MOUNT JOY — Whenever an opportunity materialized — whether in the opening inning or much later in the baseball game — Chris Miller’s Donegal Indians seemed to take advantage and make something happen.
Didn’t seem to matter if it was Miller’s bunch manufacturing something or it was the opposition cracking the window ever so slightly.
In other words, it was ust one of those days when lots of things went right for the hosts and not so much for the feisty club parked in the visiting dugout.
Sophomores Dale Houser and Kyle Hess enjoyed productive outings — both drove in two runs apiece — and Ethan Hess fired six-plus innings as Donegal held on for a 6-5 victory over Lampeter-Strasburg side in a Lancaster-Lebanon League crossover Thursday at blustery R&J Memorial Field.
Thursday’s victory was the first for Miller’s Indians (1-2) — Ethan Hess conceded seven hits, fanned six, walked one and balked three times before turning the game over to Conner Green with one down in the top of the seventh — who ended last season with a loss in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals to eventual champion Knoch.
Green recorded the final two outs, saving the victory for Hess.
Not, however, without enduring some late, late, late fireworks from Keith Martin’s visiting Pioneers (1-2). Colin Eckman, who conceded four runs and four hits while walking three and fanning five over the first three innings, suffered the loss.
“It’s early in the season and we have worked through some situations ourselves in our first two games,” Miller said. “And both teams showed a little bit of that today.
“There were moments when we gave each other an opportunity. I was glad to see our boys put the ball in play today; that was something we struggled with the first two games. So to come out today and put the ball in play, I was very pleased.”
Up 6-3 after six full — Kyle Hess launched a two-run jack into the hefty jetstream blowing out to right with two down in the sixth, providing some needed insurance for Miller’s Indians — Donegal was unable to get L-S to pack up the sticks, take off the spikes and step on the bus for the ride back home.
“We really try to emphasize scoring late,” Miller continued. “That’s important and that was a great, great situation for Kyle Hess to get up there and crack one for us.
“But you’re right. L-S, L-L League, they keep coming at you. You’ve got to play all seven innings. You’ve got to play all outs and that was the situation today.”
While Dylan Byler opened the top of the seventh with a sharp single to center — Byler and Devon Weiant each finished with two hits — he was still perched on first when Ethan Hess struck out Connor Brown for the first out.
Hess would not get another.
Ben Rhoades made things even more interesting when his grounder to short was mishandled, allowing Byler to move up to second and ending Hess’ lengthy stay on the mound. In came Green with Hess relocating to left.
Green promptly issued a full-count walk to Bear Shank that loaded the bases and cranked up the anxieties in both dugouts — as well as among those looking on from beyond the fence. Especially since only one out had been recorded.
Well, those aforementioned anxieties climbed to an even-higher level once Dan Eshleman’s bloop to left field fell in for a two-run single that chased home Byler and Rhoades while pulling the Pioneers within one (6-5).
Although Green was able to get Weiant to fly out to right — Kobe Bistline made a nice running grab on the play — Shank scooted over to third.
“Kobe Bistline ran that down,” Miller said.
“He’s a very good defensive outfielder and he made a real nice play for us.”
Moments later, with reliever Kris Pirozzi dug in at the plate, Eshleman got himself caught in a rundown between first and second with the hopes of remaining engaged long enough for Shank to scurry home with the equalizer.
Second baseman Seiler Edwards — after receiving the throw from Green — promptly wheeled and fired home. And when the plate umpire ruled that catcher Ian Rapp put the tag on the diving Shank before the tying run was scored.
Martin had his say about the game-ending sequence, but the call stood.
And while these fiercely competitive outfits traded runs early — Houser’s RBI double in the first gave Donegal a short-lived 1-0 lead that was erased by Byler’s run-scoring single — the Indians went up 2-1 in the second on Rapp’s infield hit.
The Indians added two more runs in the third, bumping their lead to 4-1 on Houser’s sacrifice fly to center and Green’s single to right.
Errors also played roles in Donegal’s rallies in the second and third innings.
“We beat ourselves quite a bit today,” Martin said.
“When you take away some of the walks, just some of the errors — we made a lot of errors today and that’s uncharacteristic of us — but you take some of those things away and I feel like we played a better game,” Martin added.
“I thought we battled more in tougher situations and it’s a shame to come out of here on a loss … on a final play like that.”
Even though L-S was turned away in the fourth when Weiant opened with a single and was balked to second, Donegal was able to wiggle free when Kyle Hess tracked down Eckman’s fly to deep center field.
An instant later, the Indians appealed that Weiant left prematurely for third. The base umpire agreed, ringing up out No. 2.
“That was a critical play,” Miller said. “Again, you take each moment for what it is and you try to do the best you can. Just real pleased with the boys.”
Shank’s single to right in the fifth — the third straight hit off Ethan Hess — scored Brown to make it 4-2. And when Andrew Hay drove in Weiant with a fielder’s choice an inning later, the Pioneers were down by just a single run.
Despite Kyle Hess’ blast in the bottom of the sixth — a well-carrying rip that had Donegal up by three — L-S battled back yet again.
“These guys are fighters,” Martin commended. “They decided early on in the season they were going to do whatever it takes to get the wins, to play well.
“They showed that today. They really battled, especially there in the last inning,” Martin continued. “I give them credit for [Hess] hitting the ball well, but that could have taken the wind right out of our sails. That could have deflated us, but it didn’t.
“They got right back at it and started fighting, started scrapping.”
Just wouldn’t be enough.
“We’ve got a lot of baseball left,” Martin said. “And I like where we are right now.”
“It was a typical tight L-S game,” Miller added.
“It was fun to play and fun to be a part of.”
Donegal 6, Lampeter-Strasburg 5
Lampeter-Strasburg 010 011 2 — 5 8 2
Donegal 112 002 x — 6 5 3
Colin Eckman, Kris Pirozzi (4) and Devon Weiant. Ethan Hess, Conner Green (7) and Ian Rapp. W-Hess. L-Eckman. S-Green. HR-Kyle Hess, D, 6th, one on.