BY DAVE BYRNE
For five innings it looked like another night of struggling at the plate for the Lititz Oddfellows.
Then the bats came to life.
Limited to a run on three hits by Cocalico’s Austin Harven, the Oddfellows (16-2) exploded for six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning on six hits, a walk and a hit batter.
“It got away from us in a hurry,” Cocalico coach Doug Sawyer said.
The offensive outburst led to a 7-4 victory and the championship of the 70th LNP Midget Baseball Tournament on Sunday night at Clipper Magazine Stadium.
It was the fifth LNP title in the midget division in 10 years for Lititz, which also won in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2013. It was also Lititz’s fifth finals appearance without a loss.
Coach Bill Weismandel deflected any suggestion that this might’ve been an unlikely championship, but, “I knew we’ve have to play better than we were coming into (the tournament).
“The bats kind of went a little cold coming into the tournament and, obviously, after the first few games. But, boy, we found an inning and they got hot.”
In his first at-bat of the game, replacing designated hitter Ryan Aukamp, catcher Justin Smith singled into center field, leading off the sixth.
Right guy, right time?
“We were kind of discussing, through the early parts of the game, when we were going to do that,” Weismandel said of calling Smith’s number. “The timing seemed right at that point.”
Harven, who’d thrown just 54 pitches coming into the sixth, walked Bryce Zimmerman and Tyler Martin — playing in his sixth LNP tournament, and his second title game in three years — hit a Baltimore Chop over Harven’s head to load the bases.
Smith scored when Zach Peters singled to left field and, with Weismandel windmilling Zimmerman home right behind him, left fielder Tyler Stricker overran the ball, allowing Martin to score
Nate Hess followed with an RBI triple to center field, his second three-bagger of the game and his third of the tournament, and Lititz had the lead.
“Zach (Peters) got the big hit and Nate (Hess) followed it up the offense turned right there,” said Weismandel.
“When Zach got his hit and Nate got his triple,” said Tyler Martin, “that just fired up the bench and we were able to feed off each other.”
After Harven hit Evan Clark, Justin Byler dropped a perfect suicide squeeze bunt, scoring Hess and beating it out for a single.
Winning pitcher Reed Martin capped the eruption with an RBI single, then walked a bases-loaded tightrope in the bottom of the inning, striking out Brendan Eberly to end the game.
Martin retired eight in a row after yielding a hit to Justin Burd, the first batter he faced in the Cocalico fourth.
“I was just trying to throw strikes, I knew my defense would help me out,” he said. “We have sensational outfielders and our infield can throw anyone out from anywhere.”
Cocalico (12-7) did load the bases on flare hits from Stricker and Drew Myers and a walk to Burd.
“My legs were shaking pretty much,” Martin admitted. “I was trying to keep them calm so I didn’t balk. That would’ve been bad.”
“It was big getting the first out (of the 7th),” Weismandel said. “Again, it changes the dynamics.”
Cocalico couldn’t avoid the dynamics of leaving 12 runners on base — seven in the first three innings.
“It’s been an issue we’ve talked about all season,” said Sawyer. “We tell the kids, we must lead the league in left on base.”
Despite the stranded runners, Cocalico broke through in the fourth, breaking a 1-1 tie on Brady Martin’s sacrifice fly and RBI singles from Stricker and Burd.
It seemed that would be enough.
Until it wasn’t.