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Northern Lebanon shuts out Elco, tightens Section 3 race

Regarding the relationship among the six baseball teams that comprise Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League: It’s complicated.

The final week of the regular season notably began Monday afternoon with Northern Lebanon junior right-hander Seth Walmer firing a four-hitter to beat Elco, 3-0.

Elsewhere in the section, Manheim Central beat Cocalico 6-2, and Lebanon beat Donegal 2-1.

Soooo … three losses continue to separate the first-place Barons (11-7 overall, 11-3 Section Three) from the last-place Indians (8-8, 7-6). There is a virtual three-way tie for second involving the Cedars (11-7, 9-5), Eagles (9-8, 8-5) and Raiders (9-6, 8-5). There are makeup games to be played (especially by the Raiders). And – oh, the humanity – tie-breakers will likely be needed to determine which two teams represent the section in the league playoffs, which begin Saturday in Ephrata.

On that score, a gold star goes to Vikings coach Daryl Hess for actually studying those tie-breakers.

“I have most of them down,” he said after his team improved to 9-6 in league play, and 11-8 overall.

Ah, so he’s the one.

Hess, who is in his 21st season, and Elco boss Chris Weidner, who is in his 18th, have never seen a race like this one.

“It’s pretty wild,” Hess said.

Walmer, on the other hand, was not. He struck out six without issuing a walk, did not allow more than one baserunner in any single inning and did not permit a runner to advance past second base.

“I’m glad,” he said, “I came through for my teammates.”

They seemed no less grateful.

“All right, everybody,” backup outfielder Caleb Fischer said as everyone gathered in the dugout after the game. “Let’s give a round of applause to Seth for a great pitching game.”

A parent ducked his head around a corner to congratulate Walmer as well.

“Ice,” the man advised. “Stretch, then ice.”

Walmer said he leaned on the usual fastball-changeup combination, with an occasional slider mixed in as well. Weidner, whose team has struggled at the plate most of the season, thought there was a little more to it than that – that the downward action on some of Walmer’s offerings indicated the use of a split-fingered pitch.

It’s not that the Raiders didn’t know what was coming, either. Many of them had watched Walmer throw eight shutout innings in a 10-inning loss to Lebanon last week.

“I wish we could make adjustments at the plate,” Weidner said, “but we didn’t.”

Walmer also had two hits in three trips, and after doubling to open the fourth scored the game’s first run, on a single by Zach Seltzer.

Chase Dubendorf added an RBI double in the fifth, and the final run came home when Isaac Wengert grounded a single through the left side of the infield with two aboard in the seventh. An error on the play allowed Noah Gingrich, who was going to stop at third, to make it to the plate.

All of which leaves the Vikes in an unenviable position. They have just one game left, Thursday at Donegal. Elco has four to play, beginning with a non-leaguer Tuesday at home against Trinity, and the section’s other teams have makeup dates as well.

There is still much to be determined. The relationship within the section remains complicated.