MYERSTOWN – It was the Elco softball program’s most significant victory in recent memory. But the Raiders’ gain was Northern Lebanon’s loss.
On Wednesday afternoon at Elco Middle School, the opportunistic and aggressive Raiders took advantage of what the Vikings’ gave them during an 8-6 come-from-behind triumph. Elco especially forced the issue in the bottom of the fifth inning, when it rallied for six runs, on five hits and three Northern Lebanon miscues, to erase a 6-2 deficit.
In reality, both sides came into the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three contest in need of a win. The result moved Elco to 2-4 overall and 1-3 in Section Three. Northern Lebanon dropped to 2-6 on the season and 1-4 in the circuit.
“We ten-runned Lebanon in our opener, but this was much better,” said Elco first-year head coach Randy Derr. “This was huge, just fighting back and holding the lead. Hopefully it leads to big things. We got down four runs and we could’ve easily folded our tents.
“It started off a little rocky, but we fought hard,” continued Derr. “The kids battled. I’ve been waiting for this to happen.”
“I think the biggest cause was, when you have a rivalry, you can’t let up,” said Northern Lebanon co-head coach Andy Bender. “We thought we were in good shape. I’ve been watching this and it’s been going either way the last six or seven years. If you give them (the Raiders) an inch, well you saw what happened.
“They made contact,” Bender continued. “We didn’t make plays and there were some mental errors, throwing to the wrong base or throwing the ball when we should’ve been holding it. At worst, it should’ve been tied. We have little beads of light. We have good innings, and then we have innings when we forget to hit or forget to field. We just have to keep digging. We have win-able games coming up.”
Both teams had their hands in the fateful bottom of the fifth inning. The Raiders sent a total of ten hitters to the plate, and while they swung to contact they also benefited from Viking breakdowns.
All six of the runs Elco plated came with two outs. The key blow was struck by Sara Bentz – a two-run single that gave the Raiders a 7-6 lead – while Sarah Yermalovich and Jessica Trump also knocked in Raider runs.
“We put the ball in play and we were aggressive on the base paths,” said Derr. “We forced them to make plays. We put the ball in play. When you do that, good things are going to happen.
“When you get behind, you want them (his players) to have good at-bats,” added Derr. “They have to show me they want to be in the game.”
“They (the Raiders) showed one thing, they kept at it,” said Bender. “They didn’t get down. They weren’t laying over. They forced us to make plays.
“I would think a little bit (that the Vikings lost their composure),” Bender added. “We need to work on refocusing in practice. Taking a deep breath and gathering our thoughts. There was a point in there when we let momentum swing, and when you do that anything can happen.”
But that elusive momentum may have taken root two innings earlier when the Raiders made a pitching change in favor of reliever Yermalovich. Yermalovich entered the game with two outs in the top of the third, with one Viking run already in and the bases loaded.
But she got the final out of the frame, and surrendered only Melanie Showers’ sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth, the rest of the way.
“That helped,” said Derr. “Amaya (starting pitcher, Phillips) was kind of playing hurt. She’s still a little gimpy. I just thought it was time to make a change. I put Sarah in a bad position, but we worked out of it.
“Sarah mixed the change-up pretty well,” continued Derr. “She was working ahead (in the count), which was a big plus.”
“I don’t know if that was a big momentum swing,” said Bender. “But we didn’t have the same plate focus later in the game. We weren’t making things happen, like small ball or running the bases. We’re not a team that’s going to hit ten home runs. But we were not doing those things.”
Northern Lebanon jumped on Elco for four runs in its opening at-bat. Taylor Shollenberger, Haley Fegley and Kelly Shuey all drove in runs for the Vikings, while the fourth run came home via a wild pitch.
Before Yarmalovich’s arrival, the Vikings tacked on a single tally in the third to make it 5-0. Showers and Fegley walked, and Shuey singled, ahead of Richelle Kreiser’s bases-loaded free pass.
“They’re young too,” said Derr of the Vikings. “Jess (starting pitcher, Kreiser) is a senior, and she’s throwing well. I thought they played pretty fundamentally sound ball. But they made a couple of mistakes and we took advantage of them. They (the Vikings) didn’t give up either. They had the tying run on base (in the top of the seventh). They kept fighting.”
“I think early on, she was focused on hitting her spots,” said Bender of Kreiser. “She just wasn’t making her pitches. It’s something I need to talk to her about.”
Elco broke through for a pair of two-out runs in the bottom of the third. Phillips, Courtney Henry, Madi Groy and Allie Header stroked back-to-back-to-back-to-back singles, but the Raiders scored their runs with a double steal and on a Viking error.
“We had a rough week last week,” said Derr. “The schedule gods didn’t do us any favors. But our emotions were there. Frankly, I was disappointed last night, we were flat, and then we got down 4-0 today. But we played the way we’re capable of playing. We have to believe in ourselves. We have to believe in each other.”
“We ran into arguably the better teams in our section,” said Bender. “This was an opportunity to get back on the winning track.
“We’re still looking for our core players to step up and pull the team through,” added Bender. “We’re looking for someone to take us on their shoulders and pull us through.”
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Section Three Standings