BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – The eighth-century Vikings conquered their enemies from land or sea. These Vikings vanquish their foes with clubs, arms and leather.
On a windy Wednesday afternoon at Fifth Ward Athletic Field, the Northern Lebanon baseball team employed all three aspects of its well-rounded game to overthrow Lebanon Catholic, 18-0 in a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three-Four crossover contest which was shortened to four innings by the 15-run mercy rule. The Vikings clubbed a dozen hits, took advantage of eight Catholic errors and executed solid defense behind a steady outing from senior hurler Brett Minnich.
The Vikings staggered the Beavers with a four-run first inning barrage and never let up. In fact, Northern Lebanon scored at least three runs in each of its four at-bats.
The win was Northern Lebanon’s fifth straight – all against Section Four competition – and lifted it to 9-4 overall and 8-3 in Section Three. The Beavers plummeted to 2-10 on the year and 0-10 in Section Four.
“I’m very pleased with the way we’re playing,” said Viking chieftain Daryl Hess. “The things we’ve been doing well are the three aspects of the game – hitting, pitching and defense. And I think we’re gaining some confidence.
“Our section is tough,” added Hess. “When the district rankings came out, the third, fourth and fifth seeded teams (in Class AAA) were from our section. The wild part is we’ve all got to play each other. I think we did what we needed to do to get back in the race.”
“I’m disappointed in the fact that we seem to be making the same mistakes,” said Glenn Meck, Lebanon Catholic’s head coach in charge of media relations. “I’m pleased with the general effort. They’re (his players) not coming out here saying, ‘We’re going to lose. We’re going to make the same mistakes.’
“It’s a good bunch of kids,” Meck added. “It’s a great bunch of kids to work with. But we have a lot of kids who never played baseball before. Now they’ve got to look inside themselves, especially after today.”
Northern Lebanon hit Lebanon Catholic right out of the gate, and it was a somewhat controversial play that helped open the flood gates. Two-hole hitter David Brooks tallied NL’s initial run, after getting into, and out of, a run-down between third base and home, when the Beaver catcher was ruled to have forced him out of the base line.
Teammates John Walizer, Dustin Bachman and Chase Dubendorf followed with a run-scoring single, a sacrifice fly and an RBI-double, respectively.
The Vikings extended their advantage to 7-0 in the visitors’ half of the second frame. Walizer and Bachman picked up their second RBIs of the contest, after Drew Bene had collected one on a grounder.
“That’s one thing we want to make sure of, that we didn’t take them lightly,” said Hess of the Beavers. “We came out and stayed focused. I’m pleased with the way we came out and played.
“I like the way we’re hitting the ball right now,” Hess continued. “That first kid (Lebanon Catholic starter Chris Decker) wasn’t bad. He was a nice pitcher. We stayed focused and I got some different guys in the game, and they played well.”
“The explanation I got was that our catcher pushed him (Brooks) out of the base line,” said Meck of the key early play. “My issue was, ‘Here we go again!’. It’s something we’ve got to bounce back from. When something doesn’t go our way, we’ve got to overcome that.
“The first inning is very important,” continued Meck. “If we get out of there giving up a run or maybe two, that’s a big difference. An error hurt us. When you’re losing you look at things like they’re going to go wrong. The first inning has been a big inning for us all year.”
With a comfortable margin of error, Viking starter Minnich did a good job of throwing strikes. In his four innings of work, the fiery righthander struck out one, walked two and surrendered a lone Decker single, in the fourth.
He was also backed by an NL defense that turned a pair of twin killings behind him.
“He’s been throwing well for us,” said Hess of Minnich’s outing. “I like the way he’s around the plate, moving his pitches up and down and keeping hitters off balance.
“He changes speeds well,” Hess continued. “He hits spots and keeps the ball down. His key is hitting spots.”
“I thought he (Minnich) threw pretty well,” said Meck. “I don’t think we made him throw too much. We’ve been hitting the ball. Unfortunately, we’ve been hitting them at people. I thought he threw a nice game. It makes it a little easier when you’re pitching with a ten- or 12-run lead.
“That’s what goes through kids’ minds,” continued Meck. “Some of these kids are trying to rebound from last year. Sometimes they play too cautiously, and that causes them to make errors. They just need to go out and relax.”
The top of the third inning was more of a nightmare for the Beavers than it was a dream for the Vikings. Lebanon Catholic was guilty of five errors in the frame, as Northern Lebanon tallied seven more times to pad its lead to 14-0.
Reserve Noah Gingrich capped the outburst with a two-run single, after Bene and Darrin Shirk had each knocked in runs with grounders.
“It’s tough,” said Hess when asked about being on the other side of the coin. “We had a couple of games like that last year when things didn’t go well. But you have to give them (the Beavers) credit. They kept battling. They didn’t hang their heads.”
Northern Lebanon evoked the 15-run rule with four runs in the top of the fourth. The Vikings first four batters reached base – on two walks and two errors – and all four scored, thanks in part to run-scoring hits from Zane Markel and Dubendorf.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good spot,” said Hess. “We had a good win at Lancaster Catholic, and it carried over. I think it’s the confidence we have. Right now, those close ones are going our way.
“The pitching and defense are keys,” Hess continued. “We’ve been fortunate this year to get good pitching performances and play good defense behind them. If we could put all three phases together, I think we can make some noise in the section.”
“We have some winnable games coming up,” said Meck. “We played two Class A teams, and we beat them both. We think we can play with any Class A team. But we’ve got to be realistic. We’ll hang in there. The kids will regroup.
“They take the top eight teams (in Class A for the District Three playoffs), and we’re not in yet,” Meck continued. “We’ve got to win a couple more games, but all Class A teams run into the same problems we run into. We need to win at least five games, and we’re at two. If we win the games we think we can win, it’ll give us the power ranking we need.”