Dropped to the canvas by a shot to the solar plexus, the St. Leo Lions gathered themselves, landed their share of counter punches and won the Lancaster Newspapers New Era Tournament Junior-Midget championship on points.Beaten 3-2 by the Penn Manor Comets in the continuation of Monday’s suspended game, the Lions (23-6) used an eight-run third inning to extinguish the Comets 12-6 in a winner-take-all finale.It was the first New Era title at any level for the St. Leo program.
Mitch Eck sparked the uprising, blasting a three-run homer over the fence in left.
He also walked with the bases loaded and stole home, part of a 2-for-3, 4-RBI evening that saw him also get the victory, starting and going 3.2 innings.
“When I first hit it I didn’t think I got a lot of it,” Eck said of his homer. “But, I guess I did.”
“We were talking about this tournament being a boxing match,” said Lions coach Charlie Corbett.
“You’re going to get knocked down and you’ve got to throw some knockout punches back at them.”
The Lions batted around plus-four in the third inning, with Dillon Marsh and Eck homering back-to-back, plus RBI singles from Dylan Atkinson, Joey Corbett and Bryan Downey and Eck’s walk.
“That was a big knockout, coming after that first game,” Corbett said. “Eck comes to play, no matter where you play him.”
Unlike the continuation, when the Lions (23-6) left 10 on base, St. Leo kept scoring, adding single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
“One hit (in the first game) would’ve changed everything,” Corbett said. “They made it happen.”
Trailing 10-1 the Comets made a game of it, chasing Eck with a four-run fourth. Eck had four batters down 1-2 in the inning, plus another at 2-2, and could not retire any of them.
Credit the Comets (30-6), who worked the count, got their pitch and delivered.
“They were fighting, wasting a lot of my pitches,” said Eck. “I was trying to hit the spots, but I had to come to them.”
“One through nine, they hit,” said Corbett. “You just never felt comfortable.”
“We hung in here,” said Comet coach Jeff Butler. “We had a good evening.”
As he has all through the tournament — save earlier in the evening — Brandon Knarr came on in relief and slammed the door.
“He’s a horse,” Corbett said. “We needed him to throw some pitches (and) when the game’s on the line, he’s ready to do it.”
If not for Jeff Taylor, the second game would never have been necessary.
Taylor pitched four shutout innings of relief, knocked in the tying runs and scored the game-winner as the Comets clawed back from the brink of extinction.
Because of NHSF pitching rules both of Monday’s starters — Austin Roberts for the Comets, Dillon Marsh for the Lions — were unable to return to action Tuesday.
That put the game in the hands of Taylor, winner of Manor’s back-to-the-wall game on Friday, and Knarr, who picked up relief wins in both of St. Leo’s victories.
Knarr also inherited a pair of baserunners: Brandon Sensenich, who lived on an error, and Jeremy Burkholder, who walked.
Knarr retired the first batter he faced, but Taylor pulled a single into right, plating two.
He kept the Lions at bay, sending the game into extra innings, then worked Knarr for a walk leading off the eighth.
He stole second and third as Knarr recorded two strikeouts, bringing Dalton Landis to the plate.
Landis was 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and, down 1-2, fouled off two tough pitches.
He got the benefit of a checked swing call, then ripped a hit to right, giving the Comets the lead.
Taylor stranded Joey Corbett in the bottom of the eighth and it was on to the championship game.
With one out in the first Comet starter Austin Roberts hit Eck with a pitch — the first of four batters Roberts would plunk in the game, his fifth and sixth of the tournament.
Eck advanced on Marsh’s single to left before stealing third base. Attempting to throw Eck out, catcher Connor Bitts’ throw sailed past third as Eck picked himself up and scored.
The run was unearned, but there it was, joined in the third by another gift.
Again, a hit batter figured in the scoring as Kenny Huhn earned the free pass to first, taking third on Eck’s one-out double into the left-field corner.
Marsh beat out an infield hit to short, loading the bases and, following a strikeout, Brandon Knarr patiently worked a four-pitch walk, plating Huhn.
Roberts struck out Zach Glinsky to end the threat, then, with the bases loaded in the fourth, induced Marsh to sky to left to retire the side without any damage.
St. Leo, Comets on hold
By Dave Byrne
Delayed 58 minutes from the outset by lightning, Monday night’s Lancaster Newspapers New Era Tournament Junior-Midget final round game was interrupted once again when storms revisited Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field 75 minutes later.An interruption that quickly led to closing down for the night when rain joined the persistent lightning.Monday’s contest was suspended in the top of the fifth inning with the St. Leo Lions leading the Penn Manor Comets 2-0.The Comets have two on and one out in the top of the fifth and that is where the game will resume this evening at 5:30 p.m.
Should St. Leo hold the lead over the remaining inning and a half, the Lions will win the J-M championship.
In the event of a Penn Manor rally that carries the day, the deciding, winner-take-all championship game will follow after the conclusion of the first game.
After St. Leo starter Dillon Marsh pitched out of a bases-loaded, no out jam in the top of first, the Lions gained the upper hand with single runs in the first and third innings.
Marsh retired 12 of the next 13 before an error and a one-out walk opened the door in the Comet fifth.
The lightning announced its return and, with officials unwilling to resume after 10 p.m., the decision was made to suspend the game until tonight.
The Lions scorched their way to the finals, defeating Penn Manor 10-2 Thursday night.
The Comets had to fight their way into the championship round through the consolation bracket, beating Garden Spot 5-1 Friday to earn the rematch with St. Leo.