BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – Not sure how much of an aspiration it was, or even if it was on the radar at all, at the beginning of the season. But as the spring unfolded and the picture became clearer, it came into focus.
The Palmyra baseball team has played its way into championship contention.
On a warm Tuesday evening that doubled as ‘Senior Night’ at Palmyra High School, the Cougars took another important step towards a Mid-Penn Keystone Division title with an 8-0 whitewashing of Central Dauphin East. Four different hurlers combined on the Palmyra shutout, as the Cougars employed the old baseball formula of scoring early and then tacking on to take care of the Panthers.
With Thursday’s league finale against Harrisburg still left on its regular-season schedule, Palmyra remained tied with Lower Dauphin atop the Keystone Division standings. The Cougars are currently 13-4 overall and 12-1 in the division.
There is also the matter of the District Three Class AAAAA power rankings, where Palmyra was recently situated eighth.
The result left C.D. East 6-11 on the year and 4-9 in the Keystone Division. Back on April 12th, Palmyra had scored a 15-5 victory at C.D. East.
“For us, being a champion of our league is definitely a goal,” said Palmyra head coach Neil Weber. “We also have an opportunity to get into districts and make a run. We’re not a veteran ball club like Lower Dauphin. But I love coaching these kids. They have a lot of heart.
“We’ve always believed in ourselves as a ball club,” continued Weber. “We have kids who know how to play the game. For us, being in the mix for a league championship is an honor. Splitting with Lower Dauphin was an accomplishment.”
“At the beginning of the season, we worked hard,” said Cougar sophomore star Brian Coburn. “We had a good off-season. I felt really confident coming into the season. We just want to try and win out, and whatever happpens, happens.”
The Cougars wasted little time attacking the scoreboard, as Coburn led off the bottom of the first inning by walking and stealing second. After he was sacrificed to third by Jake Wagner, Coburn came around to score on an RBI-grounder from Christian Kreiser.
In bottom of the second, Palmyra sent nine hitters to the dish and scored four times to up its margin to 5-0.
The Cougars loaded the bases with no outs – on singles by Kasey Shughart and Nick Jelliff and a walk to Jacob Roe – ahead of Sean Carter’s sacrifice fly. But the big blow was Coburn’s two-run single, before Kreiser completed the rally with a two-out, run-scoring double.
“I’m happy with the result,” said Weber. “It was a full team effort. Everyone on the team contributed. Brian Coburn got us off well by throwing strikes.
“I wouldn’t say it’s (getting off to a fast start) been a common theme for us,” Weber continued. “The last four or five games we haven’t been scoring. We haven’t been swinging the bats well. But today we had our lineup clicking.”
“I feel like we hit the ball better than we did last night,” said Coburn of Monday’s 2-0, non-league setback to Middletown. “We played good defense, and we got good pitching, for the most part.”
Coburn also got the pitching victory, and although he only worked the first three frames, he was sharp while he waas out there. On 45 pitches, he allowed three hits over those three innings, struck out three and didn’t walk a batter.
Coburn improved to 6-1, in his seventh start of the season.
Trevor Binner, Joey Fisher and Shughart followed in succession. As a whole, the Palmyra pitching staff didn’t get itself into much trouble, and when it did, it came with two outs.
“Today was Brian’s day to throw,” said Weber. “We wanted him to get a decent amount of work in. He was able to save some bullets. We may need him later in the week, but he really helped the pitching staff.”
“I think they (the coaches) were trying to keep me under 50 pitches,” said Coburn. “I knew they were going to keep me down. My fastball was on today, but my off-speed wasn’t working.”
The Cougars continued to be aggressive with their at-bats and in the bottom of the fourth inning pushed their advantage to 6-0, without the benefit of a hit. Jelliff was hit by a pitch, was sacrificed to second by Carter and eventually scored on a two-out, C.D. East error.
“We had eight hits and scored eight runs,” said Weber. “I was looking at some productive at-bats. We’ve been big on ‘hunting our own pitches’ during at-bats. We drew some walks. The guys were definitely working the counts. But we haven’t been solid with that all year.”
“I think we’re young,” said Coburn. “We only have three seniors (Sam Zeigler, Jelliff and Fisher). But age doesn’t mean anything. If you play your hardest and have talent, you’re going to be OK.”
Wagner’s two-run single in the sixth inning rounded out the scoring. Jelliff and Carter had touched off the rally with back-to-back walks to open the frame.
“I guess we look at it like, ‘Is it a league game or not a league game?’,” said Weber. “They (the Panthers) jumped on us the last time we played them at their place. We’re not really thinking about being in a close race with Lower Dauphin.
“Our boys are a close-knit bunch of guys,” Weber added. “For a lot of our guys, baseball is not their only extra-curricular activity. But when we come together and work hard, it seems we have success.”
“We’re trying to get into the district playoffs,” said Coburn. “It’s a big game. But we’ve got to come ready to play every time out.”
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|4:15 PM||W 11-0|
|4:15 PM||W 7-2|
|4:15 PM||W 3-1|
|7:00 PM||W 5-2|
|1:15 PM||L 2-13|
|4:15 PM||W 4-3|
|4:15 PM||W 15-5|
|4:15 PM||W 12-3|
|4:15 PM||W 13-3|
|12:00 PM||L 2-4|
|4:15 PM||W 10-0|
|4:15 PM||W 4-3|
|4:15 PM||W 9-7|
|4:00 PM||L 1-2|
|4:15 PM||W 6-2|
|4:15 PM||L 0-2|
|4:15 PM||W 8-0|
|4:15 PM||Northern Lebanon High School|
|4:15 PM||Harrisburg High School|
|12:00 PM||Palmyra High School|
PIAA District Three
Class AAAAA Power Rankings