BASEBALL: Northern Lebanon cruises past Cedar Crest, 7-2
FREDERICKSBURG>> March Madness passed more than a month ago, but the fight for postseason bids and ensuing craziness of single-elimination tournaments is far from over this spring.
Just ask the Northern Lebanon baseball team. The Vikings sit square on what would be the District Three Class AAA tournament bubble and went 1-2 this past week in critical Section Three games. After dropping one-run contests to Cocalico and Manheim Central, they bounced back with a 1-0 blanking of section leader Donegal on Friday.
Not 24 hours later, Northern Lebanon was put back on the field for a rescheduled date with county foe Cedar Crest. And the Vikings, their playoff hope still hanging in the balance, didn't disappoint.
Junior Isaac Wengert pitched a complete game four-hitter and collected two RBIs over a 7-2 home win against the Falcons. Northern Lebanon shortstop Noah Gingrich emerged from a tough week at the plate by falling a home run shy of the cycle on a 3-for-4 afternoon. The Vikings (12-7, 10-4 Section Three) now face a critical game Monday night against fellow playoff hopeful Elco, while Cedar Crest (3-14, 2-12 Section One) will finish its 2015 campaign this week with a road test at Manheim Township and two home games.
"It feels really good," Gingrich said of closing out the week on a high note. "The first two games were really tough because we really needed those to stay alive in the section. Once we dropped those two, we just needed to focus on playing good baseball and getting into districts."
Gingrich set quite the tone for Northern Lebanon early, clubbing a lead-off double in the bottom of the first and quickly coming around to score on a Hayden Johnson sac fly. Wengert had struck out two Falcons in a perfect top half of the inning and finished with five punch-outs compared to only one walk.
"My curveball was really coming down and breaking nice," Wengert said. "I was struggling with it Monday, but I started figuring it out today and getting it over a lot for strikes. And that's what we needed today."
The only offensive damage Cedar Crest dealt came across in the fourth frame, when Juan Espinosa smacked a two-out, two-RBI single to center. Otherwise, Wengert cruised and the Falcons self-inflicted defensively via five errors behind starter Derek Hitz.
"The focus is to continue to try to do the right things that will win you games," Falcons coach Ryan White said. "But as you saw today, some guys could try a little bit harder, put their face in front of a ball, knock it down, do some stuff. But overall, the goal is to go about our business like we're in a race for Section One."
Hitz's worst inning registered in the third, as three of the first four Vikings reached base before Wengert and Gingrich brought them home on run-scoring singles. Seth Walmer also picked up an RBI in the inning, and catcher Chase Dubendorf finished 2-for-3 with a walk.
Hitz posted scoreless frames in the fourth and fifth, before freshman Nate Cavic entered and allowed two runs in Northern Lebanon's last-ups
"Northern Lebanon's a good team. They're going to make solid contact and hurt us, which is what happened today," White said. "But when (Hitz) kept the ball down, changed speeds and got ahead, I thought he did a nice job."
Moving forward, the Vikings hope to push their new winning streak to three games against the Raiders following a 7 p.m. first pitch from Earl Wenger Memorial field. And according to Gingrich, as well as Northern Lebanon skipper Daryl Hess, doing so begins with a certain focus.
"We talked about trying to stay alive for that one district bid," Hess said. "And we had to get wins. I thought we responded well. So hopefully we can have the same approach Elco."
"Playing the game like it's a regular game," said Gingrich of the team's approach to Monday. "It is Elco and we always want to beat them. And it is a big game for trying to get into districts. We've just got to make sure we're focused."
C. Crest000200 0 —245N. Lebanon104002 X —7 81
W — Isaac Wengert; L — Derek Hitz
SO-BB — NL: Wengert (5 K, 1 BB). CC: Hitz (2 K, 5 BB), Nate Cavic (0 K, 2 BB).
2B — NL: Noah Gingrich, Chase Dubendorf. CC: Wes Wentling.
3B — NL: Gingrich.