BY JEFF FALK
SHIPPENSBURG – The time was late May.
The place was Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.
The venue was the Lancaster-Lebanon League baseball playoffs.
Seated on the front row of a bleacher next to running mate Travis Weaver, Joey Ginder caught the attention of a reporter covering the Cedar Crest baseball team’s postseason contest and said to him, ‘Are you going to cover legion baseball?’ ‘I’m going to try to get out to a few games,’ the reporter shot back.
‘We should be pretty good,’ said Ginder of the Richland outfit he was associated with. “Are the Cedar Crest kids coming out?,” was the reporter’s response. ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure,’ responded Ginder.
Two months later, the Richland American Legion Baseball team’s summer came to an end, and Ginder’s expectations proved to be most prophetic. In fact, it may have turned out better than even the optimistic Ginder had hoped.
On a steamy Thursday afternoon at Shippensburg’s Memorial Field, Richland’s highly successful campaign came to a close with a 6-5 loss to Waynesboro in the semifinals of what turned out to be the eight-team, single-elimination Region Four tournament. After the contest was suspended on Saturday – with Waynesboro up 5-0 in the top of the third inning – and pushed back five straight days because of rain that reduced it from a double-elimination event, Richland fought back valiantly but could never quite fully catch up.
With the loss, Richland, the champions of Lebanon County, concluded its campaign at 13-10 and as the third-place finisher at the Region Four tournament. The result moved Waynesboro into the championship game of the event, opposite Ephrata.
“We knew at the beginning of the year, if we got everybody to come out, we could be a good team,” said Ginder, Richland’s most vocal leader. “It’s legion baseball. You never know. But we proved we were the best team in Lebanon County. Our big guns stepped up.
“In the middle of the year, we just started clicking,” continued Ginder. “Coach (Travis) Thome always said if we can get everybody here, we can win the championship. We got some chemistry and rode it all the way.”
“When we first started talking about how many guys we were going to have and who was going to be here, Lyle (assistant coach, Krall) said to me, ‘We’re going to win the league this year,'” said Thome, Richland’s head coach. “I looked at him and kind of laughed. If you look back at what Richland has done over the last ten years, why would you think this year was going to be any different?. I grilled into them (his players), knowing what we had, ‘If you’re going to be here, we’re going to be pretty good.’ But potential doesn’t mean anything.
“In the second half of the season, we started turning things on,” Thome continued. “They started realizing it too. They were playing consistently, the last two weeks before the playoffs. They were in a groove and we saw the team we could’ve been all year. And I thought we represented Lebanon County well here.”
Facing its 5-0, rain-soaked deficit, Richland wasted little time making a game of the suspended affair, with three runs in the bottom of the third inning.
Nate Trovinger and Matt Bentz got things started for Post 880 with walks. Clain Hain followed with an RBI-single, ahead of Joseph Carpenter’s booming two-out, two-run double that made it 5-3.
“Obviously it was not the way we wanted to end the season,” said Thome. “We knew going down five, it was going to be tough. We had a chance to win the game. They (Waynesboro) tacked on a run, and that was the difference.
“There aren’t any more victories,” added Thome. “You’ve got to learn from everything. Ultimately it came down to we gave them five runs in the first three innings (on Saturday). The last four-and-two-thirds innings we won 5-1. But if we would’ve done our jobs the first two-and-a-thirds, we could’ve come out on top.”
“We thought we could’ve won the game,” said Ginder. “It stinks to lose that, but that’s baseball. It’s been a fun ride. We were all part of being at the bottom of the league last year. We kind of put Richland back on the map.
“We’re just pissed off right now,” Ginder added. “There are no moral victories. We wanted to win the game and we didn’t win the game.”
With his full complement of rest thanks to the weather, Richland was able to come back with ace Weaver. And Weaver performed the way he had all season, and gave R-Land a chance to come back.
Weaver fired four-and-two–thirds of two-hit, one-run ball. He fanned seven and issued two free passes.
Weaver struck out the first five Waynesboro batters he faced, before being touched for a single run in the top of the fifth. Hunter Clever’s lead-off single and Bubba Hamilton’s RBI-double made it 6-3 Waynesboro.
“You’ve got to call someone your ace,” said Thome of Weaver. “He’s been our best pitcher all season. We had to win this game, so we had to put our best out there. He did a heck of a job. He shut them down. He got ahead of the hitters. His command was there. He looked pretty dominant.
“We could pick apart these last four-and-a-third innings,” Thome continued. “There were missed opportunities. If we do our jobs, we would’ve come out on top.”
“Travis is the best pitcher in the Lebanon league,” said Ginder. “He was one of the best pitchers in this tournament. He hits his spots. He throws hard. He’s dirty. Every one of his pitches is a good pitch.”
Thanks to a balk and Nate Trovinger’s RBI-single, Richland pulled to within a run of the lead with two in the bottom of the sixth. Bojanic and Bressler had touched off the uprising with a single and a walk.
But Richland couldn’t come up with the tying run in the sixth, or the seventh, when it got runners to second and first, after the first two outs had been recorded.
“He was effective,” said Thome of Waynesboro starter and winner, Paul Steiger. “He threw strikes. Our guys did a good job of working counts. When we got ahead in counts, I thought our guys did a good job of hitting the ball. We did what we needed to do at times. But the times we didn’t hurt us.
“There wasn’t anything we could do (about the long weather delay),” continued Thome. “It was waiting around and them (tournament officials) telling us what to do. Then when things started to turn, the guys had a day-and-a-half to get themselves mentally prepared. I don’t think the lay-off affected us. We came out and scored five runs. We played pretty good baseball.”
“We thought we were better than this team,” said Ginder. “The waiting game stinks. There were some days I had to call off work.”
Five days earlier and 50 miles away – on Saturday at Hanover’s Diller Field – Richland had fallen into a 5-0 hole, when three errors produced a handful of unearned runs. Richland did not commit an error on Thursday.
“The way the league is set up now, you can always change boundaries,” said Thome of the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League. “Having players from different schools playing together is good for the kids. It’s a relationship they can have going forward. If you put all the Elco kids together, they might get sick of each other by the end of the summer. Travel ball is the problem. It’s killed what legion baseball has been building for 50 years.”
“I loved playing with these guys,” said Ginder. “I’ve been playing with Travis (Weaver) and Clay (Hain) since I was eight, and they’re my best friends. With the Cedar Crest guys, we came together. It’s just been fun.
“We made some good friendships,” concluded Ginder. “I knew Joe (Carpenter) and Nate (Trovinger) from last year and I got to know Hunter (Bojanic) and Jon (LaBarbera) this year. We’re going to be tight from here on out. Playing with the Cedar Crest kids is good, because I got to know new people and new things.”
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