By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent
Wednesday’s New Era Tournament midget division first-round games were all about power.
The power of perseverance played a prominent part in the final outcomes of both games.
There was the power of the first-ever home run in a New Era game leaving the confines of Clipper Magazine Stadium.
And, maybe, a Greater Power had a hand in one victory, to hear the winning coach tell it.
Strasburg-Willow Street and St. Leo scored late to come from behind Wednesday night, earning berths in Sunday’s midget semifinals.
SWS scored seven runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to overpower Comet Blue 9-6 in the first game of a quarterfinal doubleheader at Clipper Magazine Stadium.
In the nightcap, St. Leo did everything humanly possible – and then some – to pull out a 4-3 win over Hempfield Black.
SWS and St. Leo will meet Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. in the first game of a semifinal doubleheader at the Clip.
It’s said baseball is a funny game, and there was certainly a comedy of errors in a sixth inning that saw Comet Blue’s four-run lead melt away.
Except nobody in the Comet dugout felt much like laughing.
Comet Blue (10-7), seeded seventh in the tournament, had built a 6-0 lead on a pair of three-run innings, setting second-seeded SWS on its heels.
Jared Shearer’s RBI double, Josh Longsderff’s RBI single and Tyler Musser’s scamper home on an errant pickoff throw at third made it 3-0 in the first inning.
An RBI triple by Lucas Huber, RBI double by Dan D’Eletto and run-scoring single by Mike Spisak gave Blue starter Zach Buterbaugh a 6-0 lead after 3½ innings.
Even though SWS (11-1-1) got one back on Josh Good’s RBI double in the fourth, Buterbaugh seemed in control.
He got the first out of the fifth, then gave up a home run to designated hitter Nate Fowler, the first ever hit at the Clip in the eighth NET game played there.
“At first, when I hit the ball, I just thought it was a double,” said Fowler, who wasn’t sure whether the ball had bounced over the fence in the right-center alley or cleared it on the fly.
Confusion gave way to excitement when his first-base coach told him to touch ’em all.
Buterbaugh got the second out, but when Jon Carlson beat out an infield single up the middle, Comet coach Scott Keddie relieved Buterbaugh.
Maybe too soon, as events would later prove.
Buterbaugh still seemed to have some steam: he’d thrown only 56 pitches, 38 for strikes.
“As a coach, I struggle to decide when to pull pitchers,” Keddie admitted with painful candor. “It’s one of my weaknesses.”
Shearer came on to get the final out of the fifth, and the first out of the sixth, but by the time the sixth inning was over, Keddie would go to his bullpen twice more and SWS would score seven runs on five hits, two walks, a hit batter and three costly errors.
“You’ve got to make the plays when you have to,” said Keddie. “We could’ve limited it to a one-run, instead of a three-run deficit.”
Adam Bukowski singled in two runs off Shearer, who then gave way to Brad Stout.
Fate was not kind to Stout.
Called to sacrifice, pinch-hitter Blake Brubaker bunted up the third-base line, beating Spisak’s throw, which also eluded first baseman Longsderff.
Right fielder Musser, backing the play, threw home, but the ball short-hopped catcher Tyler Gault and Bukowski scored, with Brubaker pulling into third base.
Fowler served up an RBI single into right, Ryan Haley walked and when Stout went 2-and-0 to Carlson, Keddie brought in Nick Schroyer.
He got Danny Snyder on an RBI come-backer for the second out, scoring Fowler with the go-ahead run, then induced Mark Thiboldeaux to ground to second.
But D’Eletto booted the ball and two more runs scored to make it 9-6.
“We just kept chucking away,” said Fowler. “A run here, a run there, eventually it all adds up.”
Thiboldeaux, who came on in relief of Kyler Morgan in the fourth inning, got two flyballs and a strikeout in the Comet seventh to nail down the win.
St. Leo’s winning inning was nearly as much of a struggle, as was its survival of Black’s last-gasp attack in the seventh inning.
“God just blessed us today,” said St. Leo coach Paul Jankowski, who readily agreed this win had to be considered an upset.
Hempfield (13-5) came in as the third seed. A late-season swoon dropped St. Leo (8-5-1) to the sixth seed.
“(Hempfield is) a much better baseball team,” Jankowski said.
“(But) If we play the kind of baseball we’re capable of playing, I think we can play with any team.”
Like the Comets in the first game, Black broke on top with a three-run first. Dewey Kulp drove in the first run with a single and Brandon Kline plated two more with a double to the fence in right-center.
Settling in after that, St. Leo starter Steve Darrenkamp kept Hempfield off balance, spotting a slow curve with his fastball. He scattered five hits the rest of the way in a complete-game performance, aided by his defense, which turned three double plays behind him.
St. Leo began its comeback when Devon Dombrowski drew a walk from Black starter Brandon Hinkle to open the third and took second on a wild pitch. Evan Montgomery popped a sacrifice bunt up the first-base line and beat it out, putting runners on first and third with nobody out.
Travis Jankowski scored Dombrowski with an infield out and, after Kevin Darby squirted an infield single past Hinkle, David Perales plated Montgomery with the second run of the inning.
“That first run was big, because it showed we could score against them,” said Paul Jankowski.
“After that it was just chipping away and chipping away. Before you knew it, we had a lead!”
Montgomery belted a leadoff triple to the alley in right leading off the fifth and scored on Jankowski’s sac fly to right to tie the game.
Zach Kinne came on to pitch the fateful sixth for Hempfield and walked Tim Jones leading off the inning. Ryan Clark singled him to third, giving way to courtesy runner Dan Long.
The runners held as Mike Marinaro popped a bunt to first baseman Brett Houseal. Then Long was thrown out trying to steal second.
But Steve Remley roped a double to the alley in left to score Jones with the go-ahead run.
Buried in the count at 0-and-2, Remley had one thought on his mind.
“I’ve got to get that run in!” he said. “I was expecting curveball. I saw the fastball and drove it.”
After a walk to Dombrowski, Montgomery singled sharply to right, but Remley was out at home on a great throw by Andrew Felix.
Kinne got the Black seventh off to a controversial start, lifting a popup behind second base that Darby dropped for an error. Running all the way, Kinne steamed for second, as did Darrenkamp when he realized that second base was uncovered.
“I noticed there was no one there. You’ve got to cover a base,” said Darrenkamp.
Marinaro, backing up on the play from shortstop, threw the ball to Darrenkamp, who tagged Kinne as he arrived.
That prompted a passionate argument from base coaches Phil Houseal and George Hinkle. They got no satisfaction from their pleas, and were even less satisfied when Nate Beck followed with a single to center.
Felix ripped the first pitch from Darrenkamp into right and, off the bat, it looked like trouble.
It was – for Hempfield.
Montgomery caught the liner and threw to first to easily double up Beck and end the game.