BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – Members of the Myerstown American Legion Baseball team aren’t trying to extend Johnny Mentzer’s tenure as their head coach. They’re trying to change his mind.
On Tuesday night at Palmyra High School, the improbable and unconventional defense of Myerstown Baseball Inc.’s championship continued to be the story of the summer, as MBI dominated Campbelltown 6-1 in the circuit’s championship game. Myerstown’s fifth win of these double-elimination playoffs, and Campbelltown’s first defeat, set up a winner-take-all, ‘if necessary’ game on Wednesday night at 5:45 p.m. back at Palmyra High School.
Myerstown starting pitcher Tyler Price went the distance to pick up the win, and in the process extended his string of no earned runs to 14 playoff innings.
Except for a throwing error in the bottom of the seventh inning – after the outcome had been decided – Myerstown played flawless defense.
And seemingly riding the momentum of Monday’s surprising win at Fredericksburg, the Myerstown offense produced some early timely hitting, and then simply refused to relent.
In short, it was as complete a playoff win as Mentzer could’ve hoped for.
At stake on Wednesday night will be the overall championship of the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League and a ticket to this weekend’s eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament at Ephrata. Third-seeded Myerstown is now 12-9 overall, while second-seeded Campbelltown is 12-6.
“No, not yet,” said Mentzer, when asked if he had decided about coaching next summer. “I have to talk it over with my wife and family. The kids do know. A lot of it was frustration with a lack of commitment. That’s not the reason I said it, but they have refocused on baseball. But I have big shoes (John Mentzer, Sr.’s) to fill.
“The commitment has been up and down this season,” continued Mentzer. “It’s a long season in a short amount of time. We had guys who missed a lot of work. No, what happens tomorrow can’t change my mind. For me, it’s about what’s best for my family. But my wife supports me in everything I do.”
“I don’t think they’ve got the momentum,” said Campbelltown head coach Tim Morgan of Myerstown. “Whoever shows up tomorrow is going to win. We beat them four out of five times this season. We feel good about our chances.
“It was just like us against Fredericksburg,” continued Morgan. “They beat us three times (during the regular season) and we lit up the best pitcher in the league (Jordan Nichols). It happens. But they (Myerstown) didn’t give us anything.”
With its two-run top of the first, Myerstown picked up right where it left off against Fredericksburg on Monday.
Kyle Knight smashed a lead-off single, and was sacrificed to second by Austin Douple. Then after Kyle Bogdanovich singled, Brett Bawiec came through for Myerstown, in the form of a two-out, two-run single to right field.
Behind Price, four innings later Myerstown upped its advantage to 3-0, on a third RBI from B. Bawiec. K. Bogdanovich set the table with a ringing double, before Bawiec again did damage with two outs.
“There’s nothing we could’ve done better,” said Mentzer. “We just have to carry it over to tomorrow. Yeah, that’s the best game we’ve played all season, when you take the three facets of the game into consideration. I had an inkling coming here that we had a chance to be in this game.
“It’s straight momentum,” Mentzer added. “By putting up a crooked number in the first inning, we’re setting ourselves up for the rest of the game. That first inning was key. And you pitch to contact when you have the lead.”
“I thought we played well,” said Morgan. “I got bit by the same bug I have all year. We hit the crap out of the ball, but right at people. The first inning didn’t help, but you’ve got to score runs.
“They (Myerstown) made the plays tonight,” added Morgan. “Give them credit. The first four runs they scored were with two outs. It’s a process. We’re just thankful we get another chance tomorrow. No one has pitching left, but we have two good ones.”
Price retired the first seven Campbelltown batters he faced, until Brandon Charochak lined a one-out single in the bottom of the third inning. In fact, Price retired C-town in order on four separate occasions.
He worked out of a two-on, one-out situation in the bottom of the fifth, before yielding an unearned tally in the seventh. Carl Reigle, who had singled, scored the Campbelltown run, on the throwing error with two outs.
Price retired eleven C-town hitters on fly balls, nine on grounders and one on strikes. The 16-year-old right-hander walked one in just over 80 pitches.
“Tyler gave us more than good innings, he gave us great innings,” said Mentzer. “That’s what he’s done all year. He’s got a lot of late movement on his pitches. He got a lot of weak ground balls and we played good defense.
“That’s the big thing for him, throwing strikes,” Mentzer continued. “When you put the ball in play, you rely on your defense and you don’t throw a lot of pitches.”
“He (Price) threw strikes,” said Morgan. “He was ahead (in the count) of them all. That’s what you’ve got to do. I feel bad for (Campbelltown stater Isaac) Blatty. The table was set here and we didn’t get it done. When this team showed up they were flat. They thought it was going to be easy.
“Blatty hit his spots, but they (Myerstown) hit the ball with two strikes,” continued Morgan. “We couldn’t put nothing up. We were swinging at stuff over our heads. That’s the little things. If you do all the little things, you’re going to be alright. They (Myerstown) were just on him (Blatt) tonight.”
Myerstown made it a 4-0 game in the top of the sixth, as Kyle Knight drove home Cole Miller, who had singled and been sacrificed to second by Noah Marinkov.
M-tow hit the ball extremely hard in the top of the seventh, and scored twice to put the outcome away. Myerstown bashed four doubles in the at-bat, including Vinnie Vitelli, whose two-bagger scored Cody Horst and B. Bawiec.
Myerstown collected a total of 14 hits, five of which went for extra bases.
“Those guys took all those young guys under their wings,” said Mentzer of Horst, Douple, K. Bogdanovich and the injured Conor Bawiec. “The younger guys have listened and learned, and I think we’re starting to play a lot looser. We’re realizing we can do this all again. It makes my job easier to have four guys from last year who tasted it.
“Defensively, we’ve done it all year,” added Mentzer. “We’ve played great defense all year. Now we’re getting timely hitting, and that’s a recipe for success in the playoffs.”
“To be honest, a lot of these boys don’t care if they’re here or not,” said Morgan. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t want to drive to Ephrata.
“(Fredericksburg’s Jim) McKinney officially announced his retirement last night and (Annville’s Steve) Hostetter’s done,” Morgan added. “Johnny (Mentzer) might be done and I won’t be here much longer. I’m Coach Morgan. I want to go to regionals. I’ve got everybody back next year, but there’s no respect, no dedication any more. It is what it is. Sometimes it’s hard to be positive.”
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Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League
Double-Elimination Playoff Standings
Campbelltown 2 1
Myerstown 5 1
Annville 2 2
x-Fredericksburg 1 2
Richland 0 2
Fifth Ward 0 2
x – Regular-season champion
Lebanon County American Legion
Final Regular Season Standings