VFW takes game one Peters pitches Lititz past Donegal, 9-5, in NET qualifier
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
Zach Peters was probably pitching with a chip on his shoulder.
In the Lititz VFW’s previous visit to Marietta’s War Memorial Field, Donegal had his number.
The ace right-hander no doubt remembered that game as he climbed the hill in the opener of a best-of-three New Era Tournament qualifying series on Monday night.
And although he didn’t have his best stuff, Peters showed his inner bulldog and battled like a champ. That, combined with a balanced offensive attack and a clutch defensive effort, led the sixth-seeded Lititz VFW to a 9-5 victory over third-seeded Donegal and a one game to none lead heading back to Lititz.
The VFW (23-12) hosted Donegal last night (Wednesday) in the Coolest Small Town in America with a chance to punch its ticket to the NET dance.
"As far as Zach, we can’t ask for anymore," Lititz skipper Jamie Weachter remarked. "The kid comes out and throws his guts out and just throws a great game. He has a lot of pride. He came back tonight (after his previous outing against Donegal) with something to prove and he certainly did it."
Peters fell just one out short of a complete-game, striking out five while firing 108 pitches over 5@-E innings. Although he gave up five runs on eight hits, four walks and two hit batters, he gave his team an opportunity to win, even after Donegal took a 3-2 lead in the third inning.
"I know my best stuff wasn’t there and I was having a little back problem," Peters said. "I was just trying to get through that and I knew my defense would be there for me."
His defense was most certainly there for him. Shortstop Ethan Price made a brilliant diving catch on Dale Houser’s line drive up the middle to save a run in the fourth, and right fielder Eric Garner had two outfield assists, including a strike to the plate in the bottom of the seventh to cut down a potential run.
"I preach all the time we’ve got to play good defense," Weachter said. "Defense keeps us in games."
"That was amazing," Peters said of Price’s grab. "I didn’t even see it go by and it almost hit the (base) umpire. I don’t know how he caught that."
Dalton Uibel (2-for-5, 2 RBI’s) had no problem catching up to a pitch from Donegal starter Connor Green leading off the game, slamming a solo home run to left field to give the VFW an early 1-0 lead. From there, Peters helped his own cause with a single and scored on Cole Barolo’s (1-for-3, 2 walks, 2 RBI’s) RBI double.
"We talked before the game and we wanted to come out in the first inning and jump on them and then shut them down," Weachter said. "Well, Dalton leads off with a home, run, but then we keep battling and we score another one. So we get two runs the first inning, which is huge and then Zach comes out and shuts them down."
Donegal, though, got one back in the bottom of the second inning on Ian Rapp’s walk and Brady Steinmann’s RBI triple to right-center, and then they added two in the third on Kyle Hess’ RBI double and Green’s RBI single, giving them the lead 3-2.
But it was Donegal’s only lead of the night and it was short-lived.
In the top of the fourth, the bottom of Lititz’s batting order proved clutch. Eight-hole hitter Nate Hess, seeing his first action since elbow surgery, singled to right, and then Stephen Poliski (2-for-3, 2 runs) pushed a perfect bunt base hit past the pitcher, putting two runners on base.
"Nate’s just coming back in the lineup. He has pins in his elbow, but he gets a single," Weachter said, "and then Stephen Poliski makes a perfect bunt, puts it in no-man’s land and beats it out. So now we’re at the top of the lineup and that’s key for us is to get through the bottom of the lineup and get to our big guns and that worked. That was a big inning."
Uibel notched his second RBI of the game with a single up the middle, chasing Green, who gave up five earned runs on six hits, two hit batters and two walks in three-plus innings. Jake Weachter then greeted reliever Chris Nash with a run-scoring single to left and Ethan Norman added an RBI ground out to first to make it 5-3.
"(The bottom of the order) gets a lot of credit for that (rally)," Peters remarked. "They just started it off for us and we just kept going."
Donegal made things interesting with a run in the bottom of the fifth, as Hess (1-for-2, walk, 3 runs) was hit by a pitch with one out and scored on Rapp’s (2-for-3, 2 RBI’s) run-scoring single, halving Lititz’s lead to 5-4.
But the VFW pulled away in the sixth while capitalizing on command issues from Donegal relievers Nash and Dawson Magar. After Poliski beat out an infield single in the hole between third and short, Jake Weachter and Peters worked back-to-back one-out walks to load the bases. Poliski scored when Norman was hit by a pitch, Barolo forced in another run on a five-pitch walk, and Josh Weachter delivered an RBI base hit to drive in Peters for an 8-4 advantage. Norman scored the final run of the inning when Hess reached on an error, making it 9-5.
"I was real happy because we stayed disciplined," Weachter said. "Put the ball in play, don’t chase bad pitches and good things happen. That sixth inning when we tacked on a lot of runs, that’s huge because this is a very good (Donegal) team and this is a team that’s going to battle."
At that point, the only unanswered question was whether Peters would finish what he started. After breezing through a nine-pitch bottom of the sixth, he returned to the hill in the seventh. Although Houser led off with a hard-hit triple to left-center, he was erased on the arm of Garner, who caught Seiler Edwards’ fly to right and then heaved a one-hop strike to catcher Barolo to nail him at the plate.
"That was huge," Weachter said.
When Hess followed with a walk and then Green was hit by a pitch, Peters’ night was done. Reliever Norman got the ball, and although Rapp managed an RBI single, Norman shut the door after that to nail down the win.
Following the game, Weachter emphasized to his players to show up focused for game two.
"These guys (Donegal) aren’t going to quit," he said. "I told them after the game, ‘Wednesday night has to be our best game of the year. Tonight is over. Enjoy this tonight and it’s over because these guys are not going to quit.’ We do not want to come back up here on Friday."
"I think (the win) is good," Peters said, "because we put a lot more pressure on them now because they’re the higher seed and now they have one loss."
More LITITZ VFW, page B-3