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BASEBALL: Northern Lebanon routs rival Elco, 11-0

FREDERICKSBURG >> Amid all the buzzing fastballs, cranked line drives and tense one-run contests, there was one regular-season theme that jumped out at 20-year Northern Lebanon skipper Daryl Hess on Monday night after his 2015 finale, an 11-0 win over Elco: patience.

His Vikings' ability to work opposing pitchers deep into counts initially registered as a surprise, and then as a saving grace, as it lifted the team into the hunt for a district playoff spot. And this night was no different, as Hess' bunch matched its hit total with its number of trots to first base via walks.

So how ironic is it that Northern Lebanon's ability to wait will now be exercised again in the coming days when the team sits out as other ball clubs finish their respective seasons and determine the Vikings' postseason fate? Perhaps so. But whether they lace up one more time or not, there's no debating that the Vikings (13-7, 11-5 Section Three), who outscored their last 10 opponents by a combined 52 runs, took care of as much business as they could down the stretch. And in the exact fashion you would expect: patiently.

Northern Lebanon clubbed rival Elco (10-8, 8-8) in a five-inning game at Earl Wenger Field. Senior southpaw Jordan Nichols fired a two-hitter, striking out eight and allowing two balls out of the infield. The Vikings' Isaac Wengert smashed a bases-clearing, three-RBI double in the second to blow a then 4-0 game wide open. He finished as one of seven NL players to drive in a run. Northern Lebanon posted eight hits and eight walks.

"For the kids' sake, I hope that we sneak in. I'd like to see it continue on," Hess said of making the District Three Class AAA tournament. "We needed to win these last three games and we did. So we did what we needed to do and hopefully we get some help."

Raiders starter Tyler Horst lasted 1 2/3 innings, surrendering eight earned runs and five hits. The last he allowed was Wengert's game-breaking liner, which had followed a run-scoring walk, single and sacrifice fly. Junior Chase Dubendorf delivered two RBIs, even excluding the pair of runs he brought home in the third frame on a dropped rocket to center field. Most of the Vikings' offense was unnecessary, however, given the way Nichols dominated with power and precision.

"Even if I have a bad game, these guys are always going to be backing me with their defense and hitting the ball. So it's really nice," Nichols said. "You can throw pretty much anything you want because you know they're going to back you up."

The only pitch Nichols wanted back served up a double to Elco's Travis Zimmerman, who hit the left-field wall on a line in the fourth inning. But he next ran through a stop sign from coach Chris Weidner and was promptly thrown out at third on perfect relay throws from Wengert to Vikings shortstop Noah Gingrich and then third baseman Zane Merkel.

"Nothing went right tonight," said Weidner, whose team has lost four of its last five. "Going into this season we said we were very young and then we started well. And we thought we were putting some things together. My hope now is that games like this are a motivating factor for the guys going into next year."

Dubendorf connected for a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the first, plating Gingrich on a 3-2 offering from Horst. Horst worked himself into a half-dozen full counts over a difficult night for control and was relieved by Cody Good and Cole Miller.

Weidner spoke to an inconsistency with Horst's throwing motion, which flattened his fastball and let the leash off his curve.

"When he can't get that breaker over, teams just sit on the fastball," the 17-year coach remarked. "And that's what happened."

While Elco looks ahead to two non-league contests and then its 2016 season opener, Wengert said Northern Lebanon's upcoming waiting period will come down to two things.

"Practice and pray."

Elco 00000—021

W — Jordan Nichols; L — Tyler Horst.

SO-BB — NL: Nichols (8 K, 1 BB). E: Horst (2 K, 5 BB), Cody Good (0 K, 1 BB), Cole Miller (3 K, 2 BB).

2B — NL: Noah Gingrich 2, Chase Dubendorf, Isaac Wengert, Zane Merkel. E: Travis Zimmerman.