BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – On paper, Elco has a very good baseball team. Yesterday, for the first time this season, that talent was transposed onto a diamond, and potential was turned into reality.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Raiders put it all together, played their best all-round game to date and defeated a solid Lampeter-Strasburg squad 4-2. Senior southpaw Grant Fisher was the story for Elco, as he checked the potent Pioneers on three hits and claimed the victory in route-going fashion.
Following two disheartening losses to start the spring, the outcome upped the Raiders’ overall mark to 1-2 and their Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three mark to 1-1. With the result, Section Three favorite Lampeter-Strasburg is 3-1 on the spring and 0-1 in the circuit.
Because of unplayable conditions at Lyle Krall Field, the game was contested on Elco High School’s JV field.
“There’s no doubt that this was our best game,” said Elco head coach Chris Weidner. “Last week I went to the well and used an old (former Elco head football coach) Mark Evans’ line, ‘we didn’t finish’. Each of the previous games we had leads going into the fourth inning, and the wheels came off, for different reasons. Today we sat on four runs, and we were grinding. But we finished defensively and Grant did a great job.
“We needed that in a big way,” continued Weidner. “More than you can imagine. Having to move up here (from the varsity field) and what we went through pre-game, it’s even bigger.”
Fisher, a 6-5 left hander, kept the Pioneers off-balance throughout with a live fastball, by getting ahead in the count and by hitting his spots. Fisher fanned nine and walked four.
Though he retired the lead-off hitter in six of Lampeter-Strasburg’s seven at-bats, Fisher only retired the side in order once.
“He’s big and lanky, and it’s an advantage for him being left-handed,” said Weidner of Fisher. “He’s not going to blow anybody away, but he used his change-up well. And Cody (senior catcher, Horst) did a tremendous job of blocking back there.
“I can’t say enough about Grant,” Weidner continued. “I’ve never had a kid who has worked so hard, but who hasn’t tasted a lot of success. I’m really, really happy for him.”
Elco continued its trend of starting quickly.
After lead-off hitter Phil Kline was struck by a pitch in the top of the first inning, teammate Jake Stager moved him along with a single. An out later, Horst pulled an offering through the third base/shortstop hole for a safety that scored Kline and gave the Raiders a 1-0 lead.
“It’s extremely important to get out to an early lead,” said Weidner. “You don’t want to be playing from behind. In the back of their (his players’) heads, when we got into the fourth inning, it may have been like ‘Here we go. This is our Achiles’ Heel.’ But you always want to get out to the lead, and you want to win every inning.
“Even though they (the Pioneers) replaced a bunch of guys, they’re a very good team,” Weidner continued. “Since we’ve moved to Section Three, they’ve won the majority of the section titles. They’re the team I picked to win it. The win was big in many ways.”
The Raiders’ hot start spilled over into the second frame. Elco’s first three batters – Fisher, John Gettle and Travis Zimmerman – reached base, and all three – or their courtesy runners – scored.
A wild pitch made it 2-0 Elco, ahead of Colton Lawrence’s run-scoring single and Horst’s RBI-ground out.
“We felt last year we should’ve been better than our record,” said Weidner. “We want to get back to respectability. Our section is tough. We’ve got to grind every night.
“A couple of our guys have had a little bit of injury issues, and pitching is one of them,” added Weidner. “But I don’t want to make excuses.”
Lampeter-Strasburg finally got to Fisher in the fifth, in the form of two singles, a walk, a sacrifice, three stolen bases and two runs. But the Raiders avoided further damage with a nifty 6-3-5 double play.
“Our defense was key today too,” said Weidner. “We played clean. We had a couple of big catches, and that was an important double play.”
Zimmerman collected two of the Raiders’ seven hits.