BY JEFF FALK
EPHRATA – Be in the moment, and you can make a moment.
Live in the moment, and you can master the moment.
Seize the moment, and you can create a momentous occasion.
On Friday evening on the turf of Ephrata’s War Memorial Field, the Elco baseball team made the most of its moment with a convincing 5-1, regular-season-finale victory over Manheim Central, one that created a tie for the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three championship. Behind yet another stellar outing from senior lefty Cole Blatt, the Raiders put together one of their most complete outings of the spring.
The tie that the outcome created will be broken Saturday at 10 a.m. back at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field. Elco, now 13-6 overall and 11-5 in the section, will be gunning for its first L-L section title in this century, while Manheim Central slipped to 11-9 on the season and 11-5 in the section.
Both teams have already qualified for the eight-team Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs, which will commence early next week.
Winners of six of their last seven outings – including four in-a-row this week – the Raiders are situated 16th in the latest District Three Class AAA power rankings. Back on April 5th in Myerstown, Elco whitewashed Manheim Central 5-0.
“It’s been our motto all year,” said Elco head coach Chris Weidner. “Make moments. Be in the moment, and make moments. You’re in the moment, so make a moment. The other thing we’ve gone to is: Pull the rope. It means if there’s a rope hanging over the side and you’re hanging on to the rope, who do you want pulling on the other side? You want your teammates, you want the other guys. That’s pulling the rope.
“After we lost at Lancaster Mennonite (on April 27), that was a turning point for us,” continued Weidner. “I think that regrouped them (his players) and got them back on the right path. I look back to then. I don’t know if the kids do or not. We also had a team meeting at the Lyle Krall sign (on their home field) and there were cards laid on the table. There were grievances that were aired. I’m just grateful for the opportunity. I’m just grateful for the kids to get a chance. We have a great group of individuals on this team.”
The Raiders got on the scoreboard first, in the form of a crooked number in the top of the second inning.
The bottom of the Elco lineup, eight-hole hitter Cody Good and ninth-place batter Joey Ginder, got the job done with an RBI-single and a run-producing grounder, respectively. Aaron Dietz and Nate Hostetter set the Raider table with back-to-back, one-out singles.
“I thought we put all the phases of the game together,” said Weidner, whose program will be making its first appearance in the league playoffs since 2007. “We had guys at the bottom of the lineup come up with some key hits. Cole Blatt did for us what he’s done all season. The goal for this senior crew has been to play for a section championship. I’m very elated. I’m grateful we’re going to have an opportunity.
“I love the position we’re in, because we’re going to be playing for a section championship,” continued Weidner. “I’ll take this over not playing for a section championship.”
Blatt was in control the entire way, at least before tiring in the bottom of the seventh.
Employing 101 pitches in his route-going performance, Blatt struck out four and walked three. Three of the six hits he yielded came in the Barons’ seventh at-bat, when they tallied their only run.
Blatt also allowed a couple of base runners in both the fourth and sixth innings, but each time he induced ground outs. The Raiders executed flawless defense behind him.
“I would say ‘yes’, it was pretty typical of Blatty’s performances this year,” said Weidner. “But it was his gutsiest performance. He wasn’t feeling comfortable out of the wind-up. He pitched from the stretch, and he pitched from adrenaline. Cole is a very, very, very laid-back individual. But inside, I think he was going on adrenaline.
“I did consider taking him out (in the bottom of the seventh),” Weidner added. “That second out was huge. If they (the Barons) get another hit, I’m probably pulling him. But he’s the ace of our staff.”
Elco extended its lead to 3-0 in the top of the sixth inning. Catcher Cole Miller walked, got to second on Travis Zimmerman’s grounder, reached third on Dietz’s hit and scored on Nate Hostetter’s RBI-fielder’s choice.
“The last three days we put more runs on the board,” said Weidner. “That’s huge. I contribute that to the law of averages. Some of those hits were going to fall. Some of those guys were going to get going.”
The Raiders opened a five-run advantage in the top of the seventh, courtesy of Miller’s run-producing grounder and Zimmerman’s safety squeeze. But it all began with a walk to Blatt and a single from Kyle Rosengrant.
“They’ve (his players) been playing with a lot of heart all season,” said Weidner. “But the resiliency they show, the guts they show is what’s impressed me most. We’ve fallen short of the league playoffs a couple of times. It’s been a while, but we’re definitely no stranger to it.”
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Section Three Standings
PIAA District Three
Class AAA Power Rankings
Elco Baseball History
Section Champions 1970, 1972, 1973, 1980, 1982, 1998, 1999
League Champions 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1973