Slow start shouldn’t faze Ephrata legion

By on June 13, 2012

By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor, Staff Writer

The Ephrata Legion baseball team has gotten off to a so-so 2-2 start to the season. However, that doesn’t mean it’s time for the alarm bells to sound.

In fact, a year ago Ephrata went 1-4 through its first five games before catching fire down the stretch and riding the momentum all the way to its first District 10 League championship since 1995 and a berth in the Region Four Tournament where they reached the semifinals before finally bowing out.

The Ephrata team and Head Coach Derek Sipe would like to follow a similar path this season, which is entirely possible since the team not only returns its entire pitching staff from a year ago, but also many of the same faces in the lineup are back in 2012.

While he certainly wasn’t looking for a slow start, Sipe said it certainly isn’t unexpected considering players are just getting through the end of the school year and graduation.

"It takes a little while to settle out of high school ball and into their legion roles," Sipe said Tuesday. "It takes a while to get over the high school season and into the competitive mode. I think it takes a game or two to get that to kick in. I think the first two weeks there are a lot of distractions, a lot of things going on, and there are even some cases where kids aren’t able to make it there due to some of those things."

Sipe saw signs last Sunday that his team is starting to make the turn around. Facing Manheim, pitcher Dusten Rutt came out and mowed them down, finishing with 13 strike outs in a 5-4 victory to even their mark at 2-2.

"I saw the intensity on Sunday," he said. "It was a fairly big game for us. In a shortened season where there are only 13 games, we felt there was a big difference between being 1-3 at this point as opposed to 2-2, so the intensity picked up a bit."

Coming off a high school season in which the Mounts won a section championship but went one-and-out in both the L-L League and District playoffs, there is a feeling of unfinished business still lingering amongst the many team members who were also a part of that club.

"It was definitely a disappointing end in regards to high school ball," Sipe, an assistant on that team, said. "We all had some high expectations, and we fulfilled them for the majority of the season. We just lost the games at the wrong time when it mattered the most.

"I think the kids will be hungry for something because it was disappointing for all of us how it ended. We all realized that we could have achieved more than we did. (Legion ball) is a second chance, especially for the seniors, to have their last run together. That’s exciting to be a part of and hopefully we’re able to come together like we did last year. I expect that we will. We just have to ride it out here in the beginning and get ourselves in position to strike once we get in the playoffs."

With eight out of the 10 teams in the league making the playoffs, post season is almost a certainty for this club. It’s about getting on a roll so that they are firing on all cylinders as playoffs approach.

Ephrata should be able to accomplish that with perhaps the deepest staff in the league, which should really be a benefit once they get into the tournaments, with a lot of innings to be played in a short amount of time. Rutt, with one season of college ball at Penn State Berks under his belt, joins All-League high school starter Brandon Miller, Section Two all-star Seth Griffith, and veterans Andre Hoover and Evan Young, two of the top pitchers from last year’s squad.

"Coming into the season I’m definitely excited about our staff," Sipe said. "Obviously adding Dustin back gives us a gritty guy who is reliable, throws strikes and eats up those innings for you. From last year what developed during the season is our pitching really became a strength. We are able to return all of those guys and not only return them but have guys like (Miller) and (Griffith), who were both all-stars in high school.

"I’m also excited about (Hoover)," he continued. "He’s a big game pitcher and I think he thrives in the spotlight. That brings out the best in him which I think we saw some of that at the end of the legion season last year. Once we got into the games that were do or die he really took it to the next level. And I know one of our goals early in the season is to try to build (Young) back up after not throwing really more than an inning at a time the majority of the high school season. We’re slowly trying to build his arm strength back up so late in the season we’ll be able to use him maybe closer to five or six innings."

The lineup will generally resemble that of Ephrata High School’s team with section all-stars Paul Larusso, Parke Martin, Evan Weaver, Hoover and Ryan Schwark leading the way. However, one big addition is Mac McCafferty, who was an All-League catcher this past spring at Lancaster Catholic, hitting .509 on the season with 24 RBI.

"He had a tremendous year, batting around .500, and no matter what level you are at if you can do something like that it’s pretty impressive," Sipe said. "It’s great to add him to our lineup. He’s not only adding some depth to our catching but he can also play first base. He’s a great kid and obviously the big bat that he has is a nice thing to have in the middle of the lineup. I think as the season progresses and he’s able to get more comfortable with the team he’ll kind of settle into his role. I kind of see him really contributing for us down the stretch."

It’s all about what happens later this season that will ultimately define this club.

"Last year really opened their eyes to the possibilities," Sipe said. "I don’t think there were many of us who weren’t disappointed in how it ended last season. I think the majority of us felt that we were the best team in that regional tournament, but baseball doesn’t always play out that way. We lost a couple tough games but we all know we belong at that level and can compete there.

"I think we are excited about the possibilities. Obviously we need to have a good performance again in the league tournament in order to get back to regionals. But we really want the opportunity to not only match what we did last year but also build on that."

"We talked about expectations a little bit and last year was good, but one of the things that holds teams back that have the opportunity to be great is if they are satisfied with being good," he continued. "I think as the season goes on we are going to continue working and continue to grow and build and hopefully we get hungry and good won’t be good enough anymore, and we can really strive to become that great team."

Ephrata is scheduled to return to action Sunday afternoon at War Memorial where the team host Strasburg-Willow St. in a double header, set to begin at 2 p.m. More LEGION, page B-3

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