Notebook: The best of 2016 Lebanon County baseball
Welcome to the end.
The end of first pitches and last outs, the end of two-out rallies and one more strike.
With the Palmyra baseball team closing its 2016 book Monday in the state tournament, the rest of Lebanon County high school baseball now does the same.
It's been a real round-tripper of a season.
In turn, it's time to recap the last two-plus months on the diamond and honor the best of the best. Below you will find the last of my notes from the spring, including commentary and newly unearthed stats on every ball club. And at the bottom of this piece live the names of Lebanon County's MVP, Cy Young, Rookie and Comeback Player of the Year award winners.
On to the goods.
13-8, 10-6 Section Four
Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament quarterfinalist, District Three AA tournament quarterfinalist
A losing skid arrived at the Little Dutchmen's doorstep mid-season, but with it came a note promising hope for the future. Despite dropping five of six, they still owned the best run differential in Lebanon County as of April 26, indicating their struggles were more misfortune than meaningful statement about the quality of their club.
Then times improved, the winning returned and that note never went away.
Finishing with a mark of +61 runs through 21 games, the Little Dutchmen produced the best run differential in Lebanon County by a sizable margin. While partially inflated from games against poor section competition, that figure offers decent insight into the offensive and defensive balance Annville-Cleona employed this spring. Even versus top-tier opposition, Scott Shyda's squad carried its own.
Playing against a school that sits two classes higher, the Little Dutchmen lost 3-0 in the L-L tournament to Ephrata, District Three's eventual AAAA champion. Later, the red and white fell by a single run while visiting the district's second-best AA ball club in Upper Dauphin. They were formidable no matter the level of talent inside the opposing dugout.
Super stat: Annville-Cleona succeeded on better than 90 percent of its stolen base attempts.
4-16, 3-13 Section One
No coach likes to use this word more than any other, but yes, the Falcons were rebuilding in 2016.
Cedar Crest's 20 players to see an at-bat during the varsity season were a program high for any county club. First-year skipper Josh Brown regularly churned the bottom of his roster with JV call-ups for most of the spring in efforts to find optimal lineup combinations and season young talent for the future. While Cedar Crest's final record rung disappointingly familiar, important strides were made.
Justin Frazier, Joe Carpenter, Kyle Poorman and other underclassmen emerged as key cogs, and junior Ethan Stickler pieced together the best individual campaign of any player in blue and white. Senior double-play partners Iziah Trimble and Jacee Orta now leave behind the first building block of a new era, having finished second and third in hits, respectively.
To be quite frank, there was little hope outside of their own dugout that the Falcons could compete in a stacked Section One (three teams finished in the top five of the district's AAAA power ratings).But thanks to the hard lessons learned and reps logged in 2016, they are assured of better days ahead.
Super stat: Whether by design or accident, Cedar Crest operated offensively by one of the most basic principles of sabermetrics and rarely bunted. They dropped down only a dozen all year.
14-9, 11-6 Section Three
Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament semifinalist, District Three AAA tournament qualifier
The last time the Raiders enjoyed as much success they did in 2016, Twitter was just a small, unknown, 140-character blip on the internet's radar. Suffice to say, this was a special spring.
But when it comes to hardware, Elco nonetheless went home empty-handed like the majority of clubs. They just left richer in memories than most any L-L team. Just take your pick.
There was the late six-games-in-six-days push to make the playoffs, the L-L tournament upset of reigning district champion Hempfield and first district berth since 2010.
How Elco managed all this, of course, was a blend of timely hitting, solid pitching and defense. Yet the story of the 2016 Raiders is incomplete without any mention of their unique mental approach and dugout atmosphere; the unrelenting positive vibes that pushed back when negatives of a grueling schedule or early-game deficit came knocking. The ultimate reason this squad was among the best Elco's had in years was because it was the first of its kind.
Super stat: Elco's Travis Weaver connected for two hits this spring. One was a home run.
12-8, 10-6 Section Three
Much has been made of the Cedars' program turnaround. After all, the fact that Lebanon, sitting at 2-18 just two years ago, competed for a section title until the regular season's dying days is nothing short of remarkable.
Somehow, the Cedars also managed to match their mighty on-field accomplishments with off-field impact.
You may have heard about second-year coach Mike Toomey raising $2,600 from scratch through the sale of "K Cancer" T-shirts for Lebanon High freshman Arelis Rodriguez, who is currently battling Neuroblastoma. Before that took place, he offered a manager position to Adam Sauerwein, an LHS sophomore suffering from Rasmussen's Syndrome.
During the off-season, Toomey read about Sauerwein's visit with the Philadelphia Phillies, an experience made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Then he took matters into his own hands.
"I saw the article and knew him from the middle school. Once I found out he was a baseball fan and got all the OKs, I took it upon myself to invite him to be a manager," Toomey said. "He's got a pretty good baseball IQ."
Throughout the year, Sauerwein attended practices, sat in the dugout during games and took batting practice beforehand. He also received a varsity letter once the season was over.
The most telling moment of Sauerwein's acceptance, however, arguably arrived after Lebanon's season-opening win. Readying to punctuate their first triumph over Cedar Crest in more than 20 years with a post-game breakdown, the Cedars saw Sauerwein standing to the side and not only invited him in, but asked him to lead the chant.
It went: "One, two, three ... family!"
Super stat: Despite winning seven games that closed with a potential save situation, no Lebanon player recorded a save in 2016.
*0-16, 0-12 Section Four
The black-and-white nature of records and standings masks the small gray area of progress the Beavers covered this season.
They scored more runs and played more meaningful innings than a year ago. Noah Marinkov, the team's ace, and Joe Gates both landed on Section Four's all-star second team. Kameron Schott held his own in four-plus innings during Lebanon Catholic's finale against Annville-Cleona, when four Beavers recorded RBIs over a six-frame defeat.
And that last number not only highlighted Lebanon Catholic's willingness to play another difficult campaign through to its final out. It was a season high.
So pass on the temptation to look and say just another season on Assumption Hill. The differences are there, and so was the improvement.
Super stat: The Beavers tied Annville-Cleona for most infielders landed on Section Four's all-star second team.
12-8, 10-6 Section Three
Big bats again carried the Vikings' campaign, another sadly left on the fringe of the district tournament picture. Should Northern Lebanon have qualified, there is no question Daryl Hess' ball club could have done some damage. They owned the best offense in Lebanon County without question.
The Vikes won eight of their last nine games, outscoring opponents by a ridiculous 70-15 margin. Publicly, they credited those bats for a second-half revival of their season, though clearly, quality pitching owned an equal stake. And in particular, Northern Lebanon's pitching depth.
Michigan Daub and Seth Walmer backed ace Isaac Wengert quite well in the rotation and answered a significant preseason question of who would replace graduated aces Wyatt Beakler and Jordan Nichols. Walmer handed Elco its lone loss down the stretch, a 3-0 shutout that included a half-dozen strikeouts. He also threw eight three-hit innings against Lebanon in a game that largely decided each of their respective fates.
Were it not for their mound efforts, there's likely no season comeback. And as much as it might hurt to come close to the playoffs and miss, never realizing the potential of such a talented club would've been a far worse fate in Fredericksburg.
Super stats: These both deserve high-fives. Wengert allowed only five walks during more than 40 innings pitched in league play, while only five L-L runners attempted to steal against catcher Chase Dubendorf.
17-8, 11-5 Mid Penn Keystone
District Three AAA tournament finalist; PIAA AAA tournament qualifier
Hyped in this space as Lebanon County's most well-rounded team preseason, the Cougars had the look of its most unpredictable through four weeks.
And then they went on one of the biggest tears District Three saw this spring.
Winning 10 straight, Palmyra landed in this year's District Three AAA title game against Hamburg, where the black and orange eventually fell, 7-0. But to sour on that result would be to frown upon biting through to the core of a delicious apple. You forgot about all the good parts along the way.
Fighting injuries, fierce division opposition and the stress of tight ball games, the Cougars overcame everything to push themselves atop the postseason picture. They held opposing lineups to an average of fewer than two runs per game during the streak, while Isaac Blatt supplanted Tyler Julian as the team's ace once Julian was lost to Tommy John surgery.
Additionally, the defense behind Blatt and Co. shored up, essentially eliminating the big inning for opponents that had plagued them earlier in the year. Palmyra errors, instead of leading to larger deficits, largely just disappeared. And in their place filled in one of the best runs in program history.
Super stat: The Cougars' 7-6 state tournament lost to Palmerton was the first game they lost all season in which they scored at least three runs.
Isaac Blatt, Palmyra
Simply put, Blatt did it all.
Hitting, pitching and fielding, the Cougar junior was there for his team time and again, particularly in big games. Blatt went the distance and allowed a total of two earned runs in his last six starts, including three starts during the postseason. He became the Cougars' most consistent batter, as highlighted by his .500 playoff batting average. And we can't forget the rangy shortstop he played to snare extra outs in the field.
Without Blatt, Palmyra does not come close to making the run it did. He personified the concept of great baseball value in every way possible.
Michael Deleon, Lebanon
The quiet owner of the loudest and best pure stuff in Lebanon County, Deleon dominated hitters like nobody else.
His 0.70 ERA astounds upon first glance, much like the knee-buckling breaker he often dropped in after a high heater. Deleon struck out 50 batters in 40 innings pitched, while surrendering only 17 hits. Whether battling one of the district's top AAAA team, like Penn Manor in his season debut, or eventual section champ Manheim Central, the Cedars' right-hander put hitters on their heels and then often straight back to the dugout.
Rookie of the Year
Michigan Daub, Northern Lebanon
The Vikings sophomore enjoyed a cup of coffee at the varsity level a year ago, and his 2016 campaign was as hot as a fresh pot.
Daub pieced together a .534 on-base percentage, smashed seven doubles, two triples and a home run during league play. He bounced between center field and the pitcher's mound, playing both effectively. While opponents typically, and rightfully, worried about how to handle Northern Lebanon's 3-4 hitting combo of Wengert and Dubendorf, Daub almost always made them pay from the No. 5 hole.
Coach of the Year
Chris Weidner, Elco
What's that they say about old dogs and new tricks?
Forget about it.
Weidner's 18th year at the helm produced terrific results, in part due to a newly mental training program supplied by friend and former opposing coach, Jeff Swarr. Mental approach aside, these Raiders proved to be the finest defensive team in the county. Late in the year, they coupled those golden gloves with hot bats and pushed into the postseason.
Wherever Elco went, it believed and bought in to Weidner's message. And that will always be a hallmark of good coaching.
Comeback Player of the Year
Joe Gates, Lebanon Catholic
Gates returned after a lost 2015 season to become a Section Four all-star during a winless campaign for the Beavers. He finished strong, too, recording a hit and a run in their season finale at Annville-Cleona.