BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – Some people like the Lebanon County American Legion Basell League’s all-inclusive, six-team, double-elimination playoff format. Some don’t. But one would certainly be hard-pressed to argue against its effectiveness.
The postseason format reflected and rewarded regular-season play, and made it relevant. And it weeded out and identified the circuit’s top two teams.
On a balmy Friday night at Palmyra High School, Richland emphatically stated its case for being one of the county legion league’s top-echelon teams by blasting Campbelltown 14-4, in the loser’s bracket final of that tournament. Richland exploded for eight runs in the top of the sixth inning to bring the ten-run, mercy rule into play.
After going 7-9 during the regular season and earning the league’s fifth seed, Richland has now won three of its four playoff contets, all on the road. With the result, Richland advanced to Saturday’s 7 p.m. championship game at Fredericksburg’s Earl Wenger Memorial Field. A Richland win would force a second championship game and a winner-take-all scenario back at Earl Wenger Field on Sunday.
For top-seeded and regular-season champion Campblletown, it was a disappointing conclusion to a once promising season. Campbelltown compiled a 2-2 playoff record, after going 10-5 during the regular year.
In the five times the two sides met this summer, Richland won four of them, including a pair in the postseason.
The winner of the Lebanon County American Legion League postseason tournament will advance to the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament at Hanover’s Diller Field next weekend.
“This is what the league tells us to do, so this is what we do,” said Richland manager Travis Thome. “The top two teams from the regular season get a first-round bye. That gives them something. Besides that, it’s baseball. I think we have the best lineup in the league, and we have solid pitching.
“The more games they (his players) play, the more the guys are comfortable,” continued Thome. “We’re getting to be more consistent. It’s a condensed season, and now the kids have gotten more at-bats.”
“No, I like the top four finishers playing best-of-three (semifinal) series,” said Campbelltown head coach Tim Morgan of the current playoff system. “But this is what we voted for.
“Yes, the season was a success,” added Morgan. “The kids are overjoyed to win the regular season.”
With the result hanging in the balance, Richland grabbed its destiny by the throat in top of the sixth.
Up 6-4, Richland sent a dozen batters to the dish in the frame and scored eight times. Four different Post 880 hitters stroked two-run hits – Travis Weaver, Pat Gibble, Clay Hain and Joey Ginder.
Weaver’s came after dangerous three-hole hitter Joesph Carpenter was intentionally walked to get to him, and seemed to open the floodgates.
“The top of our lineup did what it was supposed to do,” said Thome. “They got on base and they hit the baseball. And the bottom did a good job of turning the lineup over.
“I knew we had pretty much the same lineup as last night (Thursday against Fredericksburg),” Thome continued. “We have to score double-digit runs to win. We manufactured runs early to keep momentum going.”
“We played against men tonight,” said Morgan of Richland. “Those guys are studs. Everybody’s got a problem with somebody in this league, and they’re my problem. They just hit.
“We just can’t beat them,” added Morgan. “They were our two losses in the playoffs. Teams got other teams’ numbers this year.”
Another key for Richland was the start turned in by pitcher Matt Bentz. Bentz was effective over his first three frames, before tiring in the bottom of the fourth.
But his start allowed Richland to establish a 6-0 cushion. Campbelltown got to Bentz with two outs in the fourth – in the form of Frank Errichetti’s two-run double and Thomas Zeigler’s run-scoring single – then made it 6-4 with an unearned run in the fifth.
But neither Bentz or Richland ever surrendered the lead.
“He really doesn’t have many pitches,” said Thome of Bentz. “He has decent velocity. He’s effectively wild. He keeps batters off balance. He’s been pretty effective for us all year.
“Campbelltown’s always near the top of the league,” continued Thome. “You know you’re always going to get a good game from them. You’re always going to get good competition. But tonight we were definitely the better team.”
“We knew he (Thome) was out of pitching,” said Morgan. “I didn’t think that was anything special. Things just worked out for them. It’s the same old legion ball.”
Richland scratched out a two-out run in the top of the first inning. Carpenter walked, stole second and scored on a Weaver base-knock.
RBIs from Weaver, Hunter Bojanic and Gibble exteneded Post 880′s advantage to 4-0 in the top of the third. Then in the fourth, Ginder knocked in Hain and Bojanic drove home Weaver to push Richland’s lead to six runs.
“A big hit opens things up,” said Thome. “We had a different feeling tonight. We weren’t sitting on runs. We had the confidence that we were going to score more runs. I told the guys before the game that if they wanted to win, they were going to win.”
It’s over,” said Morgan. “We have a great team here. We have a young team here.
“There’s a great group of kids coming up,” Morgan continued. “Things are looking good. I hope one of these days we get 18 players and we get all of them here.”
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Lebanon County American Legion
Baseball League Playoff Standings
Team W L
Fredericksburg 2 0
Richland 3 1
x-Campbelltow 2 1
x-Fifth Ward 1 2
x-Annville 1 2
x-Conrad Weiser 0 2
Regular Season Standings