Manheim Central’s bid for fourth L-L League title falls just short
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
Alexa Campbell had been in this spot before.
In fact, it was just a couple of weeks earlier that the Lady Barons’ senior leadoff batter dug in against Donegal pitcher Kelsey Hannold in a clutch late-game situation. That time, Campbell delivered a game-tying base hit in a battle that the Central girls rallied to win 5-4 on their way to the Section Three championship.
Fate again had Campbell at the plate against Hannold last Friday with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning with the potential tying run on second base, but this time with higher stakes.
Unfortunately for the Central girls, Hannold won their latest showdown and Donegal held on for a 2-1 victory to capture the L-L League crown for the second time in three years at Willow Street’s Garrett Park.
"There’s nobody else I’d want up," Manheim Central skipper Steve Ginder said of Campbell. "The last time, she took it to Donegal in the top of the seventh. This time, we came up just short."
The loss snapped the Lady Barons’ 14-game winning streak and dropped their record to 19-4, but Central quickly turned its attention toward Tuesday’s District Three Triple-A opener, which they ….. Against ELCO.
"This hurts now," Campbell said, "but we know that we still have Districts. We’re second in the District right now, so we can still do good things and go far."
Given the rivalry that Manheim Central has with its Section Three foe Donegal, it was a classic match-up for the L-L title. The two squads split their two regular-season meetings, with Central’s 5-4 win on May 2 avenging an earlier 6-0 loss to the Lady Indians.
"Our two towns are right next to each other, so they’re our biggest rival and every year this is a big game, no matter where it is," Campbell said, "especially for us because we haven’t been in the in the league (finals) in 25 years, so this was a big game for us."
Indeed, the Manheim Central girls were looking to win the L-L crown for the first time since 1989, capping a decade in which they also won in 1980 and ’87. But it was Donegal that took the early advantage by scoring a run on two base hits in the top of the first. Lady Indians’ leadoff batter Hayley Bollinger, after fouling off five pitches on an 0-2 count, finally singled to center to start the rally.
"She gave me a heck of a fight," Campbell smiled. "I was getting annoyed — I just wanted to strike her out."
After Steph Gainer sacrificed Bollinger to second, Hannold singled to right to put runners at first and third and then cleanup hitter Brooke Swarr hit a sacrifice fly to right field, putting Donegal up 1-0.
The lead didn’t last long, however. On a 1-0 pitch from Hannold in the bottom of the first, Campbell laced a home run over the head of Donegal left fielder April Yost to tie the game 1-all.
"That felt good," Campbell said. "I thought that was a lot of motivation to get us going, so it felt good to start that off in the beginning of the game."
The Lady Indians, though, answered in the top of the second. Campbell retired the first two batters she faced, but then Sophia Leaman slugged a triple to left and scored the go-ahead run when MC third baseman Aerika High threw high to first on Katrina Martin’s grounder.
From there, Manheim Central got a leadoff base hit by High in the bottom of the second and two-out base hits from Sam Ginder and Miranda Becker in the third and fourth, but Central couldn’t string together a rally. Hannold, riding an effective rise pitch, held the Lady Barons in check with eight strikeouts while scattering six hits and walking none.
Campbell, too, gave her squad a chance while tossing a six-hitter. Although Central thought that she was squeezed a little bit on the outside corner with her drop curve, she worked through it and commanded her inside pitches to strike out six and walk none. She pitched out of a jam in the third when Hannold ripped a one-out triple, as she got back-to-back ground outs. After retiring the side in order in the fourth and fifth frames, with four K’s, Campbell was in trouble in the sixth, courtesy of a leadoff double by Hannold. But she ended the threat by getting Donegal’s Yost on strikes.
"There wasn’t anything that (Alexa) could have done differently," Ginder said of his ace’s performance.
Still, the Lady Barons found themselves trailing by a run going into their final at-bats in the bottom of the seventh. Becker gave Central hope when she hit a smash into left-center field gap, and although Donegal center fielder Swarr ranged far to her right and got her glove on it, she couldn’t hold on and Becker was on first. One out later, Katelyn Grazan sacrificed her to second base, and that set the stage for Campbell. Hannold worked a 1-2 count and then ended the game with a strikeout.
"The last time I was in this same position and I got lucky and I got a solid hit," Campbell said. "So I just knew I had to stay calm and look for contact and not try to kill it, but …"
For the Lady Barons, they are now 3-4 all-time in the L-L finals, with other losses in 1986, 1991 and 2002. With a victory last Friday, the Central girls could have avenged a loss to Donegal in the 2002 title game, but it wasn’t meant to be.
"We’ve always had a lot of close games (with Donegal), always well fought, but neither team likes to lose," Ginder said. "It would have been real sweet to beat them, but that’s not the way it goes tonight."
Last Wednesday, May 18 in the semi-finals, Central put up a five-spot in the first inning and went on to defeat Warwick 8-5 at Garrett Park. Sam Ginder finished 2-for-3 with an RBI and High was 2-for-4 with an RBI to lead Central’s offense off of Warwick pitchers Tessa Eckman and Bri Ord. Eckman yielded just two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings while striking out two and walking three and scattering six hits in the losing cause. More LADY BARONS, page B-6