Bears Blue takes LNP midget title

Members of the Bears Blue celebrate their LNP Tournament championship.

By Jeffrey Reinhart
LNP Sports Writer

Justin Garber pitched a complete game and squirmed his way out of a serious late-game jam Thursday night as Bears Blue of Elizabethtown held off Comet Blue of Penn Manor 6-3 to take the 55th LNP Midget championship in Manheim.

Bears Blue, which had to win its final league game and overcome a mid-season slump just to qualify for the NET, won nine of 11 games down the stretch to take the trophy as Garber — a distant relative of former major league pitcher Gene Garber — scattered eight hits in seven innings, struck out six and walked just one batter.

Garber got plenty of help from Ryne Christian, who homered and scored twice, and Tyler Hostetter, who delivered in the clutch.

Brian Risser added three hits and scored a run and Hostetter had a key two-run single in the sixth to give Bears Blue some breathing room. Ahead 4-2 with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, Hostetter ripped a Corey Caruthers offering to left to score Christian and Garber, giving Bears Blue a 6-2 cushion.

“We got a couple of timely hits when we really needed them,” Bears Blue coach Jim Raffensperger said. “And that was definitely one of them.”

Bears Blue (19-9 overall) had three straight timely hits in the fifth, when Christian christened the inning by blasting a solo homer off Comet Blue starter Andre Kraybill. The rocket to left gave Bears Blue a 3-0 lead. Garber followed with a one-hop double to the wall in right and scored on Jimmy Kreider’s double to left.

Bears Blue took a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first when Risser singled and eventu-ally wound up on third base after two groundouts. Kreider plated Risser with an RBI single and Kreider came around to score on Derek Lokey’s looper to right.

Comet Blue committed two fielding miscues in the frame and Kraybill needed 31 pitches to get out of the first.

“We weren’t able to overcome those two runs,” Comet Blue coach Jack Texter said. “I felt like we gave them those two runs in the first inning. But the kids didn’t get down after getting down by two runs. They hung in there and they never gave up.”

Comet Blue (21-10) finally got to Garber in its half of the fifth, scoring a pair of runs to slice Bears Blue’s lead in half. With one away, Josh Smith lined a single over the bag at third and came around to score an out later on Nick Swartz’s RBI single. With two out, Comet Blue made it 4-2 when Caruthers slammed a triple to plate Swartz.

When Kraybill — who allowed nine hits and four walks while throwing 98 pitches in five innings — walked Joe Herr on four pitches to open the sixth, Texter brought in Caruthers to face Risser, who was 3-for-3 up to that point. Caruthers retired Risser on a fly to right, then picked Herr off of first. But Christian, Garber and Kreider followed with consecutive singles to load the bases for Hostetter, who broke the game open with a single to left.

“I wasn’t going up there to strike out, that’s for sure,” Hostetter said with a chuckle. “I was just looking for a fastball over the middle of the plate, and he threw me a fastball right over the middle of the plate.”

And Hostetter didn’t miss it, knocking in a pair of runs to make it 6-2.

“That was definitely a big hit,” Garber noted. “I knew (Comet Blue) could really hit the ball, so getting that lead up to 6-2 really helped.”

The extra runs came in handy because Comet Blue mounted a rally in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs, Dan Kauffman reached on an error and Matt Brown, Smith and Eddie Murray hit consecutive singles. Murray’s line single to left plated Kauffman to make it 6-3.

But Garber, who threw 105 pitches on a muggy evening, fanned Swartz to get out of the inning. He walked Dan Bond with one out in the bottom of the seventh, but got Shane Rineer to ground to first to end it.

“We hit a rough spell in the middle of our season, and it was a do-or-die situation just to get into the LNP ,” Raffensperger said. “So it’s really nice to see these guys come together as a team and pull this out.”

NOTES: This was the sixth meeting of the season between the teams. With Thursday’s win, Bears Blue took the series 4-2…. Kraybill picked a runner of second, Caruthers picked a runner off first, and Smith threw a man out stealing in the sixth for Comet Blue…. Garber allowed just two hits over the first four frames and made a nice defensive play in the third. He corralled Caruthers’ smash back to the mound, knocked it down, chased it down, then tossed a strike to first from his knees…. The LNP Tournament concludes Monday, when the Safe Harbor Lions take on the Strasburg/Willow Street Pioneers for the junior-midget championship at 6:15 p.m. at Kunkle Field in Mount Joy.

Justin Garber delivers for Bears Blue.

Justin Garber lives up to his family name

By Jeffrey Reinhart
LNP Sports Writer

Justin Garber has never sat down face-to-face with his dad’s second cousin. He thinks he may have talked to him once, but that was a long, long time ago.

Truth is, the Bears Blue’s ace righty has never spent any quality time — let alone practice time — with Gene Garber. Not one second.

But after watching his exploits on the mound in Thursday’s midget final of the LNP Tournament , it’s obvious that Justin — like his dad’s second cousin — has a bright future on the pitching mound.

“I love pitching,” Justin said after he and his Bears Blue teammates topped Comet Blue 6-3 in the championship game in Manheim. “That’s what I want to do… pitch.”

Gene Garber was a pretty mean pitcher in his day. The former Philadelphia Phillies’ reliever and Elizabethtown native was known for his side-winding style and his penchant for going right after batters. He wasn’t afraid to pitch inside and he really challenged you.

Justin, who will be a sophomore at Elizabethtown this fall, is in the same mold. He doesn’t release the ball from his ankles — a la his dad’s second cousin — but, like Gene, he’s a battler and gamer. Justin was sawing guys off left and right last night. He got into some trouble when his arm began to tire in the sixth, but he got guys out by painting the corners and forcing them to hit his pitches.

That’s the M.O. of practically any successful pitcher, at any level.

Garber was practically untouchable over the first four innings. He fanned Dan Bond and Eric Bonds in the first. He punched out Dan Kauffman to open the second. He retired the side in order in the third and fourth, using just 19 pitches — five in the fourth — to mow down Comet Blue.

Shane Rineer and Kauffman hit scorching drives to deep center off of Garber in the fourth, but Bears Blue’s Mitch Hummer made two fine catches near the warning track. Other than those two bombs, Garber kept Comet Blue off balance.

How did Garber do it? How did he silence a dangerous offensive team while his team was staking him to a 4-0 lead?

“I was throwing a lot of grounders and I was hitting my spots and I was getting movement on the ball,” Garber said. “When I’m doing that, I’m going well.”

Garber, 15, used his fastball to get ahead of hitters, then used a tantalizing curve as his out-pitch. He also kept the ball on the corners and forced Comet Blue hitters to swing at high cheese or a breaking ball in the dirt.

Plus, he had great command. Garber had six strikeouts and walked just one batter, and that came with one out in the seventh.

“Let’s face it,” Comet Blue coach Jack Texter said with a shrug, “Justin Garber is one of the best pitchers in the county. He threw well.”

Real well in the first four frames. He lost a little zip in the fifth, when Comet Blue nicked him for two runs. But he closed the inning in style, fisting Bond, who hit a weak grounder to first.

Garber allowed another run in the sixth, when Comet Blue made it a 6-3 game. He gave up three straight hits but got out of the inning by whiffing Nick Swartz to preserve the lead, pumping his fist after the strikeout.

During Comet Blue’s rally, Garber often stood alone and gave himself a pep-talk. Those private sessions obviously panned out.     “At the beginning of the game I was pitching really well,” he said. “But I started getting tired later on. So I took a couple of deep breaths and tried to just hit my spots and tried to throw a grounder or get a double play. I wanted to turn the momentum around, so when we got back in the dugout, we could get a big inning going for ourselves.”

That’s exactly what Garber did, as he helped out at the plate, too. He went 2-for-4 with a double, and came around to score on Tyler Hostetter’s clutch two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single in the sixth to give Bears Blue a 6-2 lead.

With some room to maneuver, Garber escaped another pickle in the bottom of the sixth, allowing just one run when Comet Blue could have gotten a whole lot more. With two outs and the sacks packed, Garber dug deep and fired a fastball past Swartz to end the inning.

Swartz, who hung his head on the way back to the dugout to fetch his glove, could only watch as Garber’s pitch hugged the corner. End of rally. Fire doused.

Comet Blue went quietly in the seventh, with Garber getting two more jam-job grounders to close it out.

“As long as we have Garber on the mound, it’s pretty much an automatic win for us,” Hostetter gushed. “He’s just an awesome pitcher.”

Garber certainly has the physical tools. And, as Bears Blue coach Jim Raffensperger pointed out, he’s got the mental part of the game down pat, too.

“I’ve seen Justin sharper, but I thought this was an above-average start for him,” he said. “He’s had better starts, but he’s as good a pitcher as you’re going to see in midget baseball.

“And that’s because he has a great understanding of the game. He’s not just good physically, but he’s good upstairs and he has the love for the game in his heart. You can’t ask for much more than that from a player.”

Garber certainly answered the call on Thursday, hurling a complete game and pitching in with the stick, too.

“I start thinking about a game the day before, and I try to picture myself throwing a great game,” Garber said. “This wasn’t a great game, but it was enough to win. I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself. I just try to think about what I have to do and then go out and do it.”

Justin Garber will never have it any other way. Remember, pitching is in his genes.

Bears Blue’s Brian Risser slides safely under the tag of Comets’ second baseman Eddie Murray.