New Era Correspondent
On a team of big boys and big boppers, Casey Bires is an unlikely candidate to be stroking a game-winning home run. Yet there he was Wednesday night, circling the bases toward a jubilant reception committee of Manheim Lions.
Bires’ shot in the bottom of the seventh inning, with Mike Kernisky on base, capped an outstanding comeback as Manheim successfully defended its Junior-Midget title in the 50th New Era tournament 9-7 over Mount Joy Blue.
It was the third straight New Era Championship for the nucleus of the Manheim team. They also won as Midget-Midgets in 1993.
Wednesday’s win was Manheim’s 30th of the season against just five losses. Mount Joy, meanwhile, ended a great season at 27-5.
The Lions overcame a 7-1 deficit with eight runs in their last two at-bats. The rally spoiled a quality pitching performance by Blue ace Ryan Torborg.
Kernisky whacked a high, full-count pitch into centerfield to open the seventh inning and Lions’ coach Jeff Mummau called on Bires to bunt Kernisky over.
Bires (2-for-4) bunted the first pitch foul and nothing was on as Torborg pitched out. That got Mummau debating himself.
“Coach, do you want to do it here? No. Casey’s attacking the ball real well. I’m going to let him hit away.”
Good thinking. Given the green light, Bires delivered on the next pitch.
“I was on my own,” he said. “I was just thinking base rip.”
The rip heard ’round the county, made possible by the Lions’ sixth-inning heroics.
Through the first five innings, Torborg limited Manheim to one unearned run on one hit, striking out 10.
It looked to winning pitcher Mark Bell like the Lions were as down as they’d been all year.
“He (Torborg) was pitching really well, the best I’d seen him throw all year,” Bell said. “We came in and I said, “Guys, we’ve got two more innings in our junior-midget careers.’ These guys never give up no matter what the score is.”
Torborg retired Kernisky on a bunt attempt for the first out of the sixth, then gave up a single to Bires. A throwing error by catcher Brandon Powell put Bires on second and he went to third on a base hit by Mumma.
Torborg got ahead of Jeff Smoker 0-2, but Smoker worked back to 3-2 before rifling a three-run homer over the fence in left.
“We were really hanging our heads, but Casey and Mumma got on and I just leveled off on a fastball over the plate,” Smoker said.
Rattled, Torborg issued his only walk of the game, to Bell on four straight pitches. Mummau went to his bench for pinch-hitter B.J. Kauffman, who poked a hit-and-run single through short sending Bell to third.
Shane Ecenrode bounced a ball past second baseman Ryan Hamilton pulling into third with a two-run triple as the ball took a bad hop in right field.
He barely had a chance to catch his breath as Mummau trotted out an oft-practiced, never used weapon from his arsenal.
The suicide squeeze.
Ecenrode broke on Torborg’s first offering to Joe Kenneff – all but beating the ball to home – and Kenneff got it down.
When Mummau gave him the sign, Ecenrode got excited.
“I knew I was the tying run. As soon as he started his windup, I took off,” Ecenrode said. “I was just hoping he’d lay it down.”
“It’s the first time we used that suicide all year long,” Mummau said. “We always practice it with the “bunt team.’ We worked on it last night for about 30 minutes.”
Enough time to give Mount Joy the Blues.
“They (Manheim) could have folded their tents, packed up and went home,” Blue coach Greg Schneider said. “But they expect to win. That’s the kind of team they are.”
Lions’ starter Matt Mumma walked six in three innings before giving way to Bell and Blue took advantage of his wildness.
Jeff Berman’s RBI ground out opened a 1-0 lead and his RBI single ignited a four-run fourth that featured a run-scoring wild pitch, Joel Shrum’s RBI grounder and Matt Bachert’s run-scoring single.
Powell’s monster homer in the fifth and an RBI single by Hamilton (2-for-5) in the sixth made the score 7-1, but it could have been much worse.
Blue lost a sure run in the first when Bachert was thrown out at home, then saw its fourth inning end in a strikeout doubleplay.
Hamilton’s hit would have been a two-run single, had Bachert not strayed off second after a double. Bires threw to Mumma and Bachert was hung out to dry.
“When you’re playing Manheim you never have enough runs, ever,” Schneider said. “We ran out of the first inning, out of the fourth and didn’t score when we had the chances.
“We knew coming in they were going to be tough. We beat them 4-3 in the finals of the Lititz tournament and it was the same way, a late-inning win.”
Late-inning heroics have been the norm for the Lions this year. They came from 3-1 down in their last bats to win the Red Rose League title.
Now Bell, Ecenrode, Smoker, Kenneff, Mumma and Bires move up to Midgets and the challenge of extending their Era title streak to four or better.
“After that first win as midget-midgets, we thought we could keep it going,” Smoker said.
And they did, thanks to a never-say-die attitude and some well-timed power surges.
Manheim has built a New Era dynasty
By Keith Schweigert
New Era Correspondent
Maybe Manheim was so used to winning the New Era Tournament , they thought a fantastic finish would liven things up a bit.
Or maybe they just wanted to see how sturdy coach Jeff Mumma’s heart is.
Whatever the reason, Wednesday’s dramatic comeback from six runs down, capped off by a two-run home run by Casey Bires in the bottom of the seventh, firmly establishes Manheim as a New Era Tournament dynasty.
With Wednesday’s 9-7 victory over Mount Joy Blue at Kunkle Field, the Lions won their second straight New Era Tournament Junior-Midget championship and their third straight New Era championship overall.
In 1993, the Lions started their run by defeating Safe Harbor in the Midget-Midget title game.
They followed that victory up last year with a 6-0 win over Warwick for their first Junior-Midget championship.
Five of Manheim’s players have started all three championship games: Bires, Jeff Smoker, Matt Mumma, Mark Bell, and Shane Ecenrode. Manheim’s fans christened them “The Three-peat Club” after Wednesday’s win.
Of the three championships they’ve played for, Wednesday’s victory will probably be the most memorable.
“This feels great,” said Bires. “I used to dream about doing something like this (hitting a game-winning home run). This is definitely the most exciting championship we’ve won.”
Matt Mumma, who was the starting pitcher on Wednesday, agreed with his heroic teammate.
“This was tremendous,” said Matt Mumma. “We had to come back for a win against Safe Harbor for our first championship, but we weren’t down as far. I was frustrated around the fifth inning tonight, and I didn’t think we could really come back, but I don’t think anyone really ever gave up hope. It was exciting.”
Exciting, yes, but hard for his father/coach to watch.
“I’m not sure I have one,” said Jeff Mumma, when asked how his heart was doing after the game. “I think it’s down in my stomach. This is definitely the most exciting win of our three championships. Last year, we beat Warwick, and pretty much dominated them the whole way. This year was much different.”
Bell, who came in to relieve Matt Mumma midway through the game, said that Manheim’s comeback was simply a matter of concentration.
“I think the turning point of the game was when we got our heads into it and had no more mental lapses,” said Bell, who broke up a no-hitter by Mount Joy’s Ryan Torborg with a single in the bottom of the fourth. “Once we got into the game, we started fielding the ball and hitting it like we know how.”
When Manheim won its first two championships, Bell said that it was something they expected to do. This year, he said they weren’t so sure.
“With the first two championships, we sort of expected to win because of the year we’d had,” said Bell. “This year, we had five losses, and it was more of a struggle for us the whole way. I think that’s what makes this one the sweetest of all of them.”