BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Before the season began, both the Annville-Cleona and Elco baseball teams had hope. Following yesterday’s result, the Little Dutchmen’s was intact, while the Raiders’ has begun to dwindle away.
In a contest between two teams trying to mount playoff pushes, Annville-Cleona rode a six-run fifth-inning to a 10-3 triumph over the Raiders. With a complete game effort, sophomore Mitch Rodkey took care of the pitching for the Little Dutchmen, and with three hits and three RBIs, Braden Elliott did a bulk of the A-C hitting.
With seven games remaining on its docket, Annville-Cleona is now 5-8 overall and 4-5 in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. After opening its season 3-0, Elco has dropped seven of its last eight results and stands 2-7 in Section Three of the L-L.
“The kids said we’re 13th in the rankings, and they take ten,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Mike Capriotti of his club’s District Three Class AA prospects. “We’ve got to win some ball games. We can’t rely on anyone else. Sure districts is a goal. It’s not out of the question. And we’re not giving up on the section either.”
“It goes back to making smaller goals,” said Elco head coach Chris Weidner. “It’s too late to get to .500. There’s only been one season since I’ve been coaching that we didn’t get to .500. Today, we had to win this game if we wanted to get to .500. They (the Little Dutchmen) beat us soundly today, but I don’t think they’re seven runs better than us.”
Oddly enough, clean-up hitter Mitch Hostetter ignited the rally with a home run, while teammates Alec Wizar and Adam Connor followed with RBIs. But the big blow was Elliott’s two-run single, which broke the game wide open.
“We want to be aggressive at the plate,” said Capriotti. “We don’t want to get deep into counts. We take too many pitches. Sometimes we’re not aggressive, but tonight we were.
“He’s (Elco starter Adam Shoemaker) a good pitcher. I’d take him on my staff,” Capriotti continued. “We had quality at-bats against him. And we had good defensive plays that counteracted their base-running mistakes.”
“There are no excuses,” said Weidner. “But ‘Shoe’ missed five games with an injury. We were 3-0, and he had a high-ankle sprain. He hasn’t been the same since. Maybe it was my fault for running him out there twice a week.”
Rodkey, who also had been on the shelf with an injury, did an admirable job of keeping the Elco offense in check. Far from dominant, Rodkey scattered seven hits, whiffed eight and walked two.
“That’s the way we’re capable of playing,” said Capriotti. “We got a quality start out of a pitcher. He (Rodkey) threw well. He’s been hurt and today was his first start. He’s a good athlete. He does good things.
“The key for him is getting ahead of the hitter,” Capriotti continued. “He threw his off-speed pitch for strikes. We’ve been battling bases-on-balls. Walks come back to haunt you.”
“He’s a sophomore and we’ve got a bunch of sophomores,” said Weidner of Rodkey. “I’m impressed with him. This kid here is a nice sophomore. He pitched a complete game and hit a home run.”
After a base-running blunder cost the Raiders a scoring opportunity in the top of the first inning, Annville-Cleona struck for two runs in its half of the frame. Elliott’s RBI-single scored Adam Connor, who had led off with a double. Later in the at-bat, Nat Hughes contributed a sacrifice fly to the Little Dutchman cause.
Doubles by Elco’s Dustin Habecker and Jake Stager in the third cut Annville-Cleona’s advantage to 2-1. Then in the fourth, the Raiders tied it on a sac fly from Cody Horst.
“If we play like that, we’ll win more games,” said Capriotti. “It’s about mental approach. Once we hit the field, you can get a sense of what they (his players) are going to do.
“Coming in, we knew they had a good ball club,” added Capriotti. “Chris was probably disappointed with their (the Raiders’) mistakes. But that (the fifth-inning rally) was probably the biggest explosion we had against a quality pitcher.”
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Weidner. “I don’t know where to begin. No, we did not play well. Absolutely not.
“We made mental mistakes,” Weidner added. “Fell behind hitters. But I’m more bothered by the mental mistakes.”
Wizar’s lead-off single and Connor’s subsequent RBI-grounder in the bottom of the fourth allowed Annville-Cleona to regain the lead at 3-2. Rodkey hit his home run leading off the sixth, and that made it 10-2.
“Me personally, I thought we’d be competitive, .500 or a couple of games over,” said Capriotti. “With our pitching we’ve had some concerns. We’ve had some sore arms. But I thought we’d have a couple more wins.
“The Lancaster County schools are pretty much beating up on the Lebanon County schools,” Capriotti continued. “We have some teams to deal with. We’ve just got to keep plugging away. The season’s in their (his players’) hands.”
“We’ve just flat-lined,” said Weidner, “where we’ve stopped growing. We’ve regressed. And I can’t pinpoint it.
“Honest to goodness, I don’t know where the kids’ heads are,” continued Weidner. “I guess I’ve got to do a better job. I’m grasping at straws. I don’t know if we’ll get better.”