Champions at last

Lititz starting pitcher Mike Freeman (left) and reliever Skylar Gingrich check out the championship trophy.

By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent

For Skylar Gingrich, the summer baseball season has been one long waiting game. Wednesday night the waiting ended for Gingrich.

And for his team, the Lititz Oddfellows.

Sidelined all summer by issues with his pitching elbow, Gingrich made his first appearance of the season a memorable one.

Finally sound, he picked up the win with 41-e innings of shutout relief as Lititz defeated Manheim VFW 4-3 in the New Era Tournament Midget Division championship game at Clipper Magazine Stadium.

It was the first NET title for the Oddfellows (18-3), the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and it came in their first title game appearance.

“It’s very sweet,” said coach Frank Camera. “This is a total team effort. This team … they’re close and a joy to coach.”

It was a long, strange trip to get to the final. In eight years as coach of the Oddfellows, Camera brought seven teams to the New Era, missing only in his first year, 1999.

Six of those seven teams made it to the semifinals, the 2002 team lost in the quarters. Until this year, none got out of the semis.

This bunch – led by three-year veterans Tyler Kline, Jason Griffith, Andy Thompson and Erik Sheaffer – rewrote the script and it was Kline who delivered the happy ending.

“It’s a relief to finally win,” he said, “and it’s great that this (is the) team that got it for Lititz.”

With the game tied at 3 going into the bottom of the sixth, Gingrich led off the inning and was hit on the side of the batting helmet by a 2-2 pitch from Manheim’s Tony Ferrari.

“I was upset,” said Gingrich, who took a long look over at Ferrari as he stood on first base.

“That was probably the most painful event of my baseball career.”

His pain was soon, if not forgotten, at least eased. Rob Lessig replaced him on the basepaths and was off to the races as Kline smoked an 0-1 pitch into left field.

“I heard the ding come off the bat,” said Camera. “You could tell it was scorched.”

Lessig came home with the go-ahead run on the triple. Kline was out at the plate trying to stretch it into an inside-the-park homer.

With Lititz leading by a run, Gingrich had to get the final three outs, and he quickly got two, on a strikeout and a grounder to third.

But Justin Herman singled into center field for his third hit of the day, and Almodovar singled past third.

Acutely aware of 12 come-from-behind victories this season by Manheim (18-4), Camera was uncomfortable.

“I don’t think I took a breath from when the second out in that inning was recorded until the final out,” he said.

Gingrich, trying not to lose his head, just slowed his breathing.

“It shook me up a little bit,” he said of the VFW eruption. “I tried to calm down, threw an inside fastball, jammed (the batter) and Shank, all year Shank made the plays.”

In his first 18 summer games Shank, playing at shortstop, had not made an error.

Then the tournament began and he made three in three games, including one earlier in the evening.

This time he calmly scooped Jeff Knosp’s grounder and flipped to Kline at second for the game-ending force.

“It was hit pretty hard, so I didn’t really have time to think about it,” he said. “I was having a little trouble earlier … so I’m just glad I got to make the last play.”

Camera’s style of play is to go-go-go, putting pressure on the defense. “Guys sometimes ask, Is this a track team or a baseball team?’

“We’re going to play small. We’re going to run, and hit and run, stay aggressive the whole way through.”

That aggressiveness paid dividends early on. Zach Snyder led off the Lititz first with a walk and took second on a pick-off overthrow at first by Ferrari, the first of six errors by Manheim.

Mike Freeman singled into right, scoring Snyder, but was cut down going into second on the throw back from Garber.

With two outs Gingrich lived as Keath dropped his popup behind first, then scored as Andy Thompson beat out a slow roller to second.

Freeman, Lititz’s starter, sailed through the first two innings, but got into trouble in the third.

Tim Ruth walked and Keath got a hit to start the inning, but Freeman almost escaped as he got Garber on a groundout and Herman on a fly ball.

A wild pitch during Almodovar’s appearance scored Ruth and Almodovar doubled home Keath.

When Knosp singled in Almodovar, Camera, with a deep pitching corps available, elected to bring in Gingrich.

“I was pumped to get in,” said Gingrich, who struck out Jeff Knosp to end the inning, then scattered five hits the rest of the way.

“He came up big,” said Camera. “It’s meant a lot to Skylar to be able to come back in this situation.”

Lititz used its running game to forge a tie in the fourth inning. Thompson was safe on an error and took second on Justin King’s sacrifice bunt.

During Griffith’s atbat, Thompson stole third and kept coming when Garber threw the ball into left field.

“We made six errors and that sure didn’t help any,” said Manheim coach Jeff Mummau.

“Give credit to Lititz. They’ve got some great players over there, a lot of seasoned veterans. I’m happy for Frank, he’s been there for a long time and he deserves it.”

Lititz Oddfellows, New Era Tournament champions.

Worth the wait! Always a bridesmaid … finally the bride

By Jeffrey Reinhart
New Era Sports Writer

The monkey is off the Lititz Oddfellows’ backs.

“A very, very big monkey,” Mike Freeman said, breathing a sigh of relief.

“This feels good – really good.”

Good things tend to come to those who wait.

Lititz has waited patiently – through five near-misses the last six years, to be exact – and the Oddfellows’ were rewarded handsomely for their patience Wednesday night in Clipper Magazine Stadium, when Lititz squeezed past Manheim VFW 4-3 and earned its first New Era Midget Tournament championship.

VFW put two runners on in the top of the seventh, but there was no Manheim Magic on this night. The gold Midget trophy is headed to Lititz.

“Biggest win of my life,” said winning pitcher Skylar Gingrich, who started the winning rally when he was plunked by a pitch leading off the bottom of the sixth inning.

“We got together in center field after every game, and our last cheer was ‘New Era!'” he said.

“We did that after every single game this season. So we’ve been waiting for this.”

Lititz coach Frank Camera has been waiting for what must have seemed like an eternity for the Oddfellows’ first Midget crown.

In 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005 Lititz reached the semifinal round of this event, but never advanced to the title game.

Hence that very, very big monkey that was hanging over Camera and the Oddfellows’ Midget program.

Lititz, which finished its fine season with an 18-3 record, made the most of its first trip to the championship round, grabbing a 2-0 lead in the first inning, then overcoming a 3-2 deficit with single runs in the fourth and the sixth – the go-ahead run delivered by second baseman Tyler Kline, who tripled home courtesy runner Rob Lessig.

With Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blaring over the speakers, Camera, who just completed his eighth season as the team’s head coach, clutched the championship trophy and proudly displayed it to the Oddfellows’ flock of fans, who came out in full force to support their team, which was the No. 1 seed in the bracket.

“This win is for (Camera) as much as it is for us,” said Gingrich, who was stellar in relief of Freeman, the Oddfellows’ starting pitcher, allowing just four hits and no runs over four innings.

“He’s been waiting a long time for this,” Gingrich said. “He was probably getting tired of being knocked off in the semifinals all of those years.”

Now that you mention it …

“This is my eighth year, so yeah, we talk about building the program, and that word sort of goes down the line to the kids coming up,” Camera said. “We’ve been so close. Everyone has wanted to finally get over the hump.”

Consider the hump cleared.

“It’s amazing this is happening to us,” Kline said. “We talked about getting here at the beginning of the season, and we really felt like we could finally win the whole thing. So we’re really, really happy.”

As were the Oddfellows’ fans, who brought banners and noise makers; a couple of fans even donned body paint.

“Our fans were like our 10th guy out there,” Freeman said. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long, long time, and we finally got it done. It feels good to do it for them.”

And to finally make that monkey disappear for good.

“The monkey is off our backs,” Camera said, smiling. “The monkey is gone. And it feels great … just wonderful.”

Don’t look now, but 10 of the Oddfellows’ 18 players are set to return next year.

Camera is hoping that group – and the guys coming after them – won’t have to suffer through five semifinal setbacks before they’re champions again.

Manheim’s Devon Almodovar slides home safely ahead of the tag of Lititz catcher Justin King.

Second baseman Tyler Kline gets the force out ahead of Manheim’s Jeremy Knosp.

Manheim’s Brandon Keath secures the ball to put out Jason Griffith at first base.

Bill Kirk, starting pitcher for the victorious East End Panthers in the 1949 New Era championship game, delivers the first pitch.

Don Harmon, Kirk’s catcher in 1949, has a laugh after catching the ceremonial first pitch.

Relief pitcher Skylar Gingrich fires for Lititz.

Lititz players celebrate their championship.

Lititz players celebrate their championship.