For the Warwick Phillies and the Mountville Indians, the path to the LNP Tournament Midget-Midget championship game was a walk in the park.
The park was Mt. Joy’s Kunkle Field complex. The walk was the key to each team’s victory.
For Mountville (43-7), a late-innings rally by Mount Joy Blue made the two-time defending champion Indians break a modest sweat before pulling out a 9-5 triumph.
It was Mountville’s seventh win in seven games with Mount Joy this year.
The Indians made the most of seven walks issued by Mount Joy pitchers, scoring six of the free passes.
For Warwick (20-12) the only hazard was the risk of swallowing the product of a prodigious mayfly hatch that rose off Chiques Creek and settled onto the field as dusk turned to twilight.
The Phillies ten-runned Manheim VFW Maroon, 16-2, accepting the generosity of 16 walks distributed by five pitchers, plating 11 runs on the walks alone.
The championship game will be tonight, 7 p.m. at Kunkle Field.
While Warwick gets a shot at the title after losing to Mountville in the M-M semis last year, Mountville will be shooting for its third straight title and five in the last 10 years.
If you think its gets old for Bob Sauders and his Indian’s coaching staff, think again.
“You look at this team,” he said, “It’s nothing like last year’s team (a team which finished the season 51-0). “That team was nothing like the the year before that.
“It’s just so exciting to take a team at the beginning of the season and see what they can do.”
What they did Monday evening was bang out six of their seven hits in the first three innings on their way to a 7-0 lead.
The beneficiary of all that offense was Alex Manacher, an Indians’ rookie.
“I’ve pitched before in Little League,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about the tradition (of Mountville).”
He looked like a poised veteran as he kept Mount Joy (23-13) off the board through three innings, limiting Blue to three hits while throwing 38 pitches.
He labored through the next two innings, throwing 43 pitches as Blue racked up 6 hits and 5 runs, 1 unearned.
“I got a little tired,” Manacher admitted.
“He gutted it out for us in the fifth inning,” Sauders said.
Mount Joy’s eruption turned a 7-0 breeze into a 7-5 maelstrom.
But Mountville answered in the bottom of the fifth on Brent Pickell’s RBI triple and a RBI sacrifice bunt by Mark Feiler. Earlier, Feiler had driven in a run on a sacrifice fly and two more on an infield single.
“I was just glad we were able to come back with something,” said Sauders. “That takes the wind out of the sails a little bit.”
Manheim’s inability to throw strikes consistently created a vacuum in which no hope of victory could survive.
Warwick’s Darren Erb walked and scored three times. Trevor Havemann went him one better, walking and scoring four times.
Nate Lawrence, J.T.Garner and Kyle Keener each drove in three runs for the Phillies.
Lawrence, who singled, doubled and tripled, also scored three times. Warwick batted around in a 4-run third inning and batted around-plus two in a 6-run fourth.
“We took advantage of their walks,” Phils’ coach Dave Erb agreed. “Give our guys credit, they hit every inning. We were patient at the plate and put the ball in play.”
Manheim (15-15) could never get untracked against Phils’ starter Matt Ruhl, who allowed two hits in three shutout innings.
VFW Maroon broke through against reliever Darren Erb in the fifth as Casey Ebersole delivered Allen Custer, who had been hit by a pitch. Jonathon Karns, who had doubled, came home on an error on Dustin Fair’s groundball to short.
Mountville players are seeing stars
By Jason Guarente
LNP Sports Writer
The tradition started in 1988, Bob Sauders’ first year as coach of the Mountville Indians.
Sauders was searching for a way to motivate his players. He had to go back in time to find one.
“I remembered the Pittsburgh Pirates and what Willie Stargell used to do,” Sauders said.
He was referring to the Stargell Stars. When one of the slugging outfielder’s teammates did something great in a game, Stargell gave him a gold star as a reward. The Pirates proudly wore those stars on their caps.
When Sauders told his wife, Deb, about this late-70s Bucs tradition, she connected the dots for her husband, the rookie coach.
“Why can’t you do that?” she asked.
Sixteen years later, the idea has become a piece of Mountville baseball history. Each season the players get to vote on whether or not to keep using the stars and every year they are resoundingly in favor of it.
So is their coach.
“It’s a good way after every game to let the kids know we’ve noticed something they did,” Sauders said.
Those well-decorated caps were on display as Mountville defeated Mount Joy Blue 9-5 in the LNP Tournament Midget-Midget semifinals at Kunkle Field Monday night. The Indians moved within one win of their third straight LNP championship.
How does a player earn one of Sauders’ stars? There are lots of ways. Some are obvious. Some are subtle.
If a player gets multiple hits or smashes an extra-base hit, a star is automatic. If a pitcher throws a strong game, he can expect one as well.
There are other times, however, when a player does something only a coach would notice and a star is his prize. If a boy is struggling, but he hits a line drive, he’ll get one. If a boy hustles to back up a base in case of an overthrow, he’ll be rewarded.
Sauders keeps notes. Some are mental. Some are written on an index card he carries with him during games.
“I’m not getting any younger,” he said with a smile. “I can’t always remember these things.”
The players seem to get a kick out of this tradition. The more stars they get, the more interesting designs they can make on their caps which have become works of art.
The boys sometimes arrange the stars in a random pattern, but usually that’s not enough. Often they put their number or their name on the back If one of them is really daring, he’ll try to copy the logo of his favorite team.
“They get more and more creative every year,” Sauders said.
After each game, Mountville sits in a group and talks about what just happened. They discuss the mistakes, of course, so they can improve on them.
Then they talk about what went right. Players are allowed to point out things a teammate did that is worthy of a star.
It has proven to be both a good motivational tool and a way to keep the kids’ attention.
“They enjoy it,” Sauders said. “We’ll talk for 15 minutes after a game. This is a way to make it more interesting.”
Mountville’s post-game talks are usually happy gatherings. The Indians are 43-7 this season.
Their win over Mount Joy Blue was sealed when shortstop Alex Manacher made a diving catch on a sinking line drive hit by Jeff Heisey. It was an exceptional play.
You could hang a star on it.