ANNVILLE >> First-place teams don't usually need to look up in the standings. The Annville-Cleona baseball team has no reservations about going against the grain.
The Little Dutchmen relied on Robbie Beidler's walk-off single to put away Pequea Valley 4-3 in Friday's Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Four encounter at A-C High School.
Beidler poked a first-pitch fastball past a drawn-in infield to drive home Mitch Rodkey for the deciding run. His bases-loaded single came with one out in the bottom of the seventh and secured the win for starting pitcher Colton Long.
"You have to go up thinking contact in that situation — one run wins the game," said Beidler. "It just happens I hit the ball to a good spot. It was a good first pitch to hit, so I went up and just hit."
A-C improved to 9-6 overall (8-5 in the league) and holds a two-game lead on Lancaster Catholic for the top spot in Section Four. More importantly, the win increased the Dutchmen's chances of qualifying for the District Three Class AA tournament.CLICK HERE FOR PHOTO GALLERY
"To us, it's all about districts — the goal is districts," said head coach Scott Shyda. "If we win the section, that would be icing on the cake, but we are focused on districts — that is where we want to be."
A-C ranks No. 7 in the most recent poll. The top eight teams qualify for the postseason tournament. The Dutchmen have four regular-season games remaining, including tonight's 7 p.m. non-league showdown against No. 8 Tulpehocken at Earl Wenger Field in Fredericksburg.
"The kids are excited, we're confident, but we know we have some tough games left," added Shyda. "We lost to (Tulpehocken) twice last year. The kids are very much looking forward to getting another shot at them."
The Dutchmen enter tonight riding a wave of momentum after defeating Pequea (4-12 overall, 4-10 league). A-C avenged a 16-1 setback to the Braves on April 10.
"We still haven't figured out what happened in that game. It was just one of those days," said Shyda. "Every one of us knew we just had to forget about that game. We certainly didn't know the outcome of this game, but we knew that wasn't going to happen again."
A-C received a few early gifts Friday when Braves starter Brandon Shirk walked three batters in the first inning. A-C's Zack Southall (2-for-2 with two walks) later crossed on an infield error for the game's first run.
The hosts tripled their lead in the second courtesy of two singles and three more walks. Hunter Long and Southall both registered hits, while Rodkey, Long and Justin Ulrich drew consecutive free passes for a 3-0 edge.
Meanwhile, Long breezed through the middle innings, working in tandem with catcher Hunter Long — his younger brother.
"He kept us off-balance and mixed in a curveball," Pequea Valley coach Ryan O'Donnell said. "We just didn't get into the game until late. We got some late breaks that gave us a little bit of energy and got us moving a bit. But the lack of energy early — and struggling to throw strikes — took something out of us."
Trailing 3-1, the Braves' top-of-the-seventh rally started with Mason Simmers' double and Jason Brown's walk. Chad Yoder's bunt then loaded the bases with no outs for the top of the order.
"I love (Colton's) mentality. Even when things aren't going well, he seems not to let things around him bother him," said Shyda. "He has a bulldog mentality out there. Nobody expects more from him but him."
Long got the No. 1 and No. 2 hitters to fly out but walked Brian Peterson to force in a run. Cleanup man Michael Huber followed with a hot shot to the shortstop hole, which A-C's Braden Elliott knocked down to limit the damage to keep the game tied.
"I think their shortstop makes the play of the game," added O'Donnell, a 1997 Lebanon graduate and former Lebanon Catholic coach. "If we have a one-run lead, we coach it differently, we handle it differently, and we pitch it differently. I know they had some good swings in the last inning, but that play more than anything — the whole inning unfolds differently if he doesn't keep that ball in the infield."
Tied at 3, Southall and Rodkey opened the seventh with back-to-back singles. Huber, who entered in relief in the fifth, intentionally walked Colton Long to load the bases.
The next hitter, Justin Ulrich, smashed a line drive back to Huber, who knocked it down to get a force out at home. Beidler followed with his game-winning hit up the middle.
"I'm glad to see our guys come out in the bottom of the inning and do what they needed to do to get that runner around," added Shyda. "That's a big win for us. We needed a senior to come through in a clutch situation, and Robbie did exactly that."Section Four
Annville-Cleona 4, Pequea Valley 3
Pequea Valley 000 001 2 - 3 5 1
Annville-Cleona 120 000 1 - 4 5 3
W - Colton Long; L - Michael Huber
SO-BB - PV: Brandon Shirk (4IP, 4K, 8BB), Huber (1.1IP, 0K, 2BB). AC: Long (7IP, 4K, 4BB).
2B - PV: Shirk, Simmers.
JV score - Annville-Cleona 16, Pequea Valley 1.