MYERSTOWN – It takes time and patience, so conclusions can’t be drawn from three contests. It’s too small of a sample size.
If you don’t believe Richland, just ask Fifth Ward.
On a gorgeous Thursday night at Elco High School’s Lyle Krall Field, Fifth Ward kept its recent string of success rolling with a 6-0 whitewashing of Richland, in Lebanon County American Legion baseball action. Fifth Ward played an all-around solid game, with steady defense, timely hitting and a lights-out pitching performance from starter Lance Marderness.
After beginning the season 0-3, Lebanon’s fourth straight triumph lifted it to 4-3 in the local summer legion circuit. The setback left Richland 1-2.
“We lost our first three games – 1-0, 4-2 and 2-1, now we’ve won the last four,” said Fifth Ward head coach Greg Kreiser. “We’ve actually been hitting the ball. Defense and pitching has been carrying us all year. If we hit a little bit, we’re going to be fine.
“Before they changed the playoff format, only the top two teams in each division were going to make the playoffs,” added Kreiser. “My expectation was to win the division, or at least make the playoffs. Now, I want to finish in the top four (during the regular season), at least.”
“It was our third game of the season,” said Richland head coach Travis Thome. “A lot of these guys haven’t seen live pitching in a while. It’s going to be a little while until you can get consistent. Last night, we scored 15 runs, tonight it was zero and two nights ago, it was zero.
“Nope, we can’t draw any conclusions,” Thome added. “We pretty much have five or six games a week until the playoffs. It’s a matter of when they (his players) start seeing the ball, and our bats will come around. They’ve just got to see more pitches.”
Fifth Ward got to work early, plating a two-out run in the top of the first inning to assume a 1-0 lead. It started with a walk to Ronnie Cabrera and a stolen base, before Jose Portes came through with a run-scoring single.
“We still have stuff to work on,” said Kreiser. “Our approaches at the plate are not disciplined. That game should’ve been way more than it was, in my opinion.”
“It’s very early in the season,” said Thome. “We’re still figuring out what we have. Tonight, we had two guys (starter Dalton Bressler and reliever Matthew Fisher), who hadn’t pitched in a very long time. We got more than we expected from them, and they kept us close.
“For not pitching – in I don’t know how long – in a meaningful game, he (Bressler) left with us down 3-0,” continued Thome. “He gave us four innings. He did more than what we needed from him. Our defense played exceptionally well, except in a few places.”
Marderness was in charge the whole way. The righthander worked out of two-out trouble in the first, second and sixth innings, and faced the minimum number of Post 880 hitters in every other frame.
Marderness went the distance on a five-hitter, fanned two and walked one. By contrast, Richland pitchers combined to issue an eye-popping 11 free passes.
“That’s exactly what we were looking for out of Lance,” said Kreiser. “That’s the best he’s thrown all year. We’ve been getting quality starts from all of our pitchers. Five hits, a shutout and one walk, you can’t ask for more than that.
“He needs to get his breaking ball over,” Kreiser continued. “If he gets his breaking ball over, he’s tough. He’s been doing it since the season started. His other two starts were quality.”
“He (Marderness) threw well,” said Thome. “We didn’t have many walks. We put the ball in play, and they made some plays. Their first baseman (Braden Allwein) made some good plays early in the game, that might have changed the course of the outcome.”
In the top of the fourth inning, Fifth Ward provided Marderness with some extra cushion. Alex Rufe’s two-run single scored Allwein, who had walked, and Derek Perez, who had been hit by a pitch, to make it a 3-0 game.
“The previous guy had just walked on four straight pitches, we get up there and we’re hacking on the first pitch,” said Kreiser. “We’re swinging at stuff we shouldn’t be swinging at. And we can’t get a bunt down.”
“They have talented players,” said Thome of Lebanon. “They’re athletic. They’re aggressive. They swing the bats, and they played good defense tonight.”
Fifth Ward tacked on in the top of the sixth, extending its lead to 4-0 on Allwein’s RBI. Cabrera, Portes and Griffin Gonzalez had all reached base ahead of Allwein.
Then in the seventh, Fifth Ward scored two more insurance tallies on Portes’ double.
“I don’t think you know how good they are yet,” said Kreiser of Richland. “They’re going to be good. They’re a little thin right now.”
“We always have expectations to play well, have success in the regular season, get to the playoffs and peak in the playoffs,” said Thome. “This is our third game. We know what we’re capable of, it’s just a matter of when we get there.”