The moment of truth came early for the Warwick Phillies and for Mountville Indians starting pitcher Patrick Welsh.
Phillies pitcher Matt Ruhl led off the top of the second inning with a hit, and pinchrunner Dylan Adams was soon standing on third base, courtesy of a balk and a wild pitch.
The momentum of this scoreless baseball game was clearly with the Phillies.
But Welsh, a two-year veteran of the Indians in his first year as a starting pitcher, calmly reached back and struck out the next three hitters.
That switched the momentum to Mountville’s side of Kunkle Field.
The Indians rode it to a 10-2 victory in the Midget-Midget championship game of the LNP Tournament.
In claiming its third consecutive Midget-Midget title, Mountville (44-7) joins the 1994-96 Manheim Junior-Midgets and the 2001-03 Hempfield Midgets on the short list of programs that have 3-peated.
Mixing fastballs, knuckleballs and curves, Welsh had the Phillies (20-13) beating the ball into the ground when they managed to make contact.
He finished with seven strikeouts, didn’t walk a batter and recorded ten groundball outs.
Two other grounders were mishandled for errors and a third went for an infield single.
Ruhl’s shot to right in the second was the only ball hit by the Phillies that reached the outfield.
“He was hitting his spots,” noted Bob Sauders, Indians’ coach and architect of their long string of success.
“We haven’t seen a curveball like that, a change of pace like that, all year,” said Phillies’ coach Dave Erb. “He made some quality pitches, no doubt.”
Welsh’s teammates made the task a little easier, banging out 13 hits, seven in a 6-run, fifth-inning uprising that salted the game away.
Afterward, Welsh said he felt few jitters.
“I’ve been in situations like that before,” he said. “I figured, ‘Don’t mess up. Just throw strikes.’ That’s all I could do.”
Riding the wave generated by Welsh, the Indians took the lead in the bottom of the inning on Mark Feiler’s RBI hit and Aaron Law’s 2-run single.
Welsh helped himself in the third inning, stealing home after getting his second hit if the game.
The Phillies halved Mountville’s advantage in the fourth on some uncharacteristic fielding misadventures by Mountville.
J.T. Garner reached base on an error on his bouncer up the thirdbase line, then stole second.
Ruhl’s infield single to short advanced Garner to third and he scored on Deron Thompson’s groundout to short.
Second baseman Cullen Wolf couldn’t find the handle on Nate Lawrence’s grounder. It would’ve been the third out, and Adams, running for Ruhl, scampered home with the second run.
Lawrence stole second, but was gunned down trying to steal third to end the threat. He was Warwick’s last baserunner.
After Mountville’s early output, Ruhl settled in, needing only eight pitches in the fourth inning to retire the side.
He got the first out of the fifth on one pitch, but then he ran into a buzzsaw.
Law doubled loudly to centerfield. Wolf picked up an infield hit to short. With runners on second and third, Welsh hit a grounder to short.
Kyle Keener elected to come home to get Law, running on contact, but Law slid under Deron Thompson’s tag at home.
Thompson recovered to throw out Welsh, trying to take second, but Wolf steamed home on the play.
Then Mountville strung five straight hits. Josh Longsderff singled. Steve Remley hit an RBI double and, after Ruhl was replaced by Darren Erb, pinch hitter Andrew Weitzel lobbed an RBI double into center. That was followed by RBI singles by Brad Hoffman and Brent Pickell.
What began with Welsh’s momentum-grabber ended with Mountville grabbing the champion’s trophy.
“Momentum, especially in this age group, is everything,” Sauders said. “A team that can control that usually will win the game.”
Indians’ battle cry: ‘Pass it on’
By Jason Guarente
LNP Sports Writer
With three outs to go, the Mountville Indians gathered outside their dugout for what they hoped was the final time.
Coach Bob Sauders was their ringleader, the center of the boys’ attention.
“Pass it on!” he said with a modest scream.
With that, the players hopped up and down for a second, then charged onto the field so fast they nearly tripped over one another along the way.
Pass it on? As motivational speeches go, this one seemed, well, unusual.
Not for the Indians. They’ve been saying those words since the beginning of the season. The phrase became their theme. They wanted to be a link in the Mountville baseball chain.
Pass on the winning. Pass on the tradition. And, after Tuesday night, pass on the trophy. All to next year’s team.
Mountville continued its dynasty in the Midget-Midget Division of the LNP Tournament at Kunkle Field. The Indians defeated the Warwick Phillies 10-2 for their third straight championship.
“I didn’t think we could do that in the beginning of the year because it’s so hard,” Sauders said. “All season we’ve had a target on our backs. Teams have gotten hyped up to play us.”
The Indians’ response to this pressure has been to get just as hyped as everyone else.
It’s part of the beauty of winning. As soon as you taste it, you want some more. Two straight titles weren’t enough for the members of this year’s team. They craved a three-peat.
The Indians play with boundless enthusiasm. The kids never sit on the bench in the dugout. They’re always propped up against the fence, always encouraging their teammates. They’re just hungry to win. “That’s the sign of a champion,” Warwick coach Dave Erb said of his rivals. “They play hard and they expect a lot of themselves.”
In Mountville’s final two victories of this tournament, Sauders never once had to get his team’s energy level up.
Consider this scene from the fifth inning against the Phillies: After catcher Steve Remley belted an RBI double, pitcher Patrick Welsh jogged onto the field to pick up a stray helmet. With his throwing arm wrapped in a sweatshirt, he scooped up the helmet then trotted over to Remley for a quick high-five, then sprinted back to the dugout.
Mountville’s 4-2 lead had quickly blossomed to 10-2. That was enough to get Welsh moving.
“I was psyched,” he said. “It was a tight game and that hit opened it up for us.”
Welsh is one of the centerpieces of the Indians. He bats third and routinely drills line drives. He’s also the ace of the pitching staff. Against Warwick, he allowed two runs on two hits. Of the 68 pitches he threw, just 13 were balls.
Still, he was the one racing across the diamond to congratulate a teammate.
Where does all of this energy come from?
“Last year the veterans on this team had it,” Welsh said. “I’m trying to take the role of a veteran. I’m a second-year player with all of the experience.”
While listening to a 12-year-old use the term veteran to describe himself is enough to bring a smile to one’s face, Welsh had made his point. He’s a leader and the rest of the guys mirror his boyish excitement.
That’s why, as the Indians recorded those final three outs to improve to 44-7, they were able to celebrate like it was their first win. And their first championship.
That’s why they passed it on.
“I don’t like to lose,” Welsh said, flashing a smile. “Winning makes me happy,”
If that’s the case, he’s on the right team.