BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – To be the best, you’ve got to play your best. And to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.
On Friday afternoon, the Northern Lebanon baseball played its best, but didn’t beat the best.
The Vikings brought their ‘A’ game to their Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three showdown with powerhouse Lampeter-Strasburg, but still fell to the mighty Pioneers 5-4. While Northern Lebanon performed especially well in opening early leads of 3-0 and 4-1, it couldn’t sustain them.
When the Vikings blinked, Lampeter-Strasburg scored three times to tie the score in the fifth inning. Then the Pioneers scratched out the winning run without the benefit of a hit in the top of the seventh.
The outcome left Northern Lebanon 11-5 overall, 8-4 in Section Three and with just a glimmer of hope for winning the league crown. Lampeter-Strasburg, which has won ten of the last 12 Section Three titles, improved to 13-2 on the year and 10-1 in the circuit.
“Yeah, I thought we played a nice ball game,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Daryl Hess. “Unfortunately we ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Our guys played well, and they’ve been playing well. That’s a pretty good team over there.
“I think they (the Pioneers) only have one loss,” Hess continued. “We’re at four with four to play. This was definitely a key game for winning the section. But we’re not out of it.”
The Vikings threatened in the home half of the final frame when lead-off hitter Jon McKinney singled and was sacrificed to second. But Northern Lebanon’s three- and four-hole hitters stranded him there.
“They’re the team everyone wants to beat because they’re good,” said Hess of the Pioneers. “Everyone wants to beat the best team. They’ve definitely been one of the best teams in the section for quite a while.
“Yeah, it was a tough game,” Hess added. “I thought we played well. And I thought they played well. It was a good game.”
Northern Lebanon was up 4-1 and precariously in control when Lampeter-Strasburg struck for three runs in the fifth. A Vikings error fueled the uprising, but the Pioneers did their part with four singles, one of which came off the bat of Matt McCrudden and tied the game with two outs.
“One of the keys was when we gave up three runs in the fifth,” said Hess. “We gave them a couple of extra outs. That one inning got us, and they got some hits when they needed them. It’s the way it goes. But the fifth inning was definitely the key.
“I thought he (NL starter Ian Whitman) threw well,” added Hess. “He changed speeds well and hit spots. I thought he battled. His pitch count was getting up pretty high. He was around 105-106 pitches and he walked the lead-off batter (in the seventh), that’s when I went out and got him.”
RBI-singles from Zane Walizer and Jordan Seltzer staked Northern Lebanon to a 2-0 lead in the first. McKinney got things rolling in the Vikings’ direction with a lead-off triple.
Then in the second, Tanner Dresch’s lead-off single led to Walizer’s second run-producing hit in as many innings and a 3-0 Northern Lebanon advantage.
“We’ve been playing pretty consistent,” said Hess. “We won four in-a-row, lost one and then won four more in-a-row. And we went 3-1 in the preseason. We lost a tough game to Lancaster Catholic, but we played well in that game.
“No, this doesn’t change our goals,” continued Hess. “I think we just go out and keep doing what we’re doing. We hit the ball well tonight. I don’t think we change anything we’re doing.”
Northern Lebanon regained its three-run cushion in the third, as a walk to Lucas Geinow and an L-S error set the stage for a Zach Miller sacrifice fly.
“We were at number ten on Monday,” said Hess of a District Three Class AAA power rankings that have the Vikings thinking postseason. “We went 2-1 this week which shouldn’t hurt us too much. We’re pretty much right around there (tenth).”
McKinney collecte three of the Vikings’ seven hits. Northern Lebanon managed only two hits after the second inning.