BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – Austin Rueppel doesn’t always hit for himself. But yesterday he did – and every other member of the Elco baseball team.
On Wednesday after school at Lyle Krall Field, Rueppel’s two-out RBI-double in the bottom of the sixth inning was the difference, as the Raiders rallied from a three-run deficit for a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over rival Northern Lebanon. Rueppel’s two-bagger proved to be the game-winner, but it may have been the Raiders’ ability to limit earlier damage and two seemingly harmless Viking errors that ultimately turned the tide in the Raiders’ favor.
The win moved the surprising Raiders, now 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the league, into sole possession of first place in the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three standings. The result was Northern Lebanon’s third straight setback and left it 3-3 on the spring and 2-3 in Section Three.
“We’re a young team,” said Elco head coach Chris Weidner. “Rueppel and (Vincent) Vitelli are seniors getting their feet wet for the first time on the varsity level. I don’t want to make this bigger than it is. We’re just grinding. Everything’s been tight. We haven’t walked away with anything. But this was an in-County rival, and those games are always big.”
“For us, we were hoping to get over .500 going into crossover games, and we had lost our last two games,” said Viking manager Daryl Hess. “But they (the Raiders) battled. We had them 3-0. They didn’t give up. They kept plugging away. They never hung their heads.”
With the score knotted at three, Nate Hostetter got the winning rally started by coaxing a one-out walk from Northern Lebanon starter Wyatt Beakler, in the bottom of the sixth. After Hostetter moved to second on a come-backer, Rueppel, a catcher who is sometimes DHed for, drove a Beakler offering high and deep into the left-center field gap.
Elco starter Cole Blatt polished off the triumph by retiring the Vikings in order in the top of the seventh.
“To me, it looked like a fastball middle in, and he got into it,” said Weidner of Rueppel. “It carried over the left-fielder’s head. That was the biggest hit of Austin’s career. Honestly, Austin doesn’t hit all the time. In other games, he’s just catching. Talk about taking advantage of opportunities.
“The past two years we just missed districts,” continued Weidner. “One of the things those other teams had was expectations. I don’t think I’m coaching differently. If anything I think I’m more patient. I think what’s been different is that our leadership has been phenomenal. These guys have have waited for this opportunity.”
“I thought he did a nice job of going with the pitch,” said Hess of Rueppel, “and hitting it in the gap. The ball was away.
“Our section is good,” added Hess. “You’ve got to strap it on every night. All the top teams are playing good.”
Elco tied the game on Travis Zimmerman’s RBI-grounder in the bottom of the fifth, which came on the heels of Jack Mays’ lead-off double and Kyle Knight’s sacrifice. But the momentum may have switched to the Raiders’ side an inning earlier.
The Vikings committed back-to-back fielding errors to open the top of the fourth, and Raiders Aaron Deitz and Rueppel made them pay with consecutive two-out, RBI-singles. Those safeties pulled Elco to within 3-2 of Northern Lebanon.
“I thought Coach (Lyle) Krall said it best, they (the Vikings) go up there and hack and be aggressive,” said Weidner. “That’s a typical Northern Lebanon team. That’s a hard-nosed Northern Lebanon team.
“Everybody can beat everybody in our section,” Weidner added. “We’ll see where the chips fall in May.”
“That was a turning point also,” said Hess of the top of the fourth inning. “We gave them five outs that inning. Physical errors are going to happen. It definitely hurt us. We had our chances to get out of it.
“I don’t thin it’s ever going badly,” Hess continued. “We didn’t play bad today. We’re just struggling to score runs. I think the difference in the game was getting more runs early. If we had, it might have been a different outcome. We only made those two errors. I don’t think we played poorly.”
It was all Northern Lebanon early, and it could’ve been more than 3-0.
The Vikings struck for a 1-0 lead, after the first two outs had been recorded in the top of the first, thanks to consecutive singles from Beakler, Chase Dubendorf and Jordan Nichols. Dubendorf made it 3-0 in the top half of the second, with a two-out, two-run single that scored Seth Walmer, who had doubled, and Hayden Johsnon, who had walked.
“They had us on the ropes early,” said Weidner of the Vikings. “Blatty was laboring. He labored today. The turning point was a couple of early innings when we got out of bases-loaded situations and we limited the damage. We wiggled out. But Daryl (Hess) has a good team. They’re going to bounce back. The section is going to be a logjam.”
“The one thing we did was leave a lot of guys on base,” said Hess. “We left ten guys on in the first four innings. We’ve got to convert. We’ve been struggling driving in runs.”
Blatt persevered to get the win. He retired the last seven Vikings he faced and finished with four strikeouts and five walks.
Beakler also went the distance, fanned seven, issued a pair of free passes, and only two of the four runs he surrendered were earned.
“The back half of the game he settled down and pitched better,” said Weidner of Blatt. “He wasn’t feeling real comfortable. Honestly, I’m just glad I didn’t pull him. He was at 105 (pitches). I talked to him and asked him if he was OK.
“Beakler’s a tough customer,” Wiedner continued. “He’s a tough left-hander. He has a nice breaker. We knew it was going to be tough to scratch out some runs off him. He’s picked up some velocity.”
“I thought Wyatt threw well,” said Hess. “He had good stuff. I thought his breaking stuff was good.
“Blatt battled hard,” continued Hess. “He was in trouble early and made pitches he had to make. He threw a nice game.”
Section Three Standings
Elco 2015 Results
|1:00 PM||W 5-4|
|4:15 PM||L 2-3|
|4:15 PM||W 3-0|
|4:15 PM||W 3-2|
|4:15 PM||W 13-11|
|4:15 PM||W 4-3|
Northern Lebanon 2015 Results
|4:15 PM||W 8-5|
|4:15 PM||W 11-6|
|4:15 PM||W 4-3|
|4:15 PM||L 2-8|
|4:15 PM||L 0-3|
|4:15 PM||L 3-4|