BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – The Cedar Crest baseball program is trying to change a culture. The Northern Lebanon baseball program is trying to cultivate one.
The difference in those definitions might be subtle, but yesterday they were a little more obvious.
On Tuesday afternoon, it was the Vikings’ program that appeared a little further along on the developmental scale, as they plucked the Falcons 7-4 in a non-league affair at CCHS. The difference in the outcome was a five-run, top-of-the fourth inning, when the Vikings plated four of their runs after two outs had been recorded.
The intra-county battle served as Northern Lebanon’s season opener. For a Cedar Crest club coming off the worst season in its storied history, it was its third straight setback, all to Lebanon County opponents.
“I thought we did OK,” said veteran Viking manager Daryl Hess. “I like the fact that, after the first couple of innings, we got the sticks going. We played decent defense. And I thought Isaac (Wengert) did a real good job on the mound.
“You can go back to when we were in the same section, so it’s a pretty good rivalry,” continued Hess. “A lot of the kids know each other. They play against each other in the summer, and some of them play together. They’re (the Falcons) good. It’s a good challenge. I think it’s good for the kids. It’s a good game to play.”
“It’s all positive notes,” said Cedar Crest’s rookie head coach, Josh Brown. “We had one bad inning of pitching. I have a young team, But the pitching has been outstanding, except for one inning. Our defense played great. Each game we’re getting better. We have the tools and necessities to win.
“We aren’t clicking on eight cylinders yet,” Brown added. “Right now, we’re on about four. We’re 0-3, but it feels like we’re 3-0. We’re going to get there. It might be this year, and it might be next.”
Already ahead 2-1, the Vikings decided the best way to protect their edge was to add to it. Northern Lebanon sent ten batters to the dish in the top of the fourth inning, and by the time it was through, it was sitting on a six-run cushion.
The rally was touched off by one-out walks to Zach Seltzer and Hunter Voight. Noah Gingrich’s run-producing double kept it going, and made it 3-1.
But the big blow was struck by Wengert – a two-run double to left. Seth Walmer capped the Viking uprising with an RBI-single, while NL’s fifth run came home courtesy of a Falcon error.
“The one thing we did really well last year, and did again tonight, was swing at good pitches,” said Hess. “We didn’t swing at a lot of bad balls. We did a nice job in the zone.
“That (the top of the fourth) was the key to the ball game right there,” added Hess. “And I think it was with two outs. We stayed on the ball nice.”
“The significance for us was just to get a win,” said Brown. “Just to get that taste. Losing creates a negative atmosphere. We have things going on, we just have to get that first taste. We’re just trying to develop that positive mindset.
“I wanted to get two wins out of our four non-league games,” continued Brown. “There are four phases to the season – the non-league part, five games in the section (One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League), six crossovers and then five more in the section. You’ve got to win a little here and there to get on a roll.”
Wengert, a talented 12th-grader, was more solid and steady than he was overwhelming and overpowering.
He was awarded the win for toiling through six innings of four-strikeout and two-walk work. Wengert allowed four hits and three earned runs.
“I thought he did a nice job,” said Hess of his ace. “Early on, he was relying on his fastball. But as the game went on, he went more to his curve. I like to see that transition. I think he was settling in. His off-speed stuff was tighter and sharper as he went along. And he hit good spots.
“Isaac’s a real good player,” added Hess. “He’s got a ton of athleticism. He had a great year in football. And he had a great year for me as a junior. He can do nice things on the field.”
“He’s a good pitcher,” said Brown of Wengert. “The velocity was there. There was a lot of strike consistency. He’s a number-one (pitcher). He’s experienced, and it’s tough to get him rattled.
“We’ve been hitting the ball well,” continued Brown. “But we didn’t hit the ball real well tonight. His fastball was there, and we had a hard time getting the ball out of the infield. But we put the ball in play. We didn’t have many strikeouts.”
The Falcons struck first, with a run in the bottom of the opening inning. Leading man J.C. Orta walked, stole second, moved to third on Kyle Poorman’s grounder, then came home on Joseph Carpenter’s RBI-fielder’s choice.
But the Vikings responded with a pair of their own in the top of the second. Michigan Daub and Ryan Biever singled ahead of Hunter Voight’s and Gingrich’s RBIs.
“That’s a good ball club there,” said Hess of Cedar Crest. “Anytime you can come here and get a win, it’s a positive. The other thing is this is our first win. We played and beat a very good ball club. We’re off to a 1-0 start and we beat a quality team. That’s probably the things that jump out at me.
“I know Brownie, and he’s an intense guy,” Hess added. “I knew he’d have his guys fired up and ready to play tonight.”
“Today, they did a good job of attacking the ball,” said Brown of his charges. “My approach at the plate is: We’re sitting first-pitch fastball. If we get down in the count, we’re going to shorten up our swings and hit to contact.
“Their (his players’) confidence level is high,” continued Brown. “They’re positive. But I’m going to rip them up if I need to. There’s no negativity at all. But we’re going to get there. Keep an eye on us.”
The Falcons clawed to within 7-3 of the Vikings with a two-run bottom-of-the-fourth. Ethan Stickler, Izaiah Trimble and Brett Bawiec set the table for Chad Ryland’s RBI and a Northern Lebanon error.
Cedar Crest actually did get the potential tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, but it came with two outs. Orta, who had singled with one out, scored the final run of the afternoon on a Viking miscue.
“Any time you lose two kids like (Wyatt) Beakler and (Jordyn) Nichols, it’s tough to replace them,” said Hess. “But we had a lot of our fielders back. And not to mention. Isaac threw well for us as our number-three (pitcher). But when you lose kids like that it’s like, ‘Oh no’. But we had our catcher, our shortstop, our second baseman and our center fielder back, and that’s a good thing.”
“Before the season, I was worried about our pitching,” said Brown. “But our pitching has been outstanding. Our hitting’s been good, before tonight. Today, they (the Vikings) out hit us, so you’ve got to give it to them.”
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