BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – It was an overload of unpredictable variables which curbed its preseason expectations. But by simply going out and doing it, the Elco baseball team has turned hope into belief.
On a warm Friday evening at Elco’s Lyle Krall Field, the Raiders’ already successful season picked up more steam, as they blanked the Eagles of Cocalico, 4-0. Elco senior lead-off man Kyle Knight came through with a pair of key hits in support of right-hander Clay Hain, who went the distance on the shutout.
The result was significant for Elco in that it stoked its dreams of District Three Class AAAA playoffs, Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs and even a Section Three championship. Elco, which had scored a 9-6 triumph over the Eagles in Denver back on April 3rd, improved to 11-4 on the year and 8-4 in Section Three with its third win of the week.
Elco’s cause was aided by Annville-Cleona’s 4-2 victory over Manheim Central.
The Raiders were positioned seventh in the latest District Three Class AAAA power rankings.
Cocalico slipped to 8-6 overall and 6-5 in the circuit.
“I think in the back of our minds, we thought we could put things together,” said Elco head coach Chris Weidner. “But we also knew the section was tough. The front-runner always seems to come back to the pack a little bit. And Northern Lebanon really helped us out by beating Manheim Central. That’s the nature of baseball. That’s the beauty of baseball.
“We got a taste of the postseason last year,” continued Weidner. “It put things into perspective for some of these guys. We felt we had quality pitching to keep us in ball games. We’ve learned to scratch out runs. We’ve bunted more this year than we ever have in my 19 years here.”
“It was an important game because it was a confidence builder for us,” said Hain. “Our confidence definitely went up. We’re hungry for that first-place spot.”
The sides battled threw three scoreless frames early, before the Raiders broke through with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Nine-hole hitter Dyaln Martin came through with a two-out RBI-grounder, and Knight followed with a ringing run-scoring double to rightfield that made it 2-0. A pair of Cocalico miscues had set the stage for Elco.
“We put together all three phases of the game at key times,” said Weidner. “We are right exactly where we were last year. Our goal is to hang around, and when the first week of May comes, we’re in striking distance. We’re almost there.
“We control our destiny,” added Weidner. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of business. I still think anyone in the section cane beat anyone, on any given day. I think they’re (his players) relishing the fact that they’re in meaningful games.”
“Overall, so far, we’ve had a good season,” said Hain. “We pulled together, and we play as a team. Our goal is the playoffs, the district playoffs, the league playoffs, even the state playoffs.”
Hain’s last pitch of the game was his last pitch of the game.
He reached his pitch limit of 100 and preserved the shutout by working out of a two-on, two-out dilemma in the top of the seventh. Hain scattered a total of nine hits, struck out three and walked one.
He also wiggled out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the sixth, with a pair of pop-outs. In his five outings this season, Hain has recorded four wins, with 30 strikeouts and 13 walks.
“I thought we got a great pitching performance,” said Weidner. “That’s back-to-back Fridays where Clay has pitched phenomenal games. He dialed up another good one today. But this time we got him a couple of runs.
“He’s had a great year,” Weidner continued. “Every single ball game he’s gone out there and pitched well. Every game he goes out there he gives us an opportunity to win.”
“I felt really good,” said Hain. “I hit corners and my off-speed was working. I try to put the ball in the zone. My defense really helped me out a lot. But I think throughout the season, I’ve progressed a lot.”
Elco upped its advantage to three runs in the bottom of the fifth, courtesy of a Cole Miller-Hunter Witters collaboration. Miller opened the frame with a two-bagger, and an out later Witters brought him home with a single.
“As it keeps going along zero-zero, in my mind I’m thinking, ‘we need to score first’,” said Weidner. “If we score early, our winning percentage goes up. There’s something to be said about our mindset when we score early. That (Cocalico) lineup has some top-notch hitters in it.”
“I was able to stay focused by locating a lot on the mound,” said Hain. “It’s a trust thing. When your team’s behind you, you feel good. I just try to throw strikes.”
The Raiders gave Hain even more breathing room in the sixth.
Dane Miller was hit with a pitch and was sacrificed to second by Tyler Price. With two outs, Knight delivered a single that scored D. Miller.
“Kyle Knight has been scuffling at the plate,” said Weidner. “He’s been practicing hard, but he’s really been frustrated. I told him, ‘It’s going to come. It’s going to come.’ And he came up with two big hits today. Clay really stepped up and we played solid defense behind him. We’ve got to play clean baseball. That’s key for us.
“Our big picture is still to achieve those goals,” Weidner added. “It is hard to do in the moment. We’re appreciative that we’re in this spot. We’re playing meaningful games. It’s all on the table.”
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|4:15 PM||W 17-0|
|4:15 PM||W 7-1|
|12:00 PM||W 4-1|
|4:15 PM||W 9-6|
|4:15 PM||W 14-5|
|4:15 PM||L 1-16|
|4:15 PM||L 4-9|
|4:15 PM||W 6-4|
|4:15 PM||W 10-0|
|4:15 PM||L 4-8|
|4:15 PM||L 1-2|
|4:15 PM||W 12-2|
|4:15 PM||W 6-1|
|4:15 PM||W 4-0|
|4:15 PM||Elco High School|
|4:15 PM||Garden Spot High School|
|4:15 PM||Manheim Central High School|
|4:15 PM||Tulpehocken High School|
|4:15 PM||Lebanon High School|
PIAA District Three
Class AAAA Power Rankings
|7||Eastern Lebanon County||10-||4-||0||0.618336|