56th annual LNP Tournament opens with Bears Blue, Lancaster Red scoring wins

Bears Blue Justin Garbar slides safely into second as Bears White’s Aaron Nelson takes the throw.

By Dave Byrne
LNP Correspondent

If you like scoring, lots of scoring, and if you like your baseball a little on the wild side, Ephrata’s War Memorial Field was where you wanted to be Friday night for the opening games of the 56th annual LNP Midget Baseball Tournament .

Forty-seven runs were scored, 28 walks were issued and five batters got plunked as the tournament got under way with a Midget Division quarterfinal doubleheader.

Bears Blue, the reigning Midget champion, and Lancaster Red claimed the first two victories of the tournament and will meet in the semifinals a week from today.

Bears Blue beat up on fellow den member Bears White, 20-3, in a game shortened by the 10-run mercy rule. In a game of ebbs and flows, Lancaster Red rode the wave of a 9-run fourth inning and held on to defeat Comet Blue, 13-11.

Red (18-10), a team comprised largely of McCaskey’s JVs from this past spring, climbed out of a 5-1 hole after two innings.

Carlos Diaz’s RBI single and Mike Mumma’s 2-run double narrowed the deficit to a run in the third inning and centerfielder Jose Bones hit a pair of 2-run singles to bookend Red’s rally in the fourth — a rally fueled by five bases-loaded walks.

“We couldn’t find the plate,” lamented Comet coach Bill Hess.

Red starter Tony Clement found the plate. A lot of the plate. Clement, who last week shut out the Comets, 3-0, was very hittable this time out.

“Tony’s carried the load for us all season,” noted Red coach Pete Van Buskirk. “But tonight they were seeing the ball. It was going in like a big volleyball.”

After their fourth-inning meltdown, the Comets (12-11) went 1-2-3 in their half of the inning and looked dead. But for Lancaster, the finish line was a long way off.

“You look up on the scoreboard, it’s only the fourth inning and you’re thinking, “They can do it just as easily as we did it’,” said Van Buskirk.

Mumma, who relieved Clement in the second, breezed into the fifth, where he turned into Rick Ankiel. He threw 19 straight balls and left after walking four straight batters.

Sammy Rosa relieved, gave up a 2-run double to Neil McConnell and another run on a dropped fly ball in right. But Blue also had a runner thrown out at home in the inning, and that would haunt them.

Corey Caruthers pinched off Lancaster after the fourth inning, allowing just four more baserunners. Lancaster stranded runners at third in the fifth and sixth innings and had a runner thrown out at home in the seventh.

Meanwhile, walking the tightrope, Rosa gave up two unearned runs in the sixth. But Carlos Diaz got the final four outs of the game for the save.

“We had to go to our pitching lineup more than I anticipated,” acknowledged Van Buskirk, “but we’re pretty deep that way.”

Deep is what the Elizabethtown baseball program is right now. Three midget teams carry a Bears moniker this sunmer and all three won their respective divisions in the Lancaster County Midget League.

Blue and White advanced to the LNP Tournament and, as fate would have it, found themselves across the diamond from each other in the opening round.

“It’s a game that has to be played if you want to do what you came here to do,” said Blue coach Jim Raffensperger.

With five players back from last year’s LNP Tournament title team — players who were an integral part of E-town’s Lancaster-Lebanon League championship this spring — Bears Blue (23-2) is a favorite to defend.

“We feel it’s a rite of passage to get this,” said catcher Derek Lokey, who, playing behind Brandon Hostetter this spring, caught the lions share of the E-town High School JV schedule and played with most of the members of White (14-6).

“It was tough to keep your concentration,” he admitted. But not that tough that he couldn’t go 3-for-3 with 2 RBI and 3 runs scored.

White made a game of it early on, clipping starter Ronald Patterson for a pair of first-inning runs on Marquis Malis’ RBI single and Kurt Shaffer’s triple.

Despite Blue’s 4-run first, White came right back on Aaron Nelson’s RBI hit in the second. But Ryne Christian’s 2-run single sparked a 4-run second inning and the pale Bears really got the blues in the third on Tyler Hostetter’s 2-run double and Justin Garber’s 3-run, inside-the-park homer.

Matt Soltani’s 2-run single and Chad Eberly’s 2-run double highlighted a 7-run fourth inning that was the coup de grace. Blue appended its 15-hit attack with 10 walks issued by White pitchers.

“We have a lot of young kids,” said White coach Joe Malis. “We have three kids who haven’t turned 15 yet. There’s a big strength difference.”

When the game ended, foes became friends again. Ruffled White fur will someday be smooth again. But not quite yet.

“They’ll have a lot of razzing to take the rest of the summer,” Malis said.

Lancaster Red players rejoice after winning their LNP Tournament opener.