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Merlins prepare for playoffs with 8-4 win over Manheim
For the Ephrata Merlins and Manheim VFW 10U baseball teams, Monday’s battle meant more than just playing out the final game of the regular season.
There was playoff seeding at stake.
And there was the matter of Manheim trying to extend its seven-game winning streak.
Ultimately, the Merlins took care of business in their final opportunity to improve playoff positioning, capitalizing on a five-run fourth-inning rally to knock off host Manheim 8-4 at Doe Run Elementary.
With the victory, Ephrata nailed down the No. 5 seed and a first-round dual against the 4th-seeded Manheim VFW in the Lancaster County Youth Baseball League 10U Section One playoffs this Friday, June 20. The Manheim Township Blue Streaks, Mountville Cubs and Cocalico Eagles have the top three seeds locked up in the double-elimination eight-team field.
Merlins’ coach Brad Crills and Manheim skipper Chad Harbach are both optimistic about their team’s chances in the post-season.
“It was a competitive league &tstr; there’s only 10 teams and everybody from one through 10 was competitive,” Crills said. “If you make the plays defensively, limit your walks and put the ball in play with two strikes at 10U in this league, anything can happen. On any given night at this level, if you make plays defensively … I think we have a good shot.”
Monday’s outcome was the second time that the Merlins (10-6-2 league) defeated Manheim (10-7 league) this season, but Harbach is excited to get another shot at them.
“It’s good competition,” he said. “These kids are all going at it, they all understand this is the last game of the regular season, they all understand playoffs are coming up and they keep an eye on the stats now that it’s online and in the paper and everything. They know who they play if they win or lose, and tonight was a big game. We were kinda locked into a seed either way. (Ephrata) needed it more than we did really tonight to possibly jump up a spot and they did a little bit more than we did. But that’s 9-10 year olds &tstr; that’s what happens.”
Ephrata did what it had to do in the first inning off of Manheim ace Connor Rohrer to grab a lead it never relinquished. Leadoff batter Zach Musser worked a six-pitch walk and later scored on Dawson Shelley’s RBI ground out to short to open the scoring.
That was the first of three times that Musser was on base for the Merlins, with two walks and a fourth-inning single. In four at-bats, he saw 21 pitches.
“That’s why he’s leadoff,” Crills said. “He’s probably our most athletic kid, fastest kid and he usually contacts the ball and puts the ball in play.”
With two outs, Coy Schwanger connected for a first-pitch base hit, went to third on a two-base error and scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-0.
It didn’t take long for Manheim to answer, capitalizing on a pair of base hits off of Musser in the bottom of the frame. Blake Zimmerman (2-for-3) hit a one-out infield single, Rohrer walked and Brady Harbach (3-for-3, 2 RBI’s) delivered a run-scoring base hit to center field. But Musser worked out of a bases loaded jam to avoid further damage.
From there, Rohrer and Musser settled into a pitcher’s duel over the next two innings. Musser, who struck out three and scattered four hits over four innings, retired seven of the eight batters he faced, while Rohrer pitched back-to-back perfect frames. The Manheim righty K’d five, while allowing just two runs on one hit and two walks.
“Connor is solid,” Harbach remarked. “He was actually our No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher last year and came back this year and he’s a baseball guy through and through. Sometimes he gets a little erratic and he got off to a rough start, but once he settles down, he comes in and throws strikes. There’s not too many teams that can touch him.”
With the Merlins still clinging to a one-run lead through three innings, they put five on the board in the top of the fourth to extend the lead to 7-1. Manheim reliever Zimmerman walked clean-up hitter Coy Schwanger leading off the inning, Nick Tihansky singled to center, and Ryan Bromirsky flared an RBI single to shallow right. After Tihansky scored on a wild pitch, Bromirsky crossed the plate on an errant Manheim throw on Ashton Horst’s fielder’s choice grounder.
Horst added the Merlins’ fourth run of the inning, and then with two outs, Musser singled to deep short and eventually scored on a dropped pop fly.
“At this age level, walks and putting the ball in play offensively can lead to big innings,” Crills said. “We put the ball in play and fortunately got a couple bounces our way and that’s how you score most of your runs at 10U &tstr; putting the ball in play with two strikes.”
Harbach added, “That’s the key in these games. One inning can make or break and at this time of the season, we’re trying to get some pitchers going and saving some arms and get some other kids in there … That’s usually the way it’s been this year for us. We’ve been in every game, but it’s always one bad inning.”
To Manheim’s credit, they continued to battle. In the bottom of the fourth, Rohrer reached on a fielding error, stole second and took third on Harbach’s base hit to center field. The next batter, Mason Weaver, dropped a perfect safety squeeze to drive in Rohrer to cut the deficit to 7-2.
It remained that way going to the sixth, and Ephrata capitalized on the legs of Brody Martin to score its final run. Martin singled to center, swiped second, went to third on Mason Hagen’s ground out and scored on the back end of a double steal.
“We could’ve died,” Harbach said, “and that’s what I talked to them about when they came off the field between innings. I said, ‘We can do one of two things. We can just fold now or we can go out and put the ball in play and make some things happen.’”
Manheim chose the latter.
Merlins’ reliever Bromirski got the first two batters he faced, but then Zimmerman singled to center and Rohrer laced an RBI triple just inside the right field foul line. Harbach followed with a run-scoring single over second base and then Weaver stroked a base hit over shortstop, bringing the potential tying run to the on-deck circle for the Manheim VFW.
“Our one through five hitters have been real consistent all year,” Harbach said. “I don’t get into batting averages, but they’re all around .400 or .500 or whatever … We had four or five line drive hits there (in the sixth) and we got a couple runs and made things a little interesting. I’ve seen six, seven runs scored at the drop of a bucket, so you just never know. We keep telling them, ‘You’ve got to just keep fighting to the end. Anything can happen.’ That’s just the nature of baseball.”
In the end, Bromirsky got the final batter Hunter Gruel on a fielder’s choice ground ball to preserve the four-run win.
With the playoffs just around the corner, Crills is hoping that his defense continues making plays behind their pitchers.
“That’s been our motto, make the plays and good things happen,” Crills said. “We’ve had games where we missed a couple plays here and there, and you take those one-run innings and they turn into five-run innings. If you can keep them to one run, two runs in an inning, as opposed to the five or six at this level, it kinda works itself out.”
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