Leola pitcher Brent Buckwalter summed it up perfectly.
“It’s about time.”
For the Leola baseball team in general and Buckwalter, Kris Toomey and Carlton Stoner in particular, there had been too many empty-handed returns from LNP Tournaments past.
This time they drew a full bucket of success from the tournament well, sweeping to the Midget title of the 50th LNP Tournament with a convincing 7-3 victory over Solanco (14-8-3), Thursday at Lampeter-Strasburg.
Buckwalter pitched six strong innings, although not without some interesting moments, to earn the win. Stoner nailed down the win in the fifth inning with his bat and the game in the seventh with his arm.
The win was the eighth in a row and 22nd in 25 games for the Eastern County League Champions. It also was their second LNP Midget title overall.
The last Leola midget team to win was the 1985 squad coached by Gary Gee, Leola’s present treasurer. After every game this season, present coach Randy Gibson would call Gee to report in and during one conversation Gee remarked he had a LNP Championship jacket hanging in his closet.
“I told him I believed I was going to have one this year,” Gibson said.
When Leola turned a good season into a great season by brushing aside all comers in the league playoffs, Gibson could start making room in his closet.
“At the beginning of the year we set out to win our division to earn a bid here,” Gibson said. “Most people count out the Eastern County Midgets, they say we’re not as strong as the Lanco Midgets.
“I think this LNP Tournament proves that wrong. We faced three Lanco teams (League champion Manheim, Hempfield Black and Solanco) and we beat them all.”
Solanco, the tournament upstart, gave the champions all they could handle for 4 1/2 innings.
Early on, Buckwalter’s fielders were crying to get in a game Leola led 2-0, as Solanco’s first 10 batters walked or struck out.
Solanco’s Chad Shirk walked in the second, stole over to third and scored on a wild pitch peculiar to L-S, bouncing high off home plate and over the backstop.
In the third, Chris Dearolf’s sacrifice bunt was the first ball handled by a Leola fielder. Buckwalter (6 IP, 3 hits, 6 BB, 13 SO) then caught Travis Morrison, the beneficiary of the sacrifice, leaning off second, but shortstop Paul Lewandowski’s throw to third sailed out-of-play allowing Morrison to score the tying run.
It remained tied until Solanco went ahead in the fifth inning on Lewandowski’s second of three errors and an RBI triple to center by Shirk – only the second hit off Buckwalter – the other two came off the bat of Ryan Bowe.
Gibson was not pleased.
“I said, “‘What’s going on? They’re beating you and they didn’t hit the ball yet!'”
Message received. Lewandowski atoned in the bottom of the fifth by slinging an opposite field hit down the first base line and stealing second. With two out, Buckwalter drilled a double to center, scoring Lewandowski with the equalizer.
Even though Kris Toomey was 0-for-2, Solanco chose to intentionally walk the slugging catcher and take its chances pitching to Stoner. Stoner made it sting, dropping a single behind second base to score Buckwalter.
“We weren’t going to let him (Toomey) hurt us,” said Solanco’s Dave Aument. “But that’s part of the game.”
Something Stoner understood.
“It was fine,” he said. “I liked it. I concentrated more than usual. You know you have to come through to get that run in.”
Nick Doherty (2-for-3) followed with an RBI single and Solanco’s defense committed its final betrayal with three errors on Dustin Groff’s simple grounder to first, allowing Stoner and Doherty to score.
“It comes down to who makes the most mistakes,” Aument said. “We made them tonight.”
Showing its youth (only two players will be too old to return next year), Solanco handed Leola a 2-0 lead in the first inning on the first error trifecta of the night.
They settled in and let Leola give some back, but in the end, Leola was not to be denied.
“A lot of these guy have been together a long time and we didn’t win anything,” Toomey said.
Buckwalter recounted their only other trip to the Era finals was when they lost in the M-M championship as Dutch Wonderland in ’91.
When Gibson told them to savor this title, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, they understood all too well.
Buckwalter was the hero
By Keith Schweigert
Special to the LNP
The LNP Tournament doesn’t give out awards for such things, but if Leola is looking for an MVP, it don’t have to look far.
Only as far as the pitching mound.
In Thursday’s Midget championship game against Solanco, Leola righthander Brent Buckwalter was impressive, giving up just three runs on three hits as Leola rallied to a 7-3 victory and its first title since 1985.
In his six innings of work, Buckwalter struck out 13 and walked six, and only two of the runs he gave up were earned.
Buckwalter’s pitching kept his team in the game until it found some offense. When it did, he gave his team a spark with an RBI double that tied the game, and later scored the go-ahead run in Leola’s decisive five-run rally in the bottom of the fifth.
“Our pitching staff has carried us all year,” said Leola manager Randy Gibson. “We’ve only starting hitting the ball consistently fairly recently. But on the mound we’ve been outstanding.”
In the LNP Tournament , the pitching staff Gibson referred to was basically Buckwalter, who started all three of Leola’s games.
For the tournament, Buckwalter compiled a 3-0 record, giving up just five runs (three earned) and six hits. He racked up an astounding 38 strikeouts and allowed 10 walks as Leola rolled past Manheim 2-1 in the quarterfinals and Hempfield 3-0 in the semis.
“Brent’s been outstanding,” said Gibson. “He pretty much carried us against Manheim. We were down 1-0, and he got us back into the game with a home run and then kept us in it until we could go ahead.”
Against Solanco, Buckwalter had to overcome some early control problems. He walked two batters in the second inning, and allowed Solanco’s first run to come in on a wild pitch that bounced over the backstop.
“I was a little nervous there at the beginning,” said Buckwalter. “I had to battle for a while, and I allowed more walks than I wanted to. I had to calm down a little.”
Calm or not, Buckwalter was overpowering. Of the 18 outs he recorded Thursday, 13 were strikeouts. He struck out the side four times in six innings. Solanco didn’t put a ball in play until the third inning, and picked up its first hit in the fourth.
As impressive as Buckwalter was, for a while it looked as though his stellar outing would be wasted. Taking advantage of several Leola errors, Solanco led the game 3-2 after 4 1/2 innings.
With two outs in the fifth, Buckwalter came to the plate with a runner on second, and tied the game with a double to right center.
“That hit was the happiest moment of my year,” said Buckwalter, who scored on a single by Carlton Stoner to give Leola the lead for good.
Buckwalter said he never doubted that Leola would come out on top.
“We were pretty loose,” said Buckwalter of his team. “We were confident that we’d get some hits and come back. It was just a matter of turning things around.”
In the top of the seventh, Gibson elected to pull Buckwalter in favor of Stoner, who gave up one hit before retiring the final three outs.
“I was a little bit tired there at the end,” said Buckwalter. “Also, coach wanted to give Stoner a chance to pitch in the game, since this is the last year for both of us.”