10 years later, memories of St. Leo-SWS LNP Tournament semifinal remain fresh

Sports Writer

One of the players is now studying for the bar.

A teammate earned an appointment to the Naval Academy and now works as a surface warfare officer.

The center fielder went on to play in the pros.

St. Leo center fielder Travis Jankowski is helped off the field by catcher Ryan Clark and coach Paul Jankowski after being injured while starting the double play to end the game.

Before they graduated from high school and eventually went their separate ways — off to the military and to work and to college — they met on a baseball field and played in one of the most storied and dramatic games the 72-year-old LNP Midget Tournament has ever witnessed.

A pitchers’ duel.

A fateful suicide squeeze.

A catch at the warning track and a runner heading for home.

A gasp from the crowd.

The memories of that day — Sunday, July 29, 2007, to be precise — are still fresh.

For some, too fresh.

“I want it to go away,” says SWS coach Ted Carlson, “but it doesn’t go away.”

The 2017 midget tournament opens tonight, and we’re approaching the 10-year anniversary of a game that stands as a youth baseball classic in Lancaster County.

‘Fondest memories’

The setup: Clipper Magazine Stadium.

First game of a Midget Division semifinal.

No. 2 seed Strasburg-Willow Street takes the field opposite sixth-seeded St. Leo.

Three-time runner-up SWS, still looking for its first LNP Tournament title — it wouldn’t come until 2014 — is two years away from a string of four consecutive second-place finishes.

St. Leo, with a future Major League Baseball player on its roster, is playing in its first LNP Tournament.

For a couple hours, they will put each other to the ultimate test, in a game ultimately won by St. Leo, 1-0, in nine innings.

The memories remain for the players and the head coaches.

“I think back on the game as one of my fondest memories and one of the highest moments of my playing career,” St. Leo starting pitcher Kevin Regan shared.

Regan and SWS starting pitcher Chad Babcock were locked in an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel. Matching zero for zero, each allowed just two hits in the regulation seven innings.

At one point, Babcock retired 19 of 20 batters he faced.

“I was definitely ‘in the zone’ that night,” said Regan, who came up through the SWS system before joining his Lancaster Catholic teammates at the midget level.

He used his knowledge of the SWS hitters’ tendencies to keep them off-balance. And, “I relied heavily on what was one of the best and most tenacious defenses I’ve ever played with,” he said.

That defense first showed its fangs in the fourth inning when SWS got its first baserunner, Mark Thiboldeaux, who walked. Knowing Thiboldeaux was going to run, Regan threw over to first base.

Six times.

“When I eventually threw home,” Regan said, “the runner got a terrible jump and Clarky (catcher Ryan Clark) threw him out at second.”

It wouldn’t be the last time Clark would affect the outcome of the game.

Tension mounts

Jon Carlson’s two-out infield single in the sixth was SWS’s first hit of the game. Regan stranded him.

In the SWS seventh, Joe Good reached on a one-out error. He stole second and third, despite Clark’s strong throws.

Going for broke, coach Ted Carlson called for the suicide squeeze.

“Gotta get something started. Who knows what’s going to break the game open?” Carlson said in a postgame interview.

Adam Bukowski popped up the bunt. First baseman Tim Jones gathered it and fired to third to nail Good, who was scrambling, futilely, back to the bag.

“That was consistent with how they (SWS) played — take the gamble” St. Leo second baseman Kevin Darby remembered.

Darby, who would factor in SWS’ biggest gamble two innings later, added, “It was the way the game played out. How intense it was.”

Babcock was still on the hill for SWS in the ninth inning, Regan having exited with one out in the eighth.

St. Leo’s Evan Montgomery worked a leadoff walk, then stole second.

Looking to sacrifice, Travis Jankowski — now a member of the San Diego Padres — bunted up the third-base line.

The ball rolled just beyond the home circle, dying inches from the baseline. Infield hit.

With the potential first run of the game 90 feet away, SWS pulled the infield up.

Darby pierced the defense, singling through short and scoring Montgomery to give St. Leo a 1-0 lead.

The drama was far from over.

Fantastic finish

Jon Carlson began the SWS ninth with an infield single off reliever Kevin Cotchen.

He stole second and, with one out, St. Leo coach Paul Jankowski signaled to intentionally walk Babcock.

Then Joe Good ripped Cotchen’s offering to the alley in deep right center.

“He crushed it,” said Darby. “I thought it was a home run.”

“I definitely thought, off the bat, it was a home run,” said Good.

“My assistant, Mark Clark, turned to me and said, ‘That’s gone,’ ” Paul Jankowski said.

“I said back to him, ‘Fred’s got his eye on it.’ ”

“Fred” was the nickname for Travis Jankowski, St. Leo’s center fielder.

“I knew I needed to get to that ball at all costs,” he said. “I knew I needed to make a play on it no matter what.”

Jankowski’s career path would take him to Stony Brook University — and the NCAA College World Series — then on to the major leagues with the Padres.

At this moment, his skills as an outfielder — and All-State wide receiver in football — directed his path to the baseball.

“I think I took a pretty direct route to (the ball),” he said.

The route also took him to the outfield fence, which he hit, with force, as he caught the ball.

“I still remember watching him leap and crash into the wall,” Good said. “Then get up and fire the ball.”

“I felt the warning track,” Travis Jankowski said right after the game, after being helped from the field with a hip injury, “I thought, ‘If I hit the fence, it will only hurt for a little bit.’ ”

Running out to take the cutoff throw, expecting to challenge Carlson’s tag to third, Darby was surprised to see Carlson rounding third and heading for the plate.

“I heard a collective gasp from the crowd, double-clutched, reset my feet and threw it home as best I could,” Darby said. “I didn’t have the strongest arm, but I was very accurate.”

Darby’s throw came to Clark with time enough to set and apply a clean tag on Carlson for the game-ending, game-winning double play.

“That summer really shifted the mentality for Catholic High baseball,” Regan said of what St. Leo’s efforts did for the Crusaders. “We began to expect to win games.

“We went on the next season to win the District Three championship, play in the state semifinals.”

Life afterward

Regan continued his career at DeSales University, playing summers in the Stumpf Field League while attending Law School at Notre Dame. He currently is studying for the Delaware Bar exam.

Darby earned an appointment to the Naval Academy, graduating as a lieutenant in 2013. He is a surface warfare officer.

The Navy called to Good, as well. He joined while attending college and is currently stationed at Jacksonville, Florida.

Jankowski made his major-league debut with the Padres in 2015.

Injured in late April of this year, he is currently on rehabilitation assignment with the Padres’ Triple-A farm team in El Paso, Texas.

“The rehab process isn’t the most enjoyable part of professional baseball,” he joked in an e-mail.

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