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Powerful early punch Nine-run first keys Ephrata win over Lititz
TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
, Staff Writer
The Ephrata Post 429 legion team had an inning for the ages Tuesday night in the bottom of the first vs. visiting Lititz at War Memorial Field.
Ephrata sent 13 men to the plate in the bottom of the first, pounded out eight hits, and chased Lititz starter Caleb Mentzer before he could record an out. When the dust finally settled, Ephrata hung a nine spot on the visitors and held a commanding 9-0 lead after just one inning of play.
That was the good.
Ephrata then spent the rest of the game trying to hold off a charging Lititz team that to its credit didn’t quit. The home team definitely contributed to the comeback bid with a whopping seven errors that led to Lititz bringing the tying run to the plate in the top of the seventh.
Fortunately for the home squad, centerfielder Josh Gehman was able to snag Seth Earle’s liner to center with two aboard and two out in the seventh to finally put an end to this contest and secure a 12-9 Ephrata victory.
With the win, Ephrata improved to a perfect 5-0 in District 10 play. Lititz fell to 1-2 with the loss.
Ephrata, the defending District 10 and Region 4 champions, had been winning with pitching and defense coming into the Lititz game. Tuesday its bats woke up in a big way.
"I thought we had a good batting practice before the game," Ephrata Coach Derek Sipe said when asked about his team’s first-inning explosion. "I thought a lot of guys had a different approach coming into it. We got them to be a little more aggressive, especially on strikes early in the count. I think a lot of our woes early in the season were we were getting behind and then we’d find ourselves in two strike counts and it was difficult to hit. Tonight, we we attacked the fastballs early in the counts, and we also executed with base running and bunting…A couple different things kind of all came together and led to a big inning."
After Ephrata starter Scott Liebl turned a nice doubleplay to end the top of the first, snaring a liner off the bat of Travis Reapsome before doubling off Derek Acaley at first, the Post 429ers settled in against Metzler in the bottom of the inning.
Paul Larusso led off with a walk before Matt Herbener and Jake Terry followed with singles to load the bases with nobody out. Brandon Miller then singled to right to knock in two runs, before Ryan Schwark reached on an error that forced another home to make it 3-0.
Ephrata didn’t stop there. Colin Albright, Gehman and eight-hole hitter Brady Sipe all followed with singles which put the home squad up 6-0 and still nobody out, and Brady Weiler took over on the mound for Metzler.
Weiler got the first batter on a fly to center, but Larusso then laced a triple to the fence in right-center to make it 8-0. He would later score the ninth Ephrata run of the frame when he came home on Herbener’s second hit of the inning before Weiler finally recorded the second and third outs.
"I really don’t know how to explain that," Lititz Coach Steve Chretien said of the fateful first. "Originally, I was going to start (Weiler) but he was kind of sick last night. And I guess maybe Metzler wasn’t as prepared to start as he could have been."
While the damage was done, Lititz certainly didn’t fold up the tents. After Ephrata plated a single run in the bottom of the second to make it a 10-0 ballgame, Lititz began to chip away. A pair of Ephrata errors and a clutch RBI single by Earle led to three Lititz unearned runs in the third. The Post 56ers then added another score in the fourth to make it 10-4 when Garret High walked and later scored on yet another Ephrata error.
Weiler (3 Ks, 1 BB) held Ephrata off the scoreboard in the third and fourth innings, but the home squad did plate two key runs in the fifth to make it 12-4. Gehman delivered a clutch two-run double with two outs which scored Terry and Miller to give Ephrata a seemingly comfortable eight-run cushion.
But Lititz made it very interesting over the final two frames, to say the least.
Liebl (2 Ks, 3 BBs) scattered four hits through five, but was replaced by Ethan Sipe in the sixth. Ian Hart greeted the Ephrata reliever with a one-out double in the sixth. Acaley followed with a single before Reapsome walked to load the bases. An Earle single to center one out later plated Hart before both Acaley and Reapsome would come around to score on the fifth Ephrata error of the night to cut the deficit to 12-7.
Then after Weiler retired Ephrata in the sixth, a hit and a pair of errors helped Lititz load the bases with one out. Reapsome then delivered a hit to produce one run before a fielder’s choice grounder by Chris Wentzel scored the ninth Lititz run.
But Earle, who led the way for Lititz with a 3-for-5 plate performance, hit one hard but at Gehman, who squeezed it for the final out.
"You take away that first inning and we played a pretty good game," Chretien said. "We fought, and I talked a little bit about that before the game. We were sluggish in our first two games at Manheim and I wanted to see them come out and fight and play hard, and I think we did that. As a coach that’s all you can ask for…It’s just that some days it’s just not going to be your day."
Asked if his team relaxed a bit after getting the big early lead, Sipe said he didn’t want to use that as an excuse for his squad’s poor defense throughout the game.
"Really, we should be focused on making those routine plays, whether it’s 9-0, a close game or if we are losing by a lot," he said. "It doesn’t make a difference, but for whatever reason, everyone kind of had one of those games. A lot of them were tough plays where balls weren’t hit hard but found some holes. They might have lost focus a little bit but I think a lot of it was tricky plays, and a lot of guys had an off game at the same time."
(Liebl) didn’t do that badly tonight," he continued. "It would have been a lot different outcome for him had some of those plays been made. It looks worse than it really was, and the same could be said for Ethan (Sipe)."
Liebl did get the win while Metzler took the loss. While Earle had three of the nine Lititz hits, Ephrata obviously had several offensive stars on this night.
Herbener and Brady Sipe both collected three hits apiece while Miller, Albright and Gehman each had two hits in the win.
"Before tonight, the 4-0 start really came from good pitching and defense," Sipe said of his team. "The defense has always been there but I’d say the pitching has been great for us and has been keeping us in games because the offense really has been struggling. Tonight, the offense really carried us which I guess is nice because they have now shown they are capable of doing all three facets of the game. Hopefully at some point they can all click and put them all together. It will be a dangerous situation when that happens."
The same could be said for Lititz, which is expected to be among the key challengers in the division, along with Ephrata, Marietta and Manheim.
Chretien said he believes his team will put it together.
"I think we will," he said. "We are just kind of meshing right now. We have some guys who didn’t play high school, some guys from Lancaster Catholic and a guy from Cocalico so we are kind of just meshing everybody together right now. Obviously (Ephrata) has been playing together all year and that helps."
"I think it’s going to be a very competitive year," he continued. "The division we are in I believe has the four best teams in the league in us, Ephrata, Marietta and Manheim. Three teams make the playoffs, so it’s essential that we lock down and start winning some games."
Ephrata, which gained lots of experience a year ago in its outstanding post-season run, has earned the role of favorite. And Sipe believes his team has what it takes mentally to handle it.
"I think a lot of it is expectations, and the kids are excited," he said. "Paul (Larusso) and Brandon (Miller) have been here for both (post-season) runs the last few years, and there are plenty of guys back from last year’s team who know what it’s like and know the caliber of baseball that we should be playing, and where we want to be. I think we kind of transitioned…the last two years we wanted to do well in our league and now we are talking day in and day out about the regional level, and we expect to be there."
"That kind of fuels into our play throughout the whole season, and this group does a good job with that. The guys show up every day and are ready to go, so I expected this year for us to come in and have a better record in the regular season than what we’ve had in the past. and so far we are off to that. We played every team in our division at least once so far and obviously we are undefeated through that, so that’s big. Now, we just have to keep it going."
In addition to Tuesday’s game, Ephrata won a pair of District 10 road games on Sunday and last Thursday.
Sunday afternoon at Manheim Township, the Post 429ers led 1-0 before exploding for five runs in the top of the fifth to break open the game and keying an eventual 6-3 victory.
Starting pitcher Seth Griffith went six strong innings with six Ks and three walks to earn the victory on the hill. Ethan Sipe came on in relief in the seventh to get the final outs for Ephrata and secure the victory.
Offensively for Ephrata, Brady Sipe went 2-for-3 with an RBI while Larusso had a crucial two-run single to break the game open in the fifth.
Last Thursday at Manheim, Ephrata trailed 2-0 before taking the lead for good with a four spot in the fifth. The Post 429ers tacked on three key insurance runs in the seventh to come home with a 7-3 victory.
Evan Young got the win on the mound, going five innings and striking out three. The trio of Young, along with relievers Ethan Sipe and Morgan Stauffer, limited Manheim to just four hits in the contest.
Offensively, Schwark and Miller each went 1-for3 with an RBI to pace Ephrata.
Up next, Ephrata has a busy week ahead, beginning with Friday’s non-league contest at Hampden Township, which begins at 7 p.m.
Ephrata will return to District 10 action Sunday at War Memorial, hosting Quarryville at 2 p.m. before battling Lancaster at 6 p.m. The Post 429ers will also be in action next Tuesday (at Fredericksburg, 7 p.m.), Wednesday (home vs. Shillington, 7 p.m.), and Thursday, June 13 (at Penn Manor, 6 p.m.).
More LEGION, page B-3