WILLOW STREET – It seemed like a simple enough proposition. All the Annville-Cleona softball team had to do to win the section was beat a good team three times.
But what the law of averages tell us is that that’s a very difficult feat to accomplish.
On Wednesday afternoon at Willow Street’s Garrett Park, the Little Dutchmen couldn’t finish off their required season-sweep of Pequea Valley, falling 3-0 in a one-game playoff for the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Four crown. While both sides had their chances to score, it was the Braves who made the best use of their opportunities.
Annville-Cleona had beaten Pequea Valley twice during the regular season – 2-0 and 4-1 – to necessitate the winner-take-all match-up, but for the Little Dutchmen it simply wasn’t meant to be. As the now 12-7, runner-up from Section Four, the Little Dutchmen will tangle with Section One champ and undefeated Hempfield in Saturday’s opening round of the L-L league playoffs, at 4 p.m. back at Garrett Park.
For Pequea Valley, now 13-7 on the year, the section crown was its second straight.
“We know them very well, without a doubt,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz of the Braves. “I don’t take a lot of stock in the section championship. We beat them twice, enough said. But we had to beat them a third time.
“I expected that kind of game with them,” continued Bentz. “It was close. We had opportunities, we had chances. We just didn’t produce. This game we could’ve won today.”
Yesterday’s result represented the first time all season that Annville-Cleona had been shut out. The Little Dutchmen stranded nine runners on base against Brave starter and winner, southpaw Amanda Houck.
Not once, but twice did Annville-Cleona leave the bases loaded. In the third inning, Houck wiggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam which was produced by two errors and a walk.
“They’re about a pitcher,” said Bentz of Houck and the Braves. “She kept them in the game. She pitched well. I thought we had some good swings against her. They got up 2-0, and it’s advantage Pequea Valley.
“We stress, ‘With two outs, put the ball in play,'” Bentz continued. “You’ve got to make the defense work. We had chances, but they took advantage of their’s.”
“Chrisi did pitch well,” said Bentz, whose program last won a Section Four title in 2010. “It’s just a shame that our defense didn’t show up in the first inning. We are not a come-from-behind team. It’s just a matter of striking first.
“What I told them (his players, after the game) is that when they don’t succeed, their heads go down and their shoulders droop,” Bentz added. “You can’t succeed all the time.”
Pequea Valley upped its advantage to 3-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning. A lead-off single, a wild-pitch and an RBI-double did the trick for the Braves.
“There were long faces after the game, and that’s fine,” said Bentz. “But the sulking is over. You can’t do anything about it. That’s what makes this game great.
“Actually, I heard (Manheim) Township was a better team than Hempfield, even though Hempfield was undefeated,” Bentz continued. “Are they (the Black Knights) going to look past us? I hope so.”
Houck gave up three hits – singles to Haley Hirn in the first, Anique Varela in the fifth and Crystal Miller in the seventh – struck out five and walked one. Annville-Cleona committed just the two first-inning errors, while the Braves were guilty of four.
“It’s a fun day,” said Bentz of the opening round of the league playoffs. “We’ll see who shows up. After the game, I gave them (his players) nothing but confident words.
“And districts are coming up,” continued Bentz. “That’s what I play for, to make it to districts. I think we have the team to be successful. The last time I looked we were sixth in the (Class AA) power rankings, and as long as we’re sixth, we’re good. That puts us at the bottom of the bracket, and away from Brandywine (Heights).”