New Era Correspondent
It was last call at the old New Era Midget Baseball Tournament.
Last chance to win an NET title at any level for the players who comprised Solanco Gray, and for most of the members of this edition of Hempfield Black.
Tuesday night at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field Hempfield defeated Solanco 9-6 to claim the championship of the Midget division and bring down the curtain on the 60th New Era Tournament.
It was an unprecedented fourth Midget Division title in five years for Black and the fifth overall for the program.
Nontheless, it was the first NET title for this particular group of players, although Jon Moser, Josh Lantz and Rob Devereaux were part of the Mountville Midget-Midget juggernaut.
“This was our last chance to win a New Era,” said winning pitcher Ryan Walters. “We just wanted to come out and win it.
“Both times we made it, we lost (in) the first game to Manheim Township,” he said.
That was in the 2001 Midget-Midget quarterfinals and in last year’s Midget quarters. Hempfield (23-3) put that demon behind it in this year’s quarters as Walters blanked Black’s nemisis over five innings.
And with the junior righthander going for his 15th win this year — 7-0 for Hempfield’s varsity this spring, 7-0 for Black this summer in the championship game, you had to like Hempfield’s chances.
Solanco (22-3) also had a history of NET futility, as this group lost in the 2002 Midget-Midget title game to Mountville — after beating most of these Hempfield players in the semis.
They were also bounced from the J-M quarters in 2003 and 2004.
In addition, after sailing through this year’s Lanco League season undefeated, they were tripped up by Hempfield in the championship series, suffering their first two losses of the season.
And they faced Hempfield in the penultimate game with their third-best pitcher.
So, of course, they jumped on Walters.
Nic Lewis ripped the first pitch of the game into the right-field gap for a triple, then Andrew Gordon worked a walk.
Some loose play accounted for a pair of runs, and an RBI single by T.J. Wolle made it 3-0 Solanco.
Designated hitter Bryan Stauffer caused fans to hold their breath when he drove Pete Mannino to the fence in left for the second out.
Walters then got Josh Hershberger on a comebacker, but Solanco had raked him for three hits and a walk.
“He was a little high with his control. He said he was having trouble gripping the ball,” said Black coach John Enoch.
“He didn’t have his best stuff,” Hempfield catcher Joel Gatti said.
“But, even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he’s still on.”
Hempfield was on Solanco starter Mitch Nesbitt, knocking four hits and taking advantage of two errors to answer with five runs in their half of the first inning.
Walters followed Ryan Enoch’s hit with a nicely executed hit-and-run single.
Derek Dornes lived on a ground ball and an error, Tyler Sweezey hit a fielder’s choice to third, Pete Mannino served a two-run double on the rightfield line and Ryan Hungarter ripped a two-run single to center.
Hempfield added a sixth run in the second when Rob Devereaux trotted home on an error on Enoch’s stolen base.
“You’ve got to play defense at this level,” Gray coach Hobie McMillion lamented. “(Nesbitt) pitched good, but the defense just didn’t come through.”
Walters seemed to settle in after the first inning, but it was a mirage as Gordon’s walk and McMillion’s double led to one run in the third inning.
Nate Blough tripled to deep center field, scoring McMillion, then came home as Wolle bounced a single over the head of Hungarter at third.
That tied the score at 6.
Hempfield turned a slick double play after Wolle’s hit, and Walters went on to retire 13 of the last 16 hitters he faced, including the last eight in a row.
“I was just getting all my stuff up,” Walters explained. “I just started getting a feel for the mound, dug in and started throwing strikes. I got my curveball working and was just keeping it down.”
Hempfield broke the tie in the fifth inning, which began innocently enough with Sweezey singling off Gordon’s glove at second and Jon Moser, who came in for Mannino in the third, working a walk.
Hungarter bunted the runners over and got new life as Wolle threw the ball away at first, allowing Sweezey to score.
Mark Merrifield’s RBI single signaled the end of the night for Nesbitt, and Gatti greeted reliever Nic Lewis with a sacrifice fly to center, delivering Hungarter.
It was a nice comeback for a team accustomed to comebacks.
“We knew we had it,” Mannino said. “There was never a moment of doubt in my mind.”
“Many games we’d be behind and they would stay nice and focused,” John Enoch said. “They’d score runs and win late in the game.”
Six outs from a celebration, Walters went into overdrive, getting three strikeouts, two popups and a roller to first.
“We always won division titles and things of that sort,” John Enoch said, “but nothing big.”
Enoch said he noticed that in Hempfield High’s Baseball Yearbook, “over 90 percent of the players” said their fondest baseball memory involved the New Era Tournament.
This memory will last a lifetime.
Hempfield ace follows in father’s footsteps
By Jeffrey Reinhart
New Era Sports Writer
It took 38 years, but a proud papa and his son now share a common bond. Rick Walters was on a pair of New Era Tournament championship teams as a kid.
The second baseman was on Rohrerstown’s Midget-Midget title team in 1965, and he was on Landisville’s Junior-Midget championship team in 1967.
“I still have the newspaper clippings,” Rick said with a chuckle.
His son, ace righty Ryan Walters, earned a complete-game victory in Hempfield Black’s 9-6 win over Solanco Gray in the championship game of the New Era Midget Tournament at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field on Tuesday night.
Hempfield Black became the first team in New Era Tournament history to win four championships in five years in any division.
Hempfield Black also won Midget titles in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2003.
Donegal pried the Midget championship away from Hempfield Black last year.
But thanks to Walters’ gutsy pitching performance, the trophy is headed back to Landisville.
And a father and son can put this one in the memory banks forever.
“We’ve had a lot of great Midget teams with a lot of great players come through here,” said Hempfield Black outfielder Pete Mannino, who went 2 for 2 in the title game, including a two-run double in Hempfield’s five-run first inning.
“The last team that won had Austin Hinkle and Jordan Herr and all of those guys. That was a lot to live up to last year, and we sort of folded.
“So this year we were determined to win the New Era.” Mission accomplished.
And a lot of that had to do with Walters, who battled and battled on a sticky night to finish the season in style.
“For the older guys, we knew this was our last chance to win the New Era, so we wanted it pretty badly,” said Walters, who pitched on Hempfield’s varsity team last spring as a sophomore.
Walters had an inauspicious start Tuesday night, as Solanco Gray lit him up for three runs on four hits in the top of the first.
Solanco’s Nic Lewis slammed Walters’ very first pitch of the night into the gap in right-center for a stand-up triple.
Walters’ line after the first three innings was ugly:
Three innings pitched. Seven hits. Six runs. Two walks. One strikeout.
“He said he was having some control problems,” Hempfield Black coach John Enoch said. “He couldn’t get a good grip on the ball, and everything was high.
“Once he fixed that, he was pretty good.”
Make that great.
Once he found his groove — and started painting the corners with a hard fastball and a tantalizing curveball — Walters was nearly unhittable.
His line over the final four innings was stellar:
Four innings pitched. One hit. One hit batter. Five strikeouts. No walks.
“I’m not sure you can pitch much better than that,” Hempfield Black catcher Joel Gatti said.
“He was nasty. He got control of his fastball, and his curveball was working and he was keeping his pitches down.
“And he wanted to win. We all wanted to win, but he probably wanted to win a little more than anyone else did.”
That’s because Walters didn’t want his dad to have all the bragging rights.
“Once my adrenaline got flowing, the only thing I was thinking about was shutting them down and winning the New Era,” Ryan said. “I just wanted to shut them down and get the win.”
When Hempfield Black scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth to grab a 9-6 lead, Walters took it from there, retiring the final eight batters in row — three via strikeouts.
“Ryan came up big,” Mannino said. “He struggled the first couple of innings, but he really dug down the last couple of innings and he did it.”
Just like his dad did it — 38 years ago.
“We’ve been waiting so long for this,” said Hempfield Black infielder Ryan Hungarter, whose two-run single capped Hempfield’s five-run first-inning outburst.
“This is amazing. This has been our goal since Day One. This is all we wanted to do. It was our turn to get the championship back, and we knew we had to do it.”
With Walters on the mound, Hempfield Black had to like its chances going in, especially with Solanco leaning on its No. 3 starter, Mitch Nesbitt.
Nesbitt gallantly lasted into the fifth, but he ran out of gas — unlike Walters, who was still bringing the heat in the seventh.
“This means everything to us,” said Gatti, who played on Hempfield’s JV team last spring.
“From the beginning of the season, we set out to win the New Era championship. Anything else we did would be great, and we won our league.
“We did what we had to do to get here, and we won it.”
And as a result, not only is the trophy headed back to Landisville, but there is now a pair of New Era champs in the Walters’ household.