MYERSTOWN – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
‘The Raiders played well enough to win, but…’
‘The Raiders just couldn’t seem to get over the hump’.
‘The Raiders fell just one hit, one pitch, one run, one win short.’
On Monday afternoon at Eastern Lebanon County High School’s Lyle Krall Field, the Elco baseball team endured its first league loss of the season in familiar fashion. The Raiders fell to Cocalico 2-0 in a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three contest that spanned ten innings.
And any or all of those above cliches would be appropriate to describe Elco’s latest setback.
The Raiders probably did deserve a better fate. And while Elco certainly was afforded its share of opportunities, it couldn’t come up with enough key plays when it needed them most.
Ultimately, the bottom line was that the Raiders posted ten goose eggs, thanks in part to the pitching of right-hander Tyler Stricker, some flashy Cocalico fielding and a pair of Eagle double plays. After Elco starter Cole Blatt went nine scoreless innings, Cocalico touched Raider reliever Tyler Price for a pair of runs in the top of the tenth.
“It’s a shame to lose that ball game,” said Elco head coach Chris Weidner. “Blatty was laboring, but if we find a way to manufacture one run, we walk out of here with a win. We didn’t make adjustments at the plate. We know who we are. We’re built on pitching and defense. We’ve got to scrape to score runs.
“I just think it (the intense atmosphere) was the shear fact that we’ve been off to a surprise start,” continued Weidner. “We got off to a 3-0 start (in the section) and they (the Eagles) were right behind us. I think that’s what it was. I think that’s what it comes down to. It was an early-season big game.”
Eagle Justin Burd greeted Price with a lead-off double to start the top of the tenth. Stricker drove Burd home with the first run of the game, on a single an out later, then moved up to second himself on a subsequent wild pitch.
Stricker scored on teammate Austin Harven’s two-out RBI-single.
“We had them 0-2 on both those counts,” said Weidner of Stricker’s and Harven’s hits. “Price got a little too fat 0-2. He left it in the zone. I toyed with bringing Cole (Miller) in. It was a learning experience, I hope.
“We were fantastic last week because we were front-runners,” added Weidner. “It helps us tremendously when we get on the board first. We can let our defense and pitching do their things. If we score there early, maybe it’s a different outcome. I was trying to make some things happen. Once we got into the fifth inning, I told Coach (Lyle) Krall that one run was going to win it.”
Elco seemed to have momentum squarely in its corner after sneaking out of a second-and-third-no-out situation in the top of the seventh inning. The key play in the sequence was turned in by Raider catcher Miller, who pounced on a Cocalico suicide squeeze bunt and tagged the runner trying to score from third.
“We need to take advantage of fastball counts,” said Weidner of his club’s approach at the plate. “We need to stay back, and not let our hips drift. But in the same breath, they (the Eagles) made some great plays, phenomenal plays.
“From our perspective, how fast did that first seven innings go?” continued Weidner. “Things just didn’t go our way today. We’ve got to find ways to make adjustments. We can’t waste a pitching performance like that.”
In his nine innings on the bump, Blatt, a hard-dealing southpaw, scattered six hits, struck out two, walked two and didn’t allow a run. He retired Cocalico in order only once and benefited from a couple of double plays turned behind him.
“Anytime he goes out there, he gives us the best opportunity to win,” said Weidner of Blatt. “He drives batters nuts. I really thought we’d win it after we got out of the seventh. How often do you see that? You get yourself in a hole, and then you dig yourself out of it. I thought Cole (Miller) made a great play on that suicide squeeze.
“You could tell he (Blatt) was falling behind counts,” Weidner added. “But he had a lot of guts and guile out there.”
“He (Stricker) obviously pitched well enough for us not to score runs,” said Weidner. “But we needed to make better adjustments at the plate.
“Honestly, I’m a little salty, and not so much with our kids,” added Weidner. “There was a little talking over on their side. There was some trash talking over there. I felt our kids were disrespected. I thought we were more classy.”
The Raiders got a runner as far as third base once, in the bottom of the third, when Travis Zimmerman singled with one out, went to second on a throwing error and then moved up on a grounder. But Elco’s best chance to score may have come in the bottom of the opening frame, when its first two hitters reached on Eagle errors.
At one point, late in the game, Stricker retired ten Raider batters in-a-row.
“You’re dead on,” said Weidner of one reporter’s interpretation of the Elco baseball program’s fortunes in the 2010s. “A couple of years ago, we were the last team out (of the District Three postseason). We grind. We compete. We scratch and claw. We’re competitive. That’s what we showed today. No matter what, the last few years we do compete. We gain a lot of respect from other teams around the league. I’ll hang my hat on that.
“That’s why I think this game was as important as it was,” continued Weidner. “Everybody in our section can beat everybody. It’s probably as wide open as it’s ever been. I don’t know if I want to use the word ‘parity’.”
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Section Three Standings