BY JEFF FALK
WILLOW STREET – It was a glimmer of hope. A passing chance. A fleeting moment.
But as quickly as it had arrived, it was gone. Never to be seen again.
On Monday evening at Garrett Park, the Annville-Cleona softball team’s inability to maximize its window of opportunity cost it dearly, during an 8-3 loss to powerful Lampeter-Strasburg, in the semifinals of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs. After grabbing the lead, momentum and presumably control of the outcome with a three-run rally in the top of the fifth, the Little Dutchmen gave it right back – or the Pioneers took it – with a decisive five-run outburst in the bottom of the frame.
Given the sudden turn of events, Annville-Cleona, the now 15-6 L-L Section Four runner-up, missed out an opportunity to play for a Lancaster-Lebanon League championship on Wednesday. The Little Dutchmen, who fell to the Pioneers 11-3 during the regular year, will experience its next action on May 22, in the District Three Class AA tournament.
Section Three titlist Lampeter-Strasburg, which improved to 21-1, will take on the winner between Donegal and Pequea Valley for the L-L crown.
“It was a little of both,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz, when asked if his club gave away the momentum or L-L took it. “One ball was misplayed in right field, there was a passed ball, they scored and the merry-go-round is started. If we could’ve held them down the next inning (at-bat after A-C scored three times), it would’ve been a different ball game. But we did what we can do.
“Or if we would’ve kept it within one or two runs, it might have been different,” continued Bentz. “I thought we hung our heads. What are you going to do? You hope. You roll the dice.”
It may have been Bri Garber’s one-out triple that inspired the Pioneers uprising in the fifth, after the Little Dutchmen had assumed a 3-2 edge in the visitors’ half of the frame. On three walks, two singles and a double, the next six L-S batters reached base, chasing Annville-Cleona starter Emma Lerchen.
Emma’s older sister Chrisi Lerchen came on to extinguish the fire, but with the Pioneers up 7-3, the damage had been done.
“I thought she probably did get tired,” said Bentz of E. Lerchen. “I kept forgetting that she only had one day off. That’s our best lineup, with Chrisi at second base. But Emma is throwing good.
“Well, I would say it probably is the best team we’ve played this season,” Bentz added. “Their (the Pioneers’) staff is good. I guess that’s why they’re 20-1. But they are, without a double, the best team we’ve seen this season.”
After she recorded her first eight outs on strikeouts, Annville-Cleona registered its first hit off Lampeter-Strasburg fireballer Jordan Weaver in the top of the fifth. And it was a big one, a two-run double – on a 3-2 pitch with two outs – off the bat of senior catcher Hayley Hirn that gave A-C its edge 3-2 margin.
It came after Weaver had walked Veronica Wampler, Mindy Reigle, C. Lerchen and Lateesha Mohl. Mohl’s was of the RBI variety, and initially got the Little Dutchmen on the scoreboard.
“We finally manufactured some runs,” said Bentz. “She (Weaver) throws hard. We finally got some runners on base, and she doesn’t like to have runners on. We scared them. We battled. All you can do is give it your best, and hopefully it’s good enough. This is going to make us better going into districts, I hope.
“The second time through the lineup, our girls finally listened to their coaches,” Bentz continued. “We don’t see kids who throw that hard, and we’re not going to. We’re not going to see that until next year. We needed to make contact and we needed short compact swings.”
Lampeter-Strasburg assumed a 1-0 lead with a two-out, unearned run in the top of the first inning. In the fourth, the Pioneers doubled their advantage, courtesy of Courtney Martin’s lead-off triple and Courtney Santella’s sacrifice fly to left.
“What it does is gives us a couple of days off,” said Bentz. “We should be in top six in districts and should have a bye. If our first (district) game is on the 22nd, we’ll probably have two days off and hopefully a scrimmage. But I think this will help us, without a doubt.
“If they (his players) come to play, I think we can get two wins and get back to states,” Bentz continued. “The coaches will always be there, but they’ve got to play. It’s so hard to coach in the spring because seniors see the light at the end of the tunnel. But these seniors want to play. I push them as much as I can. I try to suck as much energy out of them as possible.”
Thanks to walks, the Little Dutchmen got runners to second base in both their first and third at-bats, but did not score. In all, Annville-Cleona batters coaxed eight walks out of Pioneer pitching.
But Lampeter-Strasburg out hit Annville-Cleona 10-2.
Class AA Power Rankings
RANK SCHOOL NAME POWER RANKING
1 Brandywine Heights Area (17-2) 0.710655
2 Susquenita (17-2) 0.689985
3 Pequea Valley (16-4) 0.682306
4 Delone Catholic (14-2) 0.650003
5 Annville Cleona (15-5) 0.612954
6 Kutztown Area (13-5) 0.605311
7 Bishop McDevitt (10-8) 0.602680
8 Littlestown (10-6) 0.572988
9 Schuylkill Valley (11-7) 0.572031
10 Trinity (12-8) 0.549358
11 Lancaster Mennonite (11-7) 0.540492
12 Oley Valley (9-10) 0.462782
13 Tulpehocken (6-13) 0.380264
14 York Catholic (5-11) 0.376392
15 Fairfield (4-10) 0.360498
16 Camp Hill (3-14) 0.355421
17 Biglerville (4-12) 0.343669
18 Newport (4-11) 0.281509
19 Hanover (2-17) 0.273318
20 Columbia (1-15) 0.272175
21 Wyomissing Area (1-17) 0.252357