Paced by John Armbrust’s escape act on the mound, solid defense and opportunisitc hitting, the Norlanco Redbirds capture their first New Era Tournament Midget-Midget title.
By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent
Not even Mother Nature could stop Norlanco.
After waiting 68 minutes to begin play, sitting through two brief delays for lightning and enduring a light but persistent shower for 2½ innings, the Redbirds defeated the Mountville Indians 4-2 to win the 61st New Era Tournament Midget-Midget championship.
“This was too close,” said Redbirds’ coach Mike Lowrie.
He shouldn’t have been surprised. The teams split two games this season, with Norlanco taking a 3-1 verdict at home and the Indians winning 3-2 on their last at-bat in Mountville.
In just their second year of New Era Tourney competition, the Redbirds (26-4) earned their first title. Norlanco’s players hail from the Akron/Ephrata area.
A tip of the cap should go to Leo Gillette and his volunteer grounds crew for having Kunkle Field ready to go in spite of the savage storm that swept through Mount Joy at 6 p.m.
Despite the torrential downpour, the field was ready to go within an hour of the original 7 p.m. starting time.
Once play began, Norlanco righthander John Armbrust outdueled his Mountville counterpart, Willie Welsh, for his ninth win in eleven decisions.
Meanwhile his batterymate, catcher Jake Rutt, ended a horrific slump with an RBI double and threw out two basestealers, part of a near-pristine defensive effort by the newly-crowned champions.
“It’s a team thing. They’ve been playing great defense all year and they played it tonight,” said Lowrie. “Throwing out those guys at second base was huge. Those kinds of things change the tenure of the game.” Armbrust, a 7th-grader at Garden Spot Middle School, allowed just one earned run on five hits and always seemed to throw the big pitch when he needed one.
“I was relaxed, I felt good,” Armbrust said. “My curveball was really working tonight.” Armbrust pitched his way out of a huge jam in the second inning after he issued two walks and hit a batter with one out.
But he induced Ian Bently, who had shown an uncanny knack for working walks during the tournament, to pop out to shortstop on a 3-2 pitch and froze Adam Law with a 2-2 fastball to escape from trouble.
“It got a little dicey there,” said Lowrie. “But he’s a real calm kid. Anytime he’s gotten into a jam, he’s gotten out of it.”
“We just couldn’t quite get the run where we needed it,” said Mountville coach Bob Sauders.
Mountville (40-14) scratched across two in the third inning on Jake Hartman’s infield single to third and Brian Neff’s ensuing throwing error, and threatened again in the fourth.
With one out, Bentley and Law hit back-to-back singles and took third on John Wilt’s ground ball to second.
Armbrust ran the first pitch to Gordie Barganier in on his hands, jamming the Indians’ catcher into an easy, unassisted ground out to first to escape again.
Mountville got two more baserunners on a one-out single by Welsh in the fifth and Bryan Haberstroh’s leadoff hit in the sixth, but Rutt gunned both down trying to steal, Haberstroh on a delay after a wild pitch.
While Armbrust was picking his way through the Mountville order, Welsh was having a mixed night.
He allowed fewer hits and walks, but damaged his own cause with a pair of throwing errors, leading to three unearned runs.
“The first inning, they got solid hits,” said Sauders. “Then, we knew what was coming and we just couldn’t finish a play at first.”
Norlanco’s first run was untainted. Welsh got the first two outs of the first inning, and had a 2-0 count on Andre Hoover before the first lightning suspension occurred.
When play resumed, Hoover pulled a 3-2 pitch into right field for a single, bringing Rutt to the plate.
Rutt, who entered the tournament hitting .477 with four homers and 34 RBI, was mired in an 0-for-8 nightmare with seven strikeouts.
A product, he said, of not watching the ball come in.
He took strike one from Welsh, then lined a double to the fence in right center, scoring Hoover.
“I was so happy,” said the Ephrata Mennonite 7th-grader afterward.
A sentiment shared by his ten teammates.
60 years later, they’re still proud champs
By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent
It’s been 60 years since George W. Kirchner’s first New Era Tournament champions walked off Stumpf Field, bathed in the sweet feeling of success.
The passage of time has rendered many changes. Three players have passed away.
But eight of the ten surviving members of the Holtwood Martic Minors, the first NET Midget-Midget champions, gathered Tuesday night at Mt. Joy’s Kunkle Field to be recognized as part of this year’s M-M championship festivities.
Mother Nature did not co-operate, as storms set back the start of the game by a little over an hour, and yesterday’s heroes went off into the evening before the Norlanco Redbirds were crowned the 61st NET M-M champions.
The gathering at Kunkle was a continuation of an impromptu reunion set up by Gerry Dunkle, the Minors first baseman, who brought in teammates from far and near.
It was the first time many had seen each other since 1963, when they last gathered as a team.
The winner for the longest distance traveled had to be David “Pud” Frick. Frick, who lives in Zanesville, Indiana, came back to Lancaster last week for a family reunion.
He and his wife of 50 years, a Zanesville native whom he met at a church camp in Ohio when they were kids, eagerly returned Monday when they heard about the gathering of Minors.
“Pud”, the Minors’ leftfielder and leadoff man, is semi-retired, delivering travel trailers, and, in fact, managed to work in a delivery to Buffalo, New York between visits to Lancaster.
Don Trimble, the third baseman, is retired eleven years from PP&L and traveled down from his home in Watsontown, just south of Williamsport.
Don Smith also retired in 1995, from Allied Signal in St. Louis, Missouri, and returned to the area, settling in Belair, Maryland.
The oldest of his seven grandchildren, Adam Smith, reently concluded his career at Camp Hill High School by receiving a track scholarship to North Carolina University.
Vernie Wood, Jr., the cleanup hitter and shortstop, still lives in the Holtwood area. His brother, and keystone partner, second baseman Donald “Duck” Wood, is nearby in Quarryville. As is Neil Jones.
Dunkle is a retired School District of Lancaster administrator and lives in Strasburg.
Living nearby is winning pitcher Lloyd “Torchy” Bortzfield, who struck out 13 batters that August evening.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of activity,” recalled Don Smith. “He was whiffing ’em pretty good.”
In fact, Bortzfield was responsible for all but two of the 15 outs of the game. Dunkle caught a fly ball and “Duck” Wood tagged out a would-be basestealer at second for the other two outs.
After taking a 2-0 lead, the Minors fell behind 3-2, then rallied to win, 10-3.
“Torchy kept us in the game until we got our back together,” said Frick. “Then we started hitting and playing ball like we should.”
Centerfielder Morris Waters, who lives in New Providence, and Bob Smith, who lives in Gettysburg, could not attend Tuesday.
Catcher Earl Wood, the oldest brother of Vernie and “Duck”, passed away, as did rightfielder Ray Stauffer and his brother, “Peep” Stauffer.
The Minors returned to the 1947 M-M title game, but lost to Millersville. Trimble remembers making an error that, “stuck with me for a while.”
While they never repeated as New Era champions, many of the Minors went on to form the nucleus of Penn Manor’s Lancaster County Championship teams of 1950 and ’52.