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BASEBALL: Four-run first inning proves costly for Vikings

FREDERICKSBURG >> Northern Lebanon coach Daryl Hess slowly trotted out to the mound early Saturday afternoon in a situation he would have liked to avoid. His team already trailed 4-0, and the pressure on his pitching staff and defense continued to swell.

Hess had pulled starting pitcher Zane Merkel, who lasted just one inning in a 13-7 loss to Hamburg (8-2, 2-1 Berks Division Two) at Northern Lebanon High School. The Vikings (4-5) dropped their fourth game out of their last five, following a 10-0 victory over Lancaster Mennonite Friday night. In less than 24 hours, the Vikings went from feeling pretty good to searching for positives.

Merkel allowed the first five Hamburg hitters to reach base to begin the contest, before retiring their designated hitter on a line-drive double play after three runs had already been registered.

"They came out swinging the bat hard," said Hess. "The first five, six, seven balls, they hit were right on the nose. They were on a line. You're going to run into some teams like that, that hit the ball well. They definitely did.

"We play them every year, but we only see them once. I know they have a good team over there this year. They kept on swinging on today though, they hit the ball nice."

The Hawks recorded 17 hits in an ugly defensive performance by Northern Lebanon, where the Vikings committed two errors apiece in both the fourth and seventh innings.

"We gave them a lot of runs today, even though they hit the ball hard," Hess explained. "There were some plays where we didn't get the job done, but hopefully we got it out of our system today."

Northern Lebanon's four-run seventh frame occurred in part to struggles on the mound by Hamburg starting pitcher Hunter Epting, who went 6.1 innings, yielding seven earned runs along with three strikeouts and three walks.

The Vikings first run came in the second inning when catcher Chase Dubendorf scored on Issac Wengert's RBI groundout. Dubendorf started off the frame with a double which also counted for the Vikings' first hit of the contest. Northern Lebanon's starting catcher went 2-3 on the afternoon along with a walk in the Vikings four-run seventh inning with the game already out of reach.

Hayden Johnson came in for relief of Merkel after the first two Hamburg batters reach in the second inning and tossed six innings of ball for the Vikings and saved their bullpen immensely, Johnson, who started the game at second base, allowed nine hits but struckout three in front of a defense that played less than superb.

"I thought he did a nice job," Hess said of Johnson. "Especially with the situation he was in, down four runs in the second inning. I thought he came in and hit his spots, he changed speeds well."

Centerfielder Noah Gingrich also contributed offensively for the Vikings, going 2-4 at the dish with two doubles. Northern Lebanon's first three hitters combined for a 2-11 performance along with a walk which didn't present their hitters lower in the lineup to drive in their top baserunners.

Hamburg picked up their sixth straight win and collected ten runs or more for the fourth time this season, where they're 4-0 on the campaign.

Northern Lebanon returns to action against Lancaster Catholic Monday afternoon at home.

Hamburg4302004—1376Nor. Lebanon0100024—7110

W — Epting; L — Merkel;

SO-BB — H: Epting (3 K, 3 BB), NL: Merkel (1 K, 2 BB), Johnson (3 K, 1 BB)