BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – Fifth Ward is no stranger to yielding five-run innings to opponents. It has built a Lebanon County American Legion baseball league history on the feat.
But the difference with this edition of Fifth Ward is that it refuses to allow such innings to keep it down.
On a sticky Wednesday evening at Elco High School’s Lyle Krall Field, Fifth Ward plated two runs in the top of the eighth inning to shade Richland 10-8, in Game Two of their best-of-three opening round playoff series. Following a nightmarish bottom of the sixth inning in which it blew an 8-3 lead, Fifth Ward’s two-run, extra-inning rally kept its season alive.
Austin Yerger’s double to right field was the key hit in Fifth Ward’s decisive spurt, and it came on the heels of Jorge Garcia’s one-out single. Brock Eisenhauer’s sacrifice fly to left scored Garcia, while Yerger eventually came around on a wild pitch.
The result evened the best-of-three set at a game apiece, and set up a winner-take-all showdown on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Fifth Ward Athletic Field. Fifth Ward, the third seed, is now 8-9 on the summer, while sixth-seeded Richland slipped to 5-12.
Fifth Ward has won four of its seven overall meetings with Richland.
“The difference between groups in the past and the one I have now is these guys have more energy,” said Fifth Ward head coach Tony McDonnell. “When they came into the dugout (after the bottom of the sixth), they got pissed off and the energy picked up. They could’ve folded the tents. But they worked hard. These guys haven’t given up all year. It was a big, big win.
“If we don’t score those two runs, the game is suspended,” McDonnell continued. “It’s picked up where it’s left off. That second run was even bigger than the first. I told our guys that I didn’t want it to be suspended.”
“It’s not the outcome we wanted,” said Richland head coach Travis Thome. “But we battled. It would’ve been easy to fold. We have to keep things going. That’s two straight nights we scored eight runs.
“If you look at the last two games, we’ve had glimpses of what we can be,” Thome added. “We’re getting a couple of good at-bats back-to-back, and the guys are being patient. It’s not too late. The other side of the ball is where we struggle.”
With Fifth Ward sailing along with a seemingly comfortable 8-2 lead, Richland got one of those runs back in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to two Lebanon errors and Travis Weaver’s two-out, run-scoring hit. Then in the bottom of the sixth inning, Fifth Ward gave Post 880 six outs.
Richland sent ten batters to the dish, collected three hits and scored five unearned runs on two key Fifth Ward errors to tie the score at eight. It was Weaver who delivered the tying run – on a two-out double to right center field – after teammates Aaron Dietz and Nate Medara had driven in runs ahead of him.
“I thought we were going home,” said McDonnell. “That was unusual for us. We imploded. It does happen. They’re kids. We could’ve put our tail between our legs, but we didn’t.
“They relaxed,” continued McDonnell. “Offensively, we didn’t relax. It just imploded. The inning started with a strikeout and a wild pitch.”
“We just had some stuff going on,” said Thome. “We got some guys on early. We got their defense moving. They (Fifth Ward) had some miscues. That’s what allowed us to score a bunch of runs, and we had some timely hits.”
Already up 5-2, Lebanon tacked on a trio of runs in the top of the fifth frame, after its first two batters had been retired. Andy Ortiz and Camryn Shaak set the table for Fifth Ward, and Cody Kissinger and Michael Deleon cleared it, with an RBI-single and a two-run triple.
“Yes, it is,” said McDonnell, of the importance of this series to his program’s overall progress. “I don’t remember the last time Fifth Ward got past this round of the playoffs. That’s the most I’ve seen them (his players) excited in a long time. It’s huge. But we need to get more kids involved (in the program).”
“It was kind of a roller coaster game,” said Thome. “They scored three in the first inning, and we scored two. And we put up five in the sixth inning to tie the game. But when you get momentum, you want to put them away. I just wanted to finish it.”
The win went to Kissinger, who threw all eight frames and 122 pitches. While he’s certainly been sharper, there were times when Kissinger was deserted by his defense.
He struck out four, walked two and surrendered just one earned run.
“He pitched very well,” said McDonnell of Kissinger. “He had them off balance. We make some plays, and we would’ve been out of here earlier. And we could’ve buried them in the first inning.
“We thought about taking Cody out and saving him,” added McDonnell. “His pitch count was up. He threw a lot of pitches. Cam (Shaak) was coming in. But he (Kissinger) told me he was going back out.”
“He (Kissinger) kept us off balance,” said Thome. “He threw strikes. There were a couple of at-bats where we were a little antsy. And there were other at-bats where we were more patient. But the kid (Kissinger) came out and threw eight strong innings. He’s a competitor. He’s the kind of kid you want on your team. He was throwing just as hard at the end as he was in the beginning.”
After loading the bases with one out in the top of the first inning, Fifth Ward scored three times on back-to-back-to-back RBIs from Yerger, Eisenhauer and Pat Finley. But Richland came right back with two runs in the home half of the first inning, on singles from Travis Zimmerman, Dietz, Joe Carpenter, a Lebanon error and a wild pitch.
Fifth Ward pushed its advantage to 5-2 in the top of the third inning. Eisenhauer and Andy Ortiz drove home runs for the visitors.
“We had a couple of innings of putting some good at-bats together,” said Thome. “We got down 8-3 and we hung our heads a little bit. But then we put up a five-spot.”
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Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League
Final Regular Season Standings
2016 Fifth Ward Results
|6/29/2016||L||Myerstown 8 5th Ward 2|
|6/28/2016||W||5th Ward 8 Richland 4|
|6/27/2016||W||5th Ward 6 Campbelltown 1|
|6/26/2016||L||Fredericksburg 5 5th Ward 2|
|6/23/2016||W||5th Ward 5 Annville 4|
|6/20/2016||W||5th Ward 3 Campbelltown 2|
|6/19/2016||FFV||Myerstown 0 5th Ward 0|
|6/13/2016||L||Fredericksburg 7 5th Ward 4|
|6/12/2016||W||5th Ward 4 Annville 3|
|6/9/2016||L||Campbelltown 8 5th Ward 4|
|6/8/2016||L||Richland 10 5th Ward 3|
|6/6/2016||W||5th Ward 1 Myerstown 0|
|6/5/2016||W||5th Ward 5 Richland 3|
|6/1/2016||L||Fredericksburg 13 5th Ward 0|
|5/31/2016||L||Annville 9 5th Ward 0|
2016 Richland Results
|6/30/2016||L||Myerstown 7 Richland 4|
|6/29/2016||L||Annville 6 Richland 2|
|6/28/2016||L||5th Ward 8 Richland 4|
|6/26/2016||W||Richland 5 Campbelltown 4|
|6/23/2016||L||Fredericksburg 7 Richland 0|
|6/21/2016||L||Campbelltown 9 Richland 0|
|6/20/2016||L||Myerstown 2 Richland 1|
|6/19/2016||W||Richland 3 Annville 2|
|6/14/2016||L||Campbelltown 4 Richland 1|
|6/12/2016||L||Fredericksburg 8 Richland 0|
|6/9/2016||W||Richland 5 Myerstown 1|
|6/8/2016||W||Richland 10 5th Ward 3|
|6/6/2016||L||Annville 3 Richland 2|
|6/5/2016||L||5th Ward 5 Richland 3|
|5/31/2016||L||Fredericksburg 7 Richland 0|