New Era Correspondent
Thursday night, Gabe Abreu had a dream. A dream where he, and his Pequea Valley teammates, climbed the New Era Tournament mountaintop.
Abreu’s dream became the West Lampeter Pioneers’ nightmare Friday at Manheim’s Baron Conplex, as the Braves (34-2), capitalizing on seven errors, toppled the Pioneers, 6-1.
The win delivered the Midget Division title and capped an incredible season for PV.
“I dreamt that we were going to win it. Then we came out and did it,” said Abreu, who did his part by pitching a two-hitter.
“I can’t beleive it. It’s what I’ve wanted for the whole year,” said secondbaseman Eric Sagnor, Abreu’s teammate for practically his entire sandlot life.
Sagnor’s father, Ted, twice brought Gap/Salisbury AA teams to the New Era Tourney, bowing in the ’96 J-M prelims and the ’97 J-M quarters.
Now part of a coaching troika that includes pitching coach Jim Langley and Randy Gibson conducting the orchestra, Sagnor was thrilled to finally break through.
“It’s a great feeling for us,” he said. “You work so hard to get here. Third time in it… It’s just great.”
“I’ve been playing for Ted just about all my life. We failed twice and I’m just happy I brought him one now,” Abreu said.
It’s a first-time title for Langley, who joined from Little League, bringing along several players including his son, Carl. But it’s the second NET midget prize for Gibson, who guided Leola to the ’95 title.
“Two different teams. Two different groups of boys,” Gibson said. “I would say this one is probably the better group because of the parents’ support I had.
“And the kids kids made a goal to come out and win this. They were willing to work four, five nights a week. (They) made a lot of sacrifices, stuck together as a team, as a unit, and it showed tonight.”
Nowhere was that more obvious than in the field, where the Braves backed up Abreu’s mound efforts.
Throwing a fastball and curve and a knuckleball that fluttered and broke sharply away from hitters, Abreu worked in and out and mixed his offerings, keeping the Pioneers (24-7) off balance all night.
“He started off a little slow,” said his long-time catcher, Derick Ulrich. “But then for three, four innings he went 1-2-3, right through the heart of their order. It was awesome.”
Actually, it was 3 1/3 innings. After a one-out walk to Ryan Ewing in the first inning, Abreu mowed down twelve straight hitters until Jason Newmoyer broke up the no-hitter in the fourth.
Abreu gave up one more hit, to Mark Wagner in the sixth, and saw Wagner score on a throwing error by Justin Smucker. Beyond that, the Pioneers were putty in his hands.
The Pioneers hit two balls to the outfield, both to left by Rob Duvall. Duvall skied deep to Eric Yelk in the fourth and just got under one in the sixth, sending it Yelk’s way again.
Abreu got 10 groundouts – six to Chris Haley at short, three to Smucker at third. And he induced six pop outs – two each to Haley and Sagnor.
“They were like vacuum cleaners,” Gibson said proudly. “Everything that was hit to them they ate up.”
Contrast that with the efforts of the Pioneers, who usually were sure-handed.
The Pioneers imploded with four miscues in the first inning, leading to four runs – two earned – and three more in a two-run fourth.
The victim of this fielding collapse was Adam Devlin. Devlin, who pitched the Pioneers to their only win over the Braves in five previous games this year, scattered seven hits, two each to Sagnor (2-for-3) and Nick Erdman, (2-for-4).
That duo teamed to open the game and immediately set the Pioneers back on their heels.
Erdman singled to lead off the game and went to third on a beautifully executed hit-and-run by Sagnor through shortstop.
“I knew were we stealing (Erdman) and I was hoping (Ryan) Ewing was making the cover,” Gibson said. “Nine times out of ten, Sagnor pulls the ball and I was hoping he would (this time).”
He did, shooting it past Ewing who could only look back in despair. Erdman went to third on the play and both runners held their ground as Abreu fouled out.
With Ulrich at bat, Sagnor lit out for second as Erdman drifted off third. Nate Geesey came up firing to second – late – and Ewing’s return throw to get Erdman sailed wide of home, allowing Sagnor to take third.
“I’m banking on them going for the out (at second),” Gibson said. “As soon as the throw goes through, goes over the pitcher’s head, I tell the runner on third, “You’re gone!’ It makes the coaches look really good when (the kids) do things like that.”
Devlin struck out Ulrich and, even after walking Langley, could see his way out of the inning. But after making Dan Russell look silly on a pitch low and away, Devlin came inside and Russell ripped a single to center.
Mark Wagner misplayed the ball into a two-base error, allowing Langley to score and Russell to take third.
Haley grounded to Ewing, who bobled the ball as Russell scored. Smucker grounded to Baker at third and he bobbled the ball.
Yelk walked to load the bases before Devlin struck out Erdman to finally end the inning.
Devlin settled in, retiring nine of the next ten, but the Braves played go-go ball in the fourth and Sagnor was in the middle of the carnage again. He singled with one out and scooted to third as Dan Hanecak threw away Abreu’s grounder to second.
With Ulrich up again, Abreu took off for second and Geesey’s throw sailed high over the bag. Meanwhile, Sagnor strolled home with the fifth run of the game.
Abreu broke for third and Geesey’s throw was on the money, but Baker couldn’t handle it and Abreu continued home on the error.
That was more than enough for Abreu. He gave up the run in the sixth and survived a scare in the seventh, issuing two-out walks to Alex Brubaker and Tim Bianchi, before zipping a 1-2 fastball by Wes Wallace to end the game.
So ends the summer saga of the team that could. Sagnor’s Salisbury boys, blended with Langley’s Little Leaguers and several imports from other programs to form quite a juggernaut.
All under Gibson’s guidance. The same fellow who achieved at least part of his dream when he was hired this year as hitting instructor for the high school Braves.
“There was a lot of talent,” he said. “It was just a matter of breeding winning into them. Hopefully we did that this summer and it will carry on into the fall and over to our high school season next spring.”
Blue is doomed by errors
By Keith Schweigert
New Era Sports Writer
The fact that Pioneer Blue was defeated by Pequea Valley in the New Era Tournament Midget finals Friday night isn’t all that surprising – the Braves had won four of five meetings going into the game.
What is surprising is how the Pioneers lost.
Normally a sound fundamental team with solid defense, Blue played an uncharacteristically sloppy game on the field, committing six errors in a 6-1 loss at Manheim Central High School.
The errors, coupled with a strong performance from PV pitcher Gabe Abreu, were just too much for the Pioneers of West Lampeter to overcome.
“I don’t understand it,” said Blue coach Steve Ewing. “Usually we play real good defense. I wish we had made them earn it tonight instead of giving it away. I don’t know how many errors we ended up with, but it’s hard to overcome something like that. We dug ourselves too deep of a hole.
“I don’t know what the problem was. We had a real good warmup before the game, and everybody seemed loose. It’s strange.”
The errors came early and often for the Pioneers, who fell behind 4-0 in the first inning, thanks to four errors.
The first miscue came with no one out and runners at the corners for PV. The Braves’ Eric Sagnor, who had singled leadoff hitter Nick Erdman over to third, attempted to steal second base.
Pioneer catcher Nate Geesey threw to second, and Erdman then tried to steal home. Shortstop Ryan Ewing tried to cut the throw off and catch Erdman at the plate, but his throw sailed wide of Geesey to cost the Pioneers a run.
Later that inning, PV right fielder Dan Russell smacked a single to center, and the ball bounced through the legs of Mark Wagner for a two-base error that scored two more runs.
Wagner later scored when Chris Haley reached first base safely on Ewing’s throwing error.
By the time pitcher Adam Devlin fanned Erdman to end the inning, the Pioneers were staring at a four-run deficit.
“(To come back from four down) is do-able, but you’ve got to hit the ball,” said Steve Ewing, Ryan’s father. “We didn’t get any clutch hits today.”
That was due in part to Abreu, who allowed just two hits and three walks in seven innings of work. He had a no-hitter going through 4 1/3 innings and retired 12 straight batters at one point.
Abreu improved his record to 3-0 against Blue this season with the victory.
“He’s a good pitcher,” said Ewing. “We faced him twice this season and he was 2-0, so we thought we’d see him again. If I were their coach, I sure would’ve started him – you keep putting him out there until we prove we can beat him.
“But the other two times we faced him we came close to beating him. I was surprised we didn’t hit him better.”
PV got its final two runs of the game in the fourth inning – again with help from Blue fielders.
Sagnor started the rally with a one-out single, and moved to third when Abreu was safe on a throwing error.
With runners at the corners, the Braves attempted another double steal, with similar results. Abreu safely stole second, and Geesey’s throw went off the glove of Ewing, which allowed Sagnor to score.
Abreu then scored on an error on third baseman Tony Baker.
Down 6-0 heading into the sixth, the Pioneers were finally able to tag Abreu for one run when Wagner scored on a throwing error.
But by then, it was too late.
“It’s simple – there are plays you’ve got to make,” said Ewing. “Tonight we didn’t make them, and they did. We hit the ball hard, but right at people. And their people made the plays.”