By Dave Byrne
One of the best lines in the classic film Casablanca, a film redolent with memorable lines, has Claude Rains’ character prefect-of-police Captain Louis Renault, order an underling to, ” … round up the usual suspects.”
As the Midget division of the New Era Tournament prepares to get underway, it would appear the usual suspects have been rounded up.
All eight competing teams stepping onto the turf of Clipper Magazine Stadium beginning tonight have a long, if not entirely successful, relationship with the NET.
Going back over the previous 20 tournaments, defending champion Lititz Oddfellows, the No. 7 seed, has won three of the last six titles.
During that same two decades Donegal, the fifth seed, has won twice, most recently in 2004, as has No. 4 Solanco, most recently in 1996.
Top-seeded Manheim won in 1998. Third seed Manheim Township won in 2007. No. 2 seed Ephrata Pride won in 2009.
While Strasburg-Willow Street is still looking for its first title, it has had six cracks at the piÃ±ata in the finals.
After 11 straight tournament appearances — including a runner-up finish in 2000 — Comet Blue returns to the Midget field following a one-year hiatus.
In the face of all this familiarity is uncertainty.
“This is a wide-open year,” Solanco coach Tom Fish shared. “Anyone’s guess, but I am excited to see some of the contrasting styles battle it out.”
The battles begin tonight at 5:15 when Comet Blue steps in against Manheim VFW.
Solanco Grey takes on Donegal in Thursday’s second game, twenty minutes following the conclusion of the first game.
Friday at 5:15 p.m., Ephrata Pride faces the Lititz Oddfellows in the first game with Manheim Township Black and SWS closing out the quarterfinals.
Leaving Saturday open for possible rain postponements, the semifinals are set for Sunday, beginning at 5:15 p.m. with the championship game scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday.
MT Black coach John Dochterman calls Comet Blue, “… the hottest team right now. They have won seven straight games.”
Actually, it’s now eight straight as the Comets (11-7), who finished ninth in the Lanco School League regular season, defeated Bears Blue 4-0 on Monday to play into the tournament.
Seven sophomores return for the Comets, including starting pitchers Cody Simet and Hunter McVey, as well as catcher/infielder Ethan Barley and second-baseman Micah Brown.
Manheim (18-2) has nine returning players, the nucleus of the 2010 NET J-M titlists.
The pitching is deep, paced by Ben Bomberger (3-1, 2.45 era), Blake Reiff (3-0, 3.37), Cole Bernhardt (2-1), Andrew Bucher (5-0, 1.63) and Colin Fry (4-0, 2.64).
Reiff (29 hits, 20 runs) and J. J. Sanchez (21 RBIs) key the attack.
Semifinalist Solanco (13-4-4) returns a lineup that includes pitcher/infielders Zack Leonard (.510, 24 RBIs) and Darren Rutledge (.380, 18 RBIs), C Eric Lefevre (.410, 17 RBIs), SS Caleb Groff and OF Devin Marshall, both of whom hit .350.
Leonard (5-2-2) and Rutledge (4-1-1) pace the pitching staff.
Donegal (12-4) returns seven players from a team that fell to Solanco in last year’s quarterfinals.
Austin Martinez led the team in wins (6-1) and average (.432), joined by Austin Mellinger (.302), Adam Kolenda (.318) and Sam Lazowski (.346).
Ephrata-Lititz is another quarterfinal rematch. The Pride (13-3-1) returns pitcher Seth Griffith, P/3b Brendan Miller, C Colin Albright, 1B Bobby Nye, 2B Trevor Seidel, SS Jarred Martin and CF Josh Gehman.
Lititz (12-5-1) defeated the Community League champion Ephrata Bandits 13-4 in Monday’s other play in game and returns four players — Robert Gerofsky (4-1, .364), Seth Earle, Colin Dimitris and Garret High — from last year’s titlists.
Ben Keyser (.513, 17 RBIs) and Drew Keller (.361) pace an attack that features eight batters hitting over .300.
Getting a late start, and playing a schedule back loaded with makeup games due to Lampeter-Strasburg’s deep run to the PIAA state finals, SWS finished 11-5-1.
Brett Brooks (20 RBIs), Sam Meck (.484) and Josh Wright (.556) are among six returnees.
Township (13-4) is led by Ian Eriksson (.547, 27 runs), Carter Krick (.437, 25 RBIs), Gavin O’Donnell (.419, 15 RBIs), and Dan Vucovich (.419, 16 RBIs) with Krick (4-1, 2.05 ERA) fronting the pitching staff.