Not to put too much pressure on a group of 15- and 16- year olds, but, expect big things out of Hempfield High School’s baseball program over the next few years.
Accomplishing what only two programs have done before, the core group of the Hempfield Black Midgets completed a sweep of the three New Era Tournament age groups with a 6-3 victory over Strasburg/Willow Street Blue Friday night at Clipper Magazine Stadium.
This Black group has played in four straight New Era finals, one in Midget-Midget and two in Junior-Midget, winning titles in 2007 (M-M) and ’09 (J-M). They were turned aside in 2008 by the Strasburg/Willow Street White Sox, 6-5, the core of these 2010 Midget finalists.
“We’re very familiar (with them),” said Blue coach Bill McCrudden. “We gave it all we had. This is the fourth time we’ve played them this year: two in the league (a split), in the league playoffs (an 11-10 Black win), and now tonight.”
The three titles in four years are the first in the NET since 1993-98 when Manheim won five in six years, one M-M, three J-M and one Midget. The other program to sweep age groups was the New Providence-Solanco powerhouse from 1989-92.
“Not many people win one (title), let alone three,” said Hempfield’s Nolan Myers. “This one is going to be the most memorable, so far.”
Most memorable because, for the second straight year, Myers was Mr. Clutch.
Myers, who singled home the winning run in Hempfield’s 2-1 J-M title win last year, broke open a tight contest Friday with a sixth-inning, two-run single.
This coming one inning after Hempfield (16-4-1) squandered an opportunity to pad a 3-2 lead.
A 3-2 edge, zealously protected by starter Cory Gantz, who got the ball when scheduled starter Camden Hess came up ill Friday morning.
Myers’ hit made it a 5-2 game and Black tacked on another run on an error for extra space.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride for me this entire season,” said Myers. “JV season, I was hitting the crap out of the ball. I struggled for the most part of this (summer) season.”
“For whatever reason he wasn’t hitting the ball well,” said coach Cory Beddick. “But I knew he was eventually going to break out. It just so happened to happen at probably the biggest moment of the year.”
After running into an out and stranding two runners in the fifth inning, Hempfield loaded the bases on back-to-back walks to Colton King and Jake Lorenzen in the sixth.
Austin Rice put down a bunt, fielded by SWS starter Pete Darrenkamp. Darrenkamp wheeled and fired to third base too late to get King, loading the bases.
But Hess, feeling better by game time, forced King on a fielder’s choice to third and it looked like an opportunity might once again slip away.
Not if Myers could help it.
“The play was, if I was going to take a strike, we were going to squeeze the next play,” he said. “But I saw a first-pitch fastball and I cranked it into right field.”
“When he hit that ball,” teammate Nick Yarnall observed, “they (SWS) were done. You could tell.”
Well, not exactly.
Blue, which had chipped away with single runs in the third and fifth innings, posed a huge threat in the top of the sixth with the game still close as Gantz hit Matt McCrudden and walked Adam Gross.
“I was a little done,” Gantz later shared, although not with Beddick when the coach paid a visit to the mound.
“I went out to talk to him and he told me he wanted to stay in there, he still had it in him,” Beddick said. “There was no way I was going to let him come out.”
Gantz got back-to-back strikeouts, both looking, to finish with a flourish.
Hess came on to pitch the seventh, gave up a double to Dan Neff and Ray Lopez’s RBI single, then closed the door.
Black broke on top in the first inning as John Wilt walked, Gantz singled and Wilt, after stealing third, scored on an error by Darrenkamp.
SWS (14-5) got one back on Lopez’s sac fly, but Wilt and Gantz were in the middle of a two-run rally in the third, started by Anthony Dornes’ infield single. Yarnall plated a run — his 10th RBI of the tournament — on a force play in the middle of the infield and King scored Wilt on an infield hit.
From there it was Gantz’s game to win, and he did.
“Cory threw strikes, made them put the ball in play and we made the plays defensively,” said Beddick. “I told them before the game if we play good defense, we’re going to win.”