FREDERICKSBURG – The Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League figures to be as competitive this summer as it’s ever been. It’s a parity party that Richland would love to be a part of.
On Monday night under the lights of Earl Wenger Memorial Field, Richland, the league’s doormat over the past couple of seasons, surprised home-standing Fredericksburg 4-2. Riding the accurate right arm of 18-year-old Clayton Wolfe and a four-run top-of-the-third-inning, Richland carried a 4-0 advantage into the bottom of the seventh inning.
The win was the first of the season for a Post 880 club that won just twice over each of the past two seasons. Richland is now 1-2 this season, as is Fredericksburg.
“After going 0-2, and playing a good Myerstown to 3-1, it was nice to come out and get a win,” said Richland head coach Travis Thome, fielding questions for grandfather and Post 880 general manager Lyle Krall. “It’s nice to get a win early, and hopefully get some confidence going.
“With wooden bats, it really levels out the teams,” added Thome. “There’s some teams in this league who have some exceptional hitters. Every team has that one strength. The wooden bats definitely play a huge part. But I think it’s a great thing the league went to wood.”
“It’s hard to say,” said Fredericksburg skipper Jim McKinney when asked to size up the competitive balance of the circuit. “All of our games have been within two runs. A loss is a loss. But it’s been a six-run swing, and anything can happen either way.
Because of his assortment of pitches and speeds, and partly because of the spots he was hitting, Fredericksburg experienced difficulties ‘squaring up’ Wolfe all evening long. Wolfe scattered ten hits, walked one and struck out one.
But his defense was solid behind him. And the crafty righthander did a good job of retiring the lead-off batter in each frame, working out of trouble and making pitches when he needed to most.
“He (Wolfe) threw an exceptional game,” said Thome, who’s the head baseball coach at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor. “He kept them off-balance the whole game. He was poised. We would’ve liked for him to finish the game, but we had to bring Zimmy (Travis Zimmerman) in at the end. But he had one heck of a ball game today.
“He was consistent,” Thome added. “He didn’t have many walks. He got a lot of pops and a lot of grounders, and the defense made the plays.”
“He did what he had to do,” said McKinney of Wolfe. “He kept the ball in the strike zone. We weren’t real smart at the plate at times. He got the job done.
“Sometimes all you’ve got to do is throw strikes,” McKinney continued. “He threw enough strikes for us to swing at it. He wasn’t going to overpower anyone. In this league, if you throw strikes, that’s good enough on any given night.”
On this night, the side which committed the fewest mistakes emerged victorious. Richland proved to be very opportunistic in its half of the third inning, needing just one hit to score four times, after F-burg starter Zane Merkel hit Post 880’s first two hitters – Austin Rueppel and Jack Mays.
Mays scored Richland’s first run when Fredericksburg botched a rundown play between third base and home, and Nate Hostetter was credited with an RBI on a subsequent grounder. Wolfe capped the rally himself, lining a two-out, two-run single up the middle to make it 4-0 visitors.
“We just played a little more aggressively that inning,” said Thome. “We got a lead-off guy on with nobody out. We were aggressive on the base paths, and they made some mistakes. I didn’t think we stole four runs. We forced their hand.
“They (his players) got a little energetic today,” Thome continued. “All of the seniors were off on senior week, and some of the young guys got on opportunity to play. To get a key win when key guys aren’t here is a good feeling. We were missing maybe three players. Not enough to ruin the team or devastate us. We had a couple of guys who were rested step in. Everybody contributed.”
“The play at third base, it was his (Quentin Rutkowski) first start,” said McKinney. “Quentin made a lot of nice plays, a lot of nice throws. But it was a little mental error. He got caught up in the baseline just a little. But he’s a smart kid.
Wolfe may have run out of gas in the bottom of the seventh. Fredericksburg’s Tyler Faller touched him for a two-out, two-run single, after Luke Sonnen had singled and Darrin Shirk had doubled.
But the hard-throwing Zimmerman came on in relief of Wolfe, to record a four-pitch save.
“We’ve been playing solid defense,” said Thome. “But this was our most complete game. Our pitching has kept us in ball games. We hit the ball a little more. We were putting the ball in play. We were giving ourselves a chance. The ball bounced our way a little bit.
“Every game we’ve been competitive,” added Thome. “We have the talent to stay in every game. The mentality of the players is that they’re scrappy. They’re not going to give up at all. I expect us to be there at the end of the season. I expect us to be there when it’s time for the playoffs.”
“No, we didn’t have anyone missing,” said McKinney. “Pretty much everyone was here. But our rightfielder (Hunter Torres) busted his hand during batting practice. And another kid (Ian Whitman) quit before the game. Now we only have two returning players. We’re a young team now.
“We’re still feeling things out,” McKinney added. “That’s two starting pitchers I lost tonight. That’s not going to help us the rest of the season. It was kind of a rough night, and we lost. We’ve got to rely on other guys. Someone’s going to have to step up, and we’re going to have to find some pitchers.”
Because it is hosting the event at Earl Wenger Memorial Field, Fredericksburg will receive an automatic bid into the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament, July 19-23.
Lebanon County American Legion League