BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – The Northern Lebanon baseball team entered the fray looking for an opportunity that would lead to the playoffs. When one presented itself, not only did the Vikings walk through the door, they knocked it down.
Needing a win in their regular-season finale on Wednesday afternoon, the opportunistic Vikings laid waste to Elco 14-2 in a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three contest at Elco’s Lyle Krall field that was shortened to five innings by the mercy rule. While it certainly did its share of hitting, Northern Lebanon took full advantage of every opportunity the Raiders gave it.
The Vikings feasted on seven free passes, four hit-batsmen, three Elco errors, a wild pitch and a passed ball to score a dozen unearned runs, to bat around in consecutive innings and take a 10-0 lead in the top of the third. That was more than enough for senior southpaw Lucas Geinow, who went all five innings to earn the victory.
The triumph clinched second place in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League for the Vikings, and the circuit’s playoff berth that goes with it. Northern Lebanon, now 14-6 overall and 11-5 in the section, will take on Section One titlist Hempfield on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field, in the opening round of the league postseason.
Elco, which had won six of eight coming in, slipped to 9-10 on the season and 6-10 in Section Three.
“I will say this, the one thing we did that I liked was we were aggressive and got after them with the bats,” said Northern Lebanon skipper Daryl Hess. “Scoring runs early loosened us up. Hitting early against a good team was key.
“It’s (getting the league playoffs) a goal of our’s each year,” Hess continued. “It’s something we set at the beginning of each year, to do the best we can in the section and get to the postseason. We talked about the fact that we lost a lot of key guys from last year’s team, but we had a good core back. We had some key guys coming back.”
“He replaced his whole infield and moved some guys around,” said Elco manager Chris Weidner of Hess. “They really stepped up. They came out and looked like a team that was going to the playoffs. They hit the ball. And I think they gained confidence as the season went on. I’m hoping we’ll be like that next year.
“(Starter Jake) Stager didn’t have it today,” continued Weidner. “He was behind every hitter and we didn’t make the plays. Today it was clearly evident that when you don’t throw strikes it affects the defense. We got behind in the count and then we made errors. And then it snow-balled.”
The crafty lefty struck out two and walked two, and surrendered two runs, on a Chris Kreider two-out double in the bottom of thet third. But by that time, Gienow was sitting on a 10-0 cushion.
Gienow retired the side in order twice, including the second when he did it with four pitches.
“The one thing you don’t want to see is when you get a lead like that and having your guy going out there and giving them walks,” said Hess. “What makes Lucas effective is the fact that he changes speeds and hits good spots. And the fact that he’s a lefty, it just gives right-handed batters a different look. And he has a nice breaker.
“We really don’t have a number one,” Hess added. “All three guys that we have have been throwing well. I feel comfortable with any one of them out there.”
“He did what he had to do,” said Weidner of Gienow. “That’s the first time we’ve faced him in varsity ball. He’s that lefty that keeps you off balance. He’s got a breaker and got a nice change-up.”
Five-hole hitter Jordan Seltzer got the Vikings on the board, and got them going offensively, with a long ding-dong to left-centerfield leading off the top of the second. Then taking what the Raiders gave it, Northern Lebanon scored four more times, thanks in part to Drew Bene and Zane Walizer RBIs.
“It was a 2-0 pitch,” said Seltzer. “I was looking fastball and it was right there. I normally play pretty good here, or Coach (Lyle) Krall might be my lucky charm. I tend to hit really well here. I’m looking forward to coming here in the summer for legion ball.”
“It took the wind out of our sails,” said Weidner of the Vikes’ hot start. “We hung our heads a little bit. It was huge. They had the pressure of having to win to get into the playoffs, and it took the pressure off them. And it put Gienow in a great spot.
“We had been playing much better baseball,” added Weidner. “We did grow. But today the wheels fell off the bus.”
The Vikings added on, and again batted around in the third. Northern Lebanon needed only two hits to score five runs, as Brad Kreiser and Seltzer drove home runs with singles.
“I think they’ve (his troops) been playing to their potential,” said Hess. “One thing this team has done is hit. I would say the biggest surprise was how poised (Ian) Whitman was as a sophomore. I thought it (the potential) was there. I could see it last year.
“They (his players) realized that (the Vikes had to win to get to the league playoffs),” said Weidner. “You don’t have to say it. For us, we wanted to continue to finish strong, and have the players take something into the legion season. Last week, we talked about winning out and somehow scratching into districts. Now I want to get to .500.”
The Vikings brought the ten-run mercy rule back into play by plating four runs in the top of the fifth. Tanner Dresch struck the big blow for Northern Lebanon – a two-run double – while Seltzer added his fourth RBI of the afternoon and Zach Miller laced a run-scoring single.
“I tell you what, he’s (Weidner) done a really nice job because he had a young crew,” said Hess. “They were playing well at the end of the year. He’s got a lot to look forward to.”
“The way we were playing at the beginning of last week, that part of the season I was happy with,” said Weidner. “We played clean defense and got solid pitching. I’ve got to look at that part of the season as a positive. We have shown what we are capable of doing, but there’s a lot of work to do.”
After the game, Hess said that the right-handed Whitman would start, on turn, against Hempfield.
“He (Hess) definitely explained how big this one was,” said Seltzer. “Now we’re in good shape. I think we’re going to play Hempfield and they’re going to be tough. But we’re going to shock the world.”
The world is waiting.