LEBANON – Pitching and defense will keep you in a lot of games. And if you’re in enough games, you’re bound to win a few of them – even when you’re facing the other team’s ace.
On Wednesday afternoon at Fifth Ward Athletic Club Field, the Annville-Cleona baseball team out-pitched and out-defended its counterparts from Lebanon Catholic. Behind a complete-game gem from junior hurler Mitch Rodkey and near-flawless defense, the Little Dutchmen whitewashed the Beavers 2-0.
In a game where runners – and runs – were at a premium, Rodkey was just a bit more effective than Lebanon Catholic number-one Matt Kern. The Little Dutchmen were able to get to tall the right-hander during their first and fifth at-bats, and that was pretty much it.
It’s been defense and pitching which have been the keys to Annville-Cleona’s 4-1 start. The Little Dutchmen are now 2-0 in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, while Lebanon Catholic slipped to 0-4 overall and 0-2 in the section.
“We won,” said Annville-Cleona first-year head coach Scott Shyda. “In that respect, I’m pleased. Kern is an excellent pitcher, so it was a quality win. But I can’t give enough credit to Mitch (Rodkey).”
“I’m disappointed a little because we knew we weren’t going to hit a lot,” said Lebanon Catholic manager Scott Hargett. “We know we’re not going to string six, seven, eight hits in-a-row. But three times I called for sacrifices (bunts), and we didn’t get any down.”
Except for a hiccup in the fifth – when his error and a single put Beaver runners on second and third with two outs – Rodkey was in charge the entire way. The righty fanned 13, walked two and surrendered two hits.
Rodkey struck out the side twice and faced the minimum number of Catholic hitters in four different innings.
“He just pitches with a lot of confidence,” said Shyda of Rodkey. “He’s a battler. He’s very confident. He was working on top, and when you do that it gives you a lot of options later in the count.”
“I’ve seen Mitch pitch a lot,” said Hargett. “He kept his curve-ball down, and got us swinging, and then came back with the heater. We swung at a few balls over our head. Right now, we’re swinging at bad pitches and letting good pitches go by.
“The problem is some of the few upperclassmen we have know the underclassmen are going to struggle with Mitch,” Hargett added, “and they’re pressing a little more. And they end up struggling.”
The Little Dutchmen touched Kern for a two-out, unearned run in the top of the opening frame. Rodkey reached on an error, stole second and then came around on catcher Nat Hughes’ RBI-single.
“We certainly had a feeling that a run or two would be the difference,” said Shyda. “And that’s the way it turned out. I’m very pleased with our energy and effort, and we’ve been getting that kind of effort.”
“Of our 13 players, seven are freshmen, and four of those are starters,” said Hargett. “Young would be an understatement. We’re learning every game. We’ve just got to be patient.
Rodkey was pitching like all he would need would be one run, before he got another one to work with in the fifth.
Again with two outs, Rodkey singled. Then, while on the move, Rodkey scored all the way from first on clean-up hitter Tanner Fittery’s run-scoring double to left-center field.
“Kern’s a smart pitcher. He’s been around,” said Shyda. “When we got a runner on base, our goal was to get him in scoring position, and take our chances. We hit some balls hard. We talked about having good at-bats and being productive.”
“I don’t think Matt (Kern) could’ve done more than he did,” said Hargett. “That was a typical Matt Kern day. He had good command of his curve-ball and change-up, and when you do that it’s going to make everything else better.”
Kern surrendered five hits, whiffed ten and walked a pair in seven innings of work.
“We are thinking about Columbia right now,” said Shyda of his club’s Friday match-up. “We’ve got some tough games coming up. We’ve got to take those games on at a time.
“I’m not surprised (about being 4-1),” Shyda added. “We got this winning started and we’ve got energy, and hopefully that will continue. Looking at the Tulpehocken game (A-C’s only loss), to a man we thought we should’ve won that. Next week we have four games in five days, but everyone’s in the same boat. Who knows? The kids are very positive and very optimistic.”
“Our goals are the same as always – get to districts and be around .500 as much as possible,” said Hargett. “The games we need to win are the ones like this one. But so far we haven’t. We know there are some games where we’re going to struggle just because of our size. But we’ve been improving every game. No one’s hanging their head. It’s just a matter of time.
“We’re making progress,” Hargett continued. “They’re small steps. But they’re steps in the right direction. We’re getting small victories in each game. We’ll be OK, as long as we don’t get our hole too deep.”