BY JEFF FALK
EPHRATA – When people speak about baseball, they talk about things like ‘laws of average’, ‘grinding’ and ‘daily routines’.
The last nine days have certainly taken its toll on Elco – physically, mentally, emotionally. But it’s been special. It’s been fun. And you know what? The Raiders wouldn’t have changed a thing.
But ultimately, the game may have caught up to Elco.
On Tuesday evening at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field, during the semifinals of the Lancaster-Lebanon League,the Raiders engaged in another intense, pressure-packed contest, but this time lost to Solanco 3-0. Though the Raiders once again displayed their own unique style of hard-nosed baseball, there were chinks in their armor that may have cost them the outcome.
The Raiders, the runners-up from Section Three, reached this point by playing eight games in nine days, and by going 5-3 in those contests. Now 14-8 overall, Elco will see its next action early next week, when it competes in the District Three Class AAA tournament.
For now 11-9 Solanco, the runner-up out of Section Two, it’s on to the Lancaster-Lebanon League championship contest, Thursday at 7 p.m. back at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.
“Every game last week was like a playoff, and that was just to get the second spot (in Section Three),” said Elco head coach Chris Weidner. “We’ve been playing high-pressure, high-stakes baseball every day. It’s tough. It’s going to make these kids mentally tougher, no matter what they do. To me, baseball is the toughest mental game. I think these guys will benefit from this experience.
“I’m proud of that, what they’ve done to get here,” continued Weidner. “When we have time to reflect in June, we’ll be able to see how great the journey has been. And we’re not done yet. We’re hopefully going to make a run in districts.”
For a club that’s experienced its share of ups and downs with the bat this spring, yesterday was a down for Elco. The Raiders managed six hits against Solanco starter Colin Ewaka.
Elco threatened to score in each of its first, second, fifth and sixth at-bats. But Ewaka, who struck out three and walked two, benefited from four double plays turned behind him.
“He had that little side-arm motion,” said Weidner of Ewaka. “It almost looked like he was splitting it a little bit. But we did not handle that pitch well.What did he pitch, three innings of relief (on Monday)? It was gutsy effort on that kid’s part.
“It comes down to execution,” added Weidner. “We didn’t do the little things. We felt this was a win-able ball game.”
Perhaps the Raiders’ most frustrating missed opportunity came in the bottom of the fifth, with Solanco up 3-0. Elco had a missed bunt attempt, a runner picked off second base and a double play turned against it all in the same frame.
Elco also squandered Cole Blatt’s lead-off single and Kyle Rosengrant being hit by a pitch in the first, a Travis Zimmerman safety and walks to Nate Hostetter and Cody Good in the second and Blatt’s and Cole Miller’s singles in the sixth.
“I’m highly disappointed, getting that close,” said Weidner. “We were given opportunities, and we didn’t execute. I’m going to relive that fifth inning over and over in my head. Not only didn’t we get the bunt down, we got picked off. That was disappointing. It was a great opportunity.
“(Starting pitcher) Blatty did his job,” Weidner continued. “When you don’t score, you can’t win. Someone asked me, ‘Three weeks ago, did you expect to be here?’ But once you get here, you certainly want to keep winning. The last time Elco was in a league championship game was Coach (Lyle) Krall’s squad in 1973, and I was one (year old). My message after the game was: we can continued to write more Elco history.”
Blatt certainly pitched well enough to deserve a different fate, but he wasn’t as over-powering as he had been in previous outings. Thanks to a Raider double play, Blatt faced the minimum number of Mule hitters through the first three frames.
Blatt finished with three strikeouts and no walks.
“Blatty was coming back, for the second consecutive time, on three days rest,” said Weidner. “He showed guts on his part, to keep us in it.”
The only time Solanco truly got to Blatt was in the top of the fourth inning, when it scored all three of its runs. The top of the Mules’ order – Brady Thomas, Derek Lavin and Bailey Keys – all reached on hits.
Keys’ safety was a double which scored both Thomas and Lavin, while Ewaka brought Keys home with an RBI-single.
“We’ve been doing this all year,” said Weidner. “We’ve always bounced back. I told the guys to think about it for six or eight hours and then let it go. This is our eighth game in nine days. We’re beat up. We’re sore. We’re going to get away from it for a day.
“Maybe there’s something to be said for that (the law of averages),” continued Weidner. “We started winning this many games as a way of honor – as being warriors, and finding a way.”
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Final Section Three Standings
PIAA District Three
Class AAA Power Rankings
Elco Baseball History
Section Champions 1970, 1972, 1973, 1980, 1982, 1998, 1999
League Champions 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1973