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Legion baseball: Cumberland County league heats up, heads into regular season's second half
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Legion Baseball

Legion baseball: Cumberland County league heats up, heads into regular season's second half

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The pandemic silenced the schedule for Cumberland County’s American Legion baseball contingent in 2020, shutting down the annual bridge between the high school season and the summer and disrupting the ballplayers’ routine and rhythm.

Order was restored, somewhat, when the county’s Legion league launched again in early June. Nine teams returned, with the exception of West Perry, forming two divisions for scheduling purposes and taking on the sprint of a 12-game regular season. The top four teams overall qualify for the league playoffs set for July 10-13.

The league’s champion advances to the Region 4 tournament scheduled for July 16-20, at a site to be determined, with the chance to advance to state and national playoffs.

Through the first half of the season, Hampden Township shot to the top of the division that includes Duncannon, Enola, New Cumberland and Red Land. In the other division, Dillsburg took the lead in a pack that also features Mechanicsburg, Newville and Mount Holly.

With half the schedule left on the slate, here’s a look at each of the Cumberland County Legion teams with notes, quotes and statistics.

Dillsburg Post 26 (Record: 7-1)

Dillsburg captured the county league’s last title in 2019 and made a strong opening statement in its case for a repeat with four straight wins to open the season, including a dramatic win over Mechanicsburg June 17. Trailing 1-0 in the seventh inning, Dillsburg plated two runs, including one on Alex Williams’ game-winning single, to maintain its early season momentum.

Featuring a core of Northern baseball varsity players, who saw their spring season end with a walk-off loss to Red Land in the District 3 Class 5A championship, followed by a first-round loss in the state tournament to eventual-champion Bethel Park, a determined Dillsburg team posted a run differential of plus-64 through Monday’s 16-0 win over Duncannon.

Duncannon Post 340 (0-7)

Fielding four high school varsity players, Duncannon went winless through the first half of the season and turned over all but two roster spots from two years ago. The team’s two returning players — center fielder Caleb Roy and shortstop Andrew Burget — would have been Susquenita seniors during the canceled varsity season. “They didn’t have their senior season last year,” said Duncannon coach Eric Fisher, “so they’re trying to have it now.”

Enola Post 751 (1-5)

With participation down, Enola’s lineup features players primarily from East Pennsboro and Camp Hill. With a young roster featuring a large group of eighth- and ninth-grade players, coach Rick Comrey’s group looks to build on its experience in the second half of the season.

“It’s starting to come together,” Comrey said.

Hampden Township (5-0)

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High school success translated into a hot start for Hampden, which pulls varsity players from Cumberland Valley, a District 3 quarterfinalist, and Trinity, which advanced to the PIAA tournament, and won a state-playoff game, for the first time in school history.

“They came right out of (high school) playoffs,” said third-year coach Todd Warner, “and just kept rolling.”

The high point of the early season surge came in a 4-3 walk-off win over Dillsburg June 22, when the team answered a three-run Dillsburg fourth inning with three runs in the fifth and a Noah Riegel game-winning single in the seventh. In four other victories, Hampden outscored opponents by a combined score of 39-5.

Mechanicsburg Post 109 (5-3)

Aside from a pair of wins by double-digit margins — 11-1 over Duncannon in the season opener and 15-0 against Enola Thursday — Mechanicsburg’s season has been defined by tight games and late rallies, including a 3-2 win over New Cumberland June 9 that saw coach Scott Cavada’s team erase an early 2-0 deficit. A balanced Mechanicsburg lineup features six players batting over .350, three of them over .400, with at least 12 plate appearances each entering Monday’s 2-0 loss to Red Land. It complements a pitching staff that has not surrendered more than four runs in a game.

Mount Holly Post 674 (2-7)

After splitting its first two games, Mount Holly saw its season stumble into six straight losses, a streak snapped with a forfeit win over Duncannon Thursday. Within the losses, coach Paul Vonstein saw the value of game experience for his junior-heavy squad against some of the area’s best competition.

“This is going to set us up,” Vonstein said. “This is going to help us come next spring.”

New Cumberland Post 143 (4-1)

After dropping a one-run decision to Mechanicsburg in its opener, New Cumberland rattled off four straight wins. Depth has helped the program that boasts full varsity and junior-varsity lineups and features a core of Cedar Cliff players and alumni. “Everyone at Cedar Cliff is really pulling on the same rope,” said George Estep, who draws from three decades of coaching experience. The core of Colts includes lefty Brandon Olinger, who racked up 13 strikeouts to one walk and one hit batter in a six-inning 1-0 shutout against Newville June 21.

Newville Post 421 (3-5)

Taking the reins as Big Spring’s varsity head coach last October, Jesse Bortner entered the Legion season with plans to build the culture and chemistry of a program plagued by low turnout but rife with opportunities for younger players. He took a platoon approach to the season, using three to four pitchers a night and distributing equal playing time among position players to get a better look at his roster’s overall makeup.

“We tell these guys that these innings matter,” Bortner said.

Newville’s bats averaged 7.3 runs per game in the team’s three wins and 0.8 runs per game in five losses.

Red Land Post 974 (3-1)

The last team out of the proverbial gates due to its high school players’ run to the state-championship game, Red Land won its first two contests before spotting Dillsburg two runs in the first inning en route to a 5-2 loss Thursday. Red Land responded with a 2-0 win over Mechanicsburg Monday in which Ethan Phillips and Brady Ebbert combined for a two-hit shutout, striking out 11 while allowing four walks. Cooper Artley collected six hits to lead the team over its first four games while Phillips took a team lead by driving in six total runs for coach Bill Willoughby’s bunch.

Tim Gross is the sports editor at The Sentinel and cumberlink.com. Email him at tgross@cumberlink.com and follow him on Twitter at: @ByTimGross

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