BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – It’s always much easier to play downhill than uphill.
Campbelltown almost got over the summit. But in the end, Richland’s slope was too steep.
On a warm Tuesday night at Palmyra High School, Richland built a big lead and then held off Campbelltow for a wild 9-8 triumph, on the second day of the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League’s six-team, double-elimination playoff tournament. After enjoying leads of 8-0 and 9-1, Richland barely short-circuited a frantic comeback bid by Campbelltown.
With the potential tying and winning runs on third and first base with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, R-land reliever Jude Anthony retired the heart of the Campbelltown order on fly balls to preserve the triumph. Campbelltown had entered its final at-bat trailing 9-7, before two-hole hitter Sean Carter’s RBI-single had put the outcome in jeopardy.
Richland’s second postseason win in as many days lifted the fifth-seed to 9-8 overall, and sent a tremor through the Lebanon County American Legion League’s playoff bracket. Richland will now play in Thursday’s undefeated game at 7 p.m. at Fredericksburg’s Earl Wenger Memorial Field. Fredericksburg shut out Annnville 5-0 on Tuesday evening.
Campbelltown, the circuit’s regular season champion, slipped to 10-6 and into the loser’s bracket of the event. Campbelltown will host number-six seed Conrad Weiser on Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. in an elimination contest.
The winner of the local postseason will represent Lebanon County at the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament.
Richland has now beaten Campbelltown in three of their four overall meetings this summer.
“We wanted to keep going,” said Richland head coach Travis Thome of his club’s early advantage. “Pitch counts affect your thinking. When we got up 9-1, I’m thinking maybe we can ten-run them and save some pitching.
“But their (relief) pitchers did well,” continued Thome. “They kept us off balance. We jumped out to a big lead and got a little comfortable. I don’t know if we relaxed at the plate.”
“I had to keep them extremely positive,” said Campbelltown head coach Tim Morgan of his players. “Slowly but surely, we started coming back. We could’ve thrown it in the tank. But that would’ve been a great comeback. Tomorrow’s another day. The sun’s going to shine again.
“It certainly wasn’t a good thing, giving them six runs in the first inning,” added Morgan. “That killed us. It was just a bad start tonight. That was awful.”
Six runs in the top of the first inning had Richland looking good.
The big blow was Jonathan LaBarbera’s three-run triple, but what set it up with walks to Deklan Bressler, Joey Ginder and Travis Weaver, and Clay Hain being hit by a pitch. Weaver was credited with an RBI, as was Hunter Bojanic, who later laced a single.
Post 880 added on in the top of the second, as LaBarbera and Bojanic collected two-out RBIs to make it 8-0.
“We had very good at-bats,” said Thome of his team’s half of the first inning. “We were taking pitches. We were making their guy (starter Sam Ziegler) throw strikes. Any time you can get out to a lead it gives you momentum. But a good team’s going to recover. It was just the first inning.
“We came out on top,” Thome continued. “Obviously jumping out to an early lead was the difference. We got just enough to hold them off.”
“All I can say is that we had the perfect scenario to win that game,” said Morgan of the home half of the seventh. “We had two good lefties (hitters) against a righty (Anthony). One good hit and we win. We had an opportunity the inning before. Key hits and we win.
“We had home field, every other day off and we had our starters set up (coming into the tournament),” Morgan added. “But you can’t give up six runs in the first inning. Trevor (Binner) came in and did decent. But we left runners on base again. In the last inning, I thought we were going to win it. A ground ball anywhere would’ve tied it.”
Campbelltown broke through in the bottom of the third inning when Carter singled and Christian Kreiser followed with an RBI-double. But Richland matched that run in the top of the fifth, thanks to singles from Pat Gibble, Bressler and Hain.
“He threw well,” said Thome of Bressler, who started and went four strong. “He mixed up his pitches. He kept his pitch count low. We were even fine going into that fifth inning. But we threw the ball around and we didn’t help him at all. But we came out of the inning with the lead.
“Obviously this is a big deal,” Thome added. “It gives us an extra day of rest. If we lost, we would’ve had to play three straight games. And if we were going to get to the championship game, we would’ve had to play (a total of) five straight days.”
“They’re good,” said Morgan of Richland. “That team flat-out hits. Every time I face them, I see their good stuff. I can’t beat them. But we had our chances. That’s just the way baseball goes.”
Campbelltown made things extremely interesting by scoring six runs in the bottom of the fifth to pull to within 9-7. In all 12 Post 831 hitters came to the dish, after the first five batters in the frame reached base.
Binner smoked a two-run double, while Kreiser, S. Ziegler and Carter all collected C-town RBIs.
“Our goal is to win,” said Thome. “We played solid baseball last night (in a 6-2 victory over Fifth Ward). We were putting together good at-bats. We’re playing good defense. If we get good pitching, we’ll be fine. We knew we were going to have to score some runs.
“We had nine guys show up and nine guys played,” continued Thome. “We can’t drag the kids here. We can’t decide who makes it a priority. The guys who were here did enough to win.”
“We’ve got pitchers,” said Morgan. “We’ve got (Brian) Coburn ready to throw.
“We’ve got our team,” Morgan continued. “There’s no reason we can’t win. I think we’re the best team, without a doubt. But sometimes it doesn’t go that way.”
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Lebanon County American Legion League
Final Regular Season Standings