playoff victory that accompanied it? Simply a pleasant bonus.
On Friday night at Old Post 55 Field, Myerstown opened the local summer baseball circuit’s postseason with an 8-3 triumph over Richland. Six innings of the contest were played yesterday, on the heels of a Thursday thunderstorm that had suspended the game after an inning of play, and M-town ahead 4-2.
What Friday was about was Myerstown’s four-run, bottom-of-the-third-inning rally and the steady right arm of 16-year-old pitcher Tyler Price. Price finished what he started on Thursday and picked up the win for a Myerstown club decimated by more pressing commitments and injuries.
With the win, Myerstown, the third seed, moved to 8-8 overall and into a Saturday, 5:45 p.m. meeting with Campbelltown at Palmyra High School, in the league’s double-elimination, playoff tournament. On Sunday, Richland, the now 4-12 sixth seed, will take on the loser of Saturday’s Annville at Fredericksburg tilt.
Annville, the number-four seed, reached the tournament’s second day via forfeit, as fifth-seeded Fifth Ward could not come up with enough players to field a squad.
“I feel great about that,” said Myerstown head coach Johnny Mentzer of the contributions he got from his younger players. “These kids who stepped up today were here every day. When they got their shot, they made plays. That’s the type of kids this whole league needs. The guys who were here tonight wanted to be here and they wanted to play.
“It is what it is,” continued Mentzer. “We’ve lost four starters, and no more Conor (Bawiec). We’re going to throw it out there and see what happens. You never know what’s going to happen. We put up eight runs and we played good baseball. Credit to the kids. I commend them.”
“It wasn’t enough of us,” said Richland head coach Travis Thome. “We didn’t show up to play. I told them (his players) yesterday that it seemed like they were ready to play. I don’t know if we thought it was just going to happen today.
“It’s a double-elimination tournament,” continued Thome. “You’ve got to take it one game at a time. Now it’s ‘win and you go on, and lose and you go home’. If you don’t win, you go home.”
Still nursing its 4-2 advantage, Myerstown all but decided the outcome with its four-run third. Myerstown sent ten hungry hitters to the dish and banged out five hits in the frame.
Vinnie Vitelli and Cody Putt drove in Myerstown runs, but the big blow was struck by Kyle Bogdanovich, a two-out, two-run single that made it 8-2. The flurry was set up by singles from Brett Bawiec, Cole Miller and Kyle Rosengrant, and walks to Noah Marinkov and David Stamm.
“It was pretty much the ball game,” said Mentzer of his club’s third at-bat. “When you put a team down 8-2, that’s a big hill to overcome with Price throwing strikes. I didn’t expect that, but it was huge. I was playing for a big inning and got lucky. That was definitely the key inning, that and the four-spot we put up last night.
“Technically, it’s the same game,” Mentzer added. “But I’m changing my lineup card and changing positions. It was a fresh new start today. We had a new team on the field. The third could’ve been an even bigger inning if we hadn’t run into an out. But we had guys stepping up in big spots.”
“We’ve seen a lot of those innings all year long,” said Thome. “Any time you have a bad inning, you’ve got to put it behind you. These are high school kids and maybe they have learned that yet. You’ve got to let it go and move on. We definitely looked a little deflated after that.
“We had a little dribbler that we didn’t communicate on,” added Thome. “And we didn’t turn a double play. It was just the little stuff we haven’t been doing all year.”
After surrendering two runs to Richland in the top of the first on Thursday, Price yielded all of three hits, struck out four and walked two in his six innings of work yesterday. Price retired Post 880 in order in both the second and sixth innings, before being touched for a run on a passed ball in the top of the seventh inning.
“He pitched better today than he did yesterday,” said Mentzer of Price. “He threw 19 pitches on Thursday and I asked him, ‘How do you feel?’ That was like a bullpen session. I asked if he was ready to go. He said, ‘absolutely’. I told him to go get them. I don’t think they squared a ball up on him. He’s a contact pitcher. He doesn’t strike out a lot, but he gets a lot of ground balls and fly balls.
“I think he’s 4-0 for us this summer,” Mentzer added. “That’s half of our wins. He’s thrown well every single time. He’s given me seven innings every time out. The best part about it is that he’s 16. I think he’s going to help us in the future.”
“We just didn’t hit the baseball,” said Thome. “He (Price) didn’t do anything differently. He looked the same as yesterday. Today we just didn’t look good in the batter’s box.
“He has a nice little fastball,” added Thome. “He has a good off-speed pitch. But we didn’t hit the fastball, so I don’t expect us to be able to hit the off-speed.”
On Thursday before the rain hit, Richland had assumed a 2-0 lead on Jeremy Kreiser’s two-run single. But in the bottom of the first inning, Myerstown responded with four of its own, as B. Bawiec and Cole Miller walked with the bases loaded to drive in runs, ahead of Marinkov’s two-run single.
“Obviously it deflates you a little bit,” said Thome of Myerstown’s four-run bottom of the first inning. “You jump out 2-0 and then you let them score four. Today was just like another day. You’ve got to score runs to win. I don’t think yesterday had any impact on today.
“The way we started yesterday, I thought we’d at least compete,” continued Thome. “If anything, their lineup was a little weaker today and our’s was the same.”
“We’re all struggling to get guys,” said Mentzer. “The kids put us in tough positions as coaches when we’re more committed than they are. I wouldn’t be surprised if five years from now there is no Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League. This used to a good league and a hot-bed for talent. It’s changed immensely.”
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Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League
Final Regular Season Standings