DENVER – A win to keep your playoff hopes alive.
That’s been the day-in-the-life story this week of the Elco baseball team, which faced yet another must-win situation Thursday on the road against Cocalico, a team also dealing with the same reality. So this one already was setting up for some drama.
Adding to that, the last time these two teams met April 11, it went to the 10th inning, with the Eagles escaping with a 2-0 win in Myerstown.
Two game-changing plays, one of the chaotic variety, gave Elco a 10-5 come-from-behind victory Thursday to put the Raiders into the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs for the first time since 2007, clinching the second spot in Section Three. In addition, Elco now has the chance of a Section Three title when they face first-place Manheim Central on Friday.
“I can’t say enough about the effort and the battle these kids gave,” Elco coach Chris Weidner said. “We’ve fallen short so many times, and I’m grateful for these kids getting the opportunity to win a section title and get into the league playoffs.”
Elco first erased a 4-0 hole in the top of the fifth, clinched by a two-RBI double by Nate Hostetter to tie the game at four.
But the Raiders quickly found themselves trailing again after Tyler Keppley’s RBI single gave the Eagles a 5-4 lead in the bottom half.
Then chaos ensued in the top of the sixth in Elco’s favor. With Aaron Deitz at the plate with two outs, he hit a fly ball to right field and it looked like it might have been caught with a sliding catch – but like any good two-out base running, the Raider baserunners kept going until a call was made. And the ball had actually dropped, allowing two Elco runs to score for a 6-5 lead. The Raiders caught the Eagles sleeping thinking the final out of the inning was made.
“There was no doubt that it hit the ground,” Weidner said. “Cocalico sort of stopped playing and our guys kept going. It was huge heads-up baseunning.”
Cole Miller, who scored one of the two runs on the play, along with Hunter Witters, knew the ball was in play.
“It was pretty clear it dropped,” Miller said. “I was glad it fell in and it gave us confidence and a motivator for us to win the game.”
Travis Zimmerman scored on the ensuing at-bat on a wild pitch, giving the Raiders a 7-5 lead.
Miller then took over on the mound, picking up his third save of the week. His biggest pitch came in the bottom of the sixth, striking out Keppley with the bases loaded to preserve the Raiders' slim lead.
“It was big for us. I had to hold as many runs as I could and that was huge,” Miller said.
Elco then added three more runs in the top of the seventh to seal their playoff ticket.
Dramatic games have been the Raiders' middle name this season. Weidner says that’s been a good thing, and Friday’s showdown with the Barons could be no different.
“Playing tight ball games all year has definitely helped us. I think in the past we didn’t know how to hold on, and now these kids understand the pressure situation and how every out is meaningful,” Weidner said. “The course of our season has certainly helped us to this point.”