EPHRATA – Offense has been an Achilles heel for the Elco baseball team for most of the season. But during the Raiders' magical run to clinching their first Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament berth since 2007, hitting wasn’t a problem.
Yet on Tuesday those early-season woes at the plate came back and ultimately doomed the Raiders (14-8), as their recent run to and in the league playoffs came to an end in a 3-0 loss to Solanco (11-9) in the L-L Tournament semifinals at War Memorial Field.
Despite being shut out, it wasn’t like Elco didn’t have its share of chances. After those chances passed by, Raiders skipper Chris Weidner only had one simple explanation.
“We were given opportunities and we didn’t execute,” Weidner said. “We had an opportunity for a run in the first inning, and I’m going to relive that fifth inning over and over in my head for quite some time. I’m highly disappointed being that we were so close.”
That fifth inning for Elco began with its first two runners reaching base on an error and fielder’s choice, respectively, as it played small ball in an attempt to finally wake up the bats. But in Joe Ginder’s ensuing at-bat, the chance to get back in it evaporated quickly. After the lead runner got picked off at second, Ginder then grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
“That, again, is sheer execution. We don’t get the bunt down, then we get picked off. That was a great opportunity,” Weidner said. “It’s just disappointing. It’s not like we got dominated.”
But again, like all season, pitching and defense kept the Raiders alive, as Cole Blatt pitched yet another complete game, allowing three runs, all earned, on six hits, while striking out three and walking none. It was his third complete game in the last week-plus, having pitched for the second consecutive game on three days rest. He threw 217 pitches last week.
“He did what he’s done all season. He kept us in the ball game, though he didn’t have his best stuff,” Weidner said. “His velocity was down, but pure guts on his part kept us in it.”
His counterpart, Colin Ewaka, has also been busy on the mound, coming into Friday having pitched three innings in relief during Solanco’s 3-2 win over Lancaster Catholic the night before. That didn’t bother Ewaka one bit, as he also went the distance, only allowing five hits, while striking out three and walking two.
“That was big because I know we were nervous going into that game facing (Lancaster Catholic's DIllon Marsh). Getting that win gave us the mentality we can do anything,” Ewaka said. “We just built what we did today off of that.”
Ewaka also was big with his bat, picking up an RBI single in the top of the fourth, which saw the Golden Mules plate their only runs of the day.
The other two runs came off the bat of Bailey Keys, who gave Solanco a 2-0 lead with a two-RBI single to start the inning.
Although they’d rather be playing in Thursday’s L-L championship game, Elco can finally get some rest after playing eight games in nine days with their backs against the wall, as they await the start of the district playoffs Monday.
“We’ll take a day off tomorrow and get away from it. We’re beat up and sore,” Weidner said. “But we’ve been doing this all year. They’re resilient and they’ll bounce back. We didn’t score a lot of runs and all of a sudden on this run we found ways to hit the ball and this time we reverted back to not. Hopefully the law of averages works its way back to the other side again this week.”