BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Just when it looked like one was going to distinguish itself from the other three. Just when it appeared someone was going to step up and claim the title of ‘favorite’, once again parity jumped up and reared its ugly head.
Despite a 14-11 victory Thursday night at Annville-Cleona, Campbelltown did very little to re-affirm its status as the consensus favorite to win the overall championship of the Lebanon County American Legion baseball league. Sure C-town smashed 15 hits, including five for extra-bases, but both its pitching and defense were spotty.
Behind two ding-dongs from Preston Bare, Campbelltown opened leads of 9-0 and 12-5. But Campbelltown experienced difficulties closing out the game, as Annville scored four times after two outs had been recorded in the bottom of the seventh, and actually brought the potential game-winning run to the plate.
The victory made Campbelltown, which still has a Sunday date with Fredericksburg on its docket, 11-3 in the circuit and kept it alive for the mythical regular-season crown and the top-seed for next week’s four-team playoffs. Defending champion Annville’s second loss in three days left it 8-6 overall and locked into the postseason’s fourth seed.
“I don’t what to say about that,” said Campbelltown skipper Tim Morgan of his club’s anointment as the playoff favorite. “I’d like to believe it. But we’ve got to show up. Today it got ugly at the end. I want to win the (regular-season) league. But I’m going to have my one and two (pitchers) ready for Tuesday. This is about getting to Fayetteville (regionals).”
“I know we lost the game, but I felt like we won the battle,” said Annville head coach Steve Hostetter. “I wish the emotions we had at the end of the game we could’ve had earlier. It was the type of emotion we had last year in the playoffs. For that purpose it was as good as a win. Truthfully this game doesn’t mean much. I don’t mind meeting these guys (Campbelltown) in the first round of the playoffs. I think it was kind of what we needed.”
Bare’s first dinger – which came with teammate Mike Fuhrman on third and two outs in the third – staked Campbelltown to a 9-0 bulge. And his second roundtripper, a three-run jack and another smash over the left-field fence, in the fifth made it 12-5 game.
“The first one was a curveball below my knees,” said Bare, who finished with six RBIs. “The second one was a fastball, down the middle but a little high. I usually don’t pull the ball that much. The first one I swung pretty much as hard as I could. The second one was more of a controlled swing.
“I was struggling for awhile,” Bare continued. “Now I’m hitting some extra-base hits.”
“He stayed back on that 2-2 curveball,” said Morgan of his clean-up hitter. “Preston, Tyler (Carberry) and Fuhrman are hitting the ball now. If we can get it from one through nine, we’ll be tough. We’re getting better because we’re getting more repetitions.”
“They’re definitely, offensive-wise, I think the best hitting team in the league,” said Hostetter of Campbelltown. “I think at times, we can hold our own with them. But they have some guys with pop.”
Riding a 14-6 lead, Campbelltown retired the first two Annville batters in the bottom of the seventh. But on four safeties and three walks, the next seven Annville hitters reached base.
In the midst of the five-run rally, Nat Hughes and Zach Southall stroked two-run doubles. The uprising wasn’t distinguished until Campbelltown brought on releiver Josh Sollenberger.
“I told my players, ‘Listen fellas, we’ll take the ‘W”,” said Morgan. “‘But you’ve got to give me 100 percent. You have to give it your all.’ I will say that the last couple of games we’ve been scoring runs. But it’s getting to the point where I don’t know who I want to play.”
“We were crushing the ball early,” said Bare. “Everybody was hitting the ball. But then everything went down the drain. I guess we got a little lazy.”
“We can’t get off to that kind of start and expect to battle back,” said Hostetter. “But regardless, I think battling back was the big thing.
“We can play better,” continued Hostetter. “Sometimes I’m never satisfied. But hitting-wise we’ve come around.”
Campbelltown opened the contest with six straight singles and grabbed a 5-0 lead on RBIs from Bare, Colby Conway, Carberry and Sully Bortner.
In the bottom of the fourth, Annville did its own batting around and scored four times to cut into its 9-0 deficit. Braden Elliot, Taylor Prentice and Adam Conner picked up RBIs for Annville.
“This team beat Fredericksburg,” said Morgan of Annville. “I’m not messing around. After we scored all those runs we kind of turned it off. On my part, no I didn’t lose my focus. I believe in my staff. I tried to get some guys in. But when you do that it can bite you in the butt.
“We’re playing fine,” Morgan continued. “You try to satisfy everybody, but a lot of times it doesn’t work out that way.’
“Our fielding and pitching has got to get better,” said Bare. “If we can hit, pitch and field, we’ll be tough to beat. I think we definitely have the best and most talented team (in the league). Everyone’s ripping the ball, especially Fuhrman. If we keep hitting the ball like that we’re going to win some games.”
“I was trying to keep that type of intensity up going into the Myerstown game (on Tuesday),” said Hostetter, who was without the services of regulars Mitch Hostetter and Mitch Rodkey. “We still had a chance to win the league (regular-season crown) and we were in that mode like it was almost a playoff game. I think that was a little bit of the letdown tonight, coming out of the Myerstown game.
“I’m an emotional coach,” said Hostetter. “I’m an emotional guy. I got into some kids’ faces the other night. If there was a letdown, it might’ve been because of that.”
With both sides chirping back and forth at each other, at times Tuesday night’s contest got a bit testy and heated.
“It was ugly,” said Hostetter. “A lot of things were ugly. Certain players and coaches might have been ugly. Emotions were running a little high.”
“It was just joking around,” said Bare. “Things always seem to get fired up in legion ball.”