ANNVILLE – It is a sincere form of flattery and a severe source of motivation. But the reason it was so important for Annville to beat Myerstown yesterday was so that it wouldn’t have to face M-town in the upcoming postseason.
In a battle of clubs trying to avoid one another in the nearing Lebanon County American Legion baseball playoffs, Annville got the better of Myerstown 7-2, Tuesday night at Annville-Cleona High School. Annville scored six runs on just three hits in the bottom of the fifth to erase Myerstown’s 2-1 edge.
At 8-3 on the summer, Annville could still win the regular-season title in the County Legion league and avoid a first-round playoff match-up with either Myerstown or defending champion Campbelltown. Now 8-5, Myerstown, which took the regular-season series with Annville 2-1, is still alive for the same privilege.
“We talked about that tonight,” said Annville head coach Steve Hostetter. “If we don’t win, we’re probably either going to get second or third. And it looks like they’re (Myerstown) either going to get second or third. I’d rather not face them, even though Fifth Ward (which is battling for the final spot) is legit. I wouldn’t take them (the Golden Gopehers) lightly in any game.
“They’ve (Myerstown) beaten us twice,” continued Hostetter. “For them, coming in and sweeping us, it wouldn’t have set well going into the playoffs. Plus, we’d like to win the regular season (title) as well.”
“We’re sitting fine. Conor (star shortstop, Bawiec) will be here for the playoffs,” said Myerstown head coach Johnny Mentzer. “We’re right where we need to be. But we’re also setting ourselves up with our arms. I told our guys ‘it’s gut-check time’. I have all the confidence in the world in my guys. They just need to focus. That’s on them. But we police ourselves pretty well.
“The fourth-place team could be Fredericksburg or Fifth Ward,” Mentzer continued. “In our playoff system, I could care less if we’re one or four. It’s who has the better arms. I’m going to come out and do the same thing I do all the time. The goal is to win two games out of three from everyone. It would’ve been nice to play well. That’s a bigger deal than a loss.”
The decisive bottom of the sixth started with Mitch Rodkey’s lead-off walk, Justin Ulrich’s single and Tyler Napierala’s walk. The rally continued with Tanner Fitting’s RBI-single and two-out bases-loaded walks to Braeden Elliott and Zach Southall.
But the back-breaker may have been Adam Bennett’s two-run single that made it 7-2. The nine-hole hitter, Bennettt had been pinch hit for earlier in the game.
“For me, the most memorable part of that inning was Adam Bennett’s hit,” said Hostetter. “He’s been struggling and we made some adjustments in the (batting) cage. For him to get that hit was crucial. He came through with two outs. We needed him, and 7-2 is a lot different than 5-2.”
“It’s tough,” said Mentzer. “We’re not going to let Napierala beat us. I thought we had that one kid punched out, and that opened the flood gates.
“We shoot ourselves in the foot,” Mentzer added. “Every game we’ve lost we’ve shot ourselves in the foot. That gets under my skin.”
Except for one swing, Annville starter Rodkey was pretty much in control the whole way. The right-hander went the distance on four hits, whiffed three and walked three.
“He’s done well, but we really haven’t thrown him a lot,” said Hostetter of Rodkey. “When he pitches like that, he needs six, seven, eight days of rest. We’re trying to use him sparingly.
“He’s got enough pop on his fastball,” added Hostetter. “And he’s got a decent change-up and a good curveball. And he can throw any of them for strikes. He deserved to close that one out.”
“The key for Rodkey was keeping us off-balance,” said Mentzer. “He was effectively wild. I thought we got ourselves out.
“For us, it’s not do or die,” Mentzer continued. “The more significant part is starting the week out well. I thought it (the outcome) was more significant for them (Annville).”
Myerstown’s Chris Kreider broke up a pitcher’s duel between Rodkey and teammate Jake Stager in the top of the fourth inning, with a two-run bomb to right-center field. But Napierala got one of those runs back for Annville in the bottom of the frame, on a solo ‘big fly’ to left.
“They’ve played us tough,” said Hostetter of Myerstown. “You take away that one inning and we could’ve lost this game. They’re a well-coached team. To be honest, I would rather not face them in the playoffs, but we’re confident if we would.
“I told our guys before the season started that I expected us to win the championship,” Hostetter continued. “That might be pressure but we have an older group. We have the talent and we’re still in the position to do it.”
“They’re scrappy,” said Mentzer of Annville. “I compare them to us. We don’t have top-notched talent across the board. Steve (Hostetter) does a great job of getting them to play their butts off. They’re a good team.”
LEBANON COUNTY AMERICAN LEGION BASEBALL STANDINGS
W L T Pts
Campbelltown 9 2 0 27
Annville 8 3 0 24
Myersotwn 8 5 0 24
Fredericksburg 5 6 0 15
Lebanon Fifth Ward 4 7 0 12
x-Richland 1 12 0 0
x-eliminated from playoff contention