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BASEBALL: A-C drops L-L opener in heartbreaking fashion

EPHRATA >> Nobody could have seen this one coming.

Hempfield, the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section One champ and top-ranked baseball team in District Three Class AAAA, manufactured a run in the bottom of the seventh inning to outlast feisty Annville-Cleona 6-5 in the league playoffs Saturday night at Ephrata's War Memorial Stadium.

After loading the bases with a single, a sacrifice bunt that went for a hit and a controversial call at third base, the Black Knights' No. 3 hitter, Derek Manning, let an inside fastball brush his pants leg to force in the winning run.

A batter earlier, A-C thought it had an out at third when reliever Mitch Long fielded Jon Peterson's bunt and fired to third baseman Colton Long. The throw appeared to arrive in plenty of time, but the runner was called safe to set up Manning's walk-off hit by pitch.

"He was out by a mile," said Long, who went 3-for-4 on the night with three singles and an RBI. "I couldn't believe the umpire made that call."

The winning rally wiped out an effort by the Little Dutchmen that saw them out-hit Hempfield 11-6. They also held a 4-2 lead in the fifth and tied the game 5-5 in the sixth off Peterson, the winning pitcher, who was throwing 90 mph darts at them.

It also wasted a gutsy performance by A-C starter Jordan Gohn, who limited Hempfield to four hits over five innings, while striking out five and walking four.

"I couldn't be more proud of my guys," A-C coach Scott Shyda said. "It was a great game. We had way too many positives come out of this game moving forward to focus on one negative play (the missed call at third)."

The two teams took divergent paths into the postseason. The Black Knights, 14-1 in Section One and now 19-2 overall, were riding a 12-game winning streak, including a recent 14-1 win over Warwick, which was one of only two teams to have beaten them this year.

The Little Dutchmen, now 10-11 overall, were in the throes of a four-game losing streak, that included a 9-2 non-league loss to Tulpehocken in its regular season finale. As runner up in Section Four, A-C went 9-7.

Hempfield broke on top with a pair of runs in the first on a walk, Manning's first of two hit by pitches, and a two-run single by catcher Jon Beck.

But A-C's Long opened the second with a single and three straight Hempfield errors, two of which being infield throws that were lost in the setting sun, put A-C on the board. A Noah Connor single then drove in a run to make it 2-2.

In A-C's fifth, consecutive singles by brothers Colton and Hunter Long and a walk to Mitch Long loaded the bases. Manning, the Hempfield starter, was lifted for Peterson, a hard-throwing southpaw who has committed to Longwood University.

Peterson had trouble locating the strike zone and walked Tyler Schrader and Isaac Woefling to hand A-C its 4-2 lead. Peterson settled down quickly and got three straight strikeouts with the bases loaded to strand three of A-C's 13 runners left on base.

Hempfield answered with three in the fifth off Gohn with three singles, a walk and a long sacrifice fly by Beck.

A-C wasn't done yet. In the sixth, shortstop Alec Barr singled, advanced to second on a ground out and scored on Colton Long's RBI single to right center.

Barr again singled in the seventh, but Peterson got Hunter Long to fly out to right to end the inning with Colton Long in the on deck circle.

"Man, I wanted one more crack at (Peterson)," Long said. "He was bringing it pretty good, but he didn't throw me any curveballs. I was just sitting on his fastball."

The loss should set up A-C for the upcoming District Three AA playoffs.

"We're taking a ton of energy from this game into the district playoffs," Colton Long said.

If, that is, A-C gets in. The chances are good as a No. 9 or No. 10 seed.

"We're not officially in yet, but we hope to be," Shyda said. "Considering who we played tonight, this was probably our best game of the year. We slumped a little lately, but this is a new season. We have the utmost respect for Hempfield. We know how good they are and what kind of players they have.

"To out-hit Hempfield 11-6, to have 13 runners left on base and for Jordan to four-hit them over five innings, I couldn't be happier with the way we played tonight."

Hempfield 6, Annville-Cleona 5


W — Jon Peterson; L — Mitch Long;

SO-BB — AC: Jordan Gohn (5 K, 4 BB), Long ( 1 K, 0 BB), H: Derek Manning (1 K, 1 BB), Peterson (5 K, 2 BB);