Comet Blue, Bears Blue make midget semifinals

David Cornwall of Hempfield Red dives back to second base as Eddie Murray awaits the throw.

By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent

Under a dreary sky, the Hempfield Youth Association’s midget baseball program got a bad case of the blues on Saturday.

Hempfield Black and Hempfield Red, the HYA’s travel teams for the 14-to-16 year-old age group, took a double hit in the New Era Tournament . They fell to Comet Blue and Bears Blue, respectively, in an NET midget division quarterfinal at Manheim’s Baron Complex.

Comet Blue (19-8) edged Hempfield Black, 5-4, as Andre Kraybill and Jayson Enoch locked in a classic duel of pitching prowess.

Earlier in the day, Bears Blue (16-7) dropped a 15-0 neutron bomb on Hempfield Red, as pitchers Justin Garber and Jimmy Kreider combined for a five-inning no-hitter.

Saturday’s game was the third straight New Era Tournament appearance for Enoch. The Hempfield freshman-to-be pitched junior-midget Hempfield Black to back-to-back NET titles in ’98 and ’99.

Kraybill, the Penn Manor junior, was making his first start in the NET. But experience provided no edge on Saturday as both pitchers showed, and needed, plenty of mound moxie.

Black (17-9) nicked Kraybill for a pair of runs in the first and third innings. However, one big inning proved Enoch’s undoing as Blue posted a five-spot in the second.

“It was a real tight game,” said Blue coach Jack Texter. “I thought our kids played real well defensively and Andre was a big-league pitcher today.

“(Enoch) threw an excellent game too,” he said. “Other than that one inning, they played a great game.”

But Enoch reached back to keep his team in the game after allowing Blue’s lone rally. He got a foul pop and two strikeouts to escape a two-on, no-out jam in the fifth, and rang up a pair of Ks to stifle a two-on, one-out situation in the sixth.

In fact, after Shane Rineer’s 2-run double gave Blue a 5-2 lead in the second, the Comets never got another hit. Enoch struck out 13, including seven of the last eight batters.

Kraybill was also equal to the task as he got four strikeouts and threw eleven ground balls. He worked his way out of a jam in the first after Black had two runs in and two runners on, ending the threat with a pair of strikeouts.

In the third, after Hempfield had closed to 5-4, a strike out and ground out started a string that saw Kraybill retire seven in a row and eight of nine.

“Andre kept us off balance,” said long-time Black coach Ken Gerber. “But they made plays behind him.”

Two of those plays were fielding gems by third baseman Dan Bond and shortstop Eric Bonds, who went deep in the hole to retire Nick Vosnock in the fourth. And centerfielder Corey Caruthers and rightfielder Matt Brown tracked down a couple of fly balls.

“Our defense picked up everything that was hit,” Rineer said, “And Andre threw a heck of a game for us. He’s been a horse for us all season. Today we needed him more than ever, and he came through for us.”

But the Comets were walking that one-run tightrope. In the sixth, Black’s Jason Smith singled past Bond to lead off and was bunted over to second. Justin Simmons then grounded back to Kraybill, who threw over to Rineer covering first for the second out.

Things went south as Smith got hung out between short and third. Rineer alertly threw to Bond, who ran Smith back to Bonds. Bonds then took Bond’s throw and tagged Smith out to end the inning.

Blue had one more hurdle to clear in the seventh as Bonds threw away Vosnock’s slow, one-out chopper. But he made immediate amends as he turned a twin-killing on Enoch’s shot to short to end the game.

Black took a brief lead in the first as Kraybill issued two of the his three walks for the game, Brian Biggs hit a sac-fly to left and Smith singled in a run to give Hempfield a 2-0 lead.

Blue struck back in its next at bat. Dan Kauffman and Brown reached on base hits and Eddie Murray laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt. Enoch had no play, but he tried to get the out and third and instead threw the ball away, allowing Kauffman to trot home with the Blue’s first run.

Caruthers’ one-out sac fly to left brought Brown home and Bond walked to extend the inning. Bonds singled Murray home and Rineer extended Blue’s lead to 5-2 with a two-run double off the fence in left.

“My first time up I struck out (with runners on first and second and one out.) I felt like I let my team down,” said Rineer. “I knew I had to come through and it felt good off the bat. At first I thought it might go out, but when it hit the ground, we all started running.”

The Black pulled to within on run in the third, as Biggs doubled off the fence in left center to start the inning. After Brian Grier popped to Bonds, Justin Tearney, who singled as part of the first-inning uprising, drilled a 3-1 pitch over the fence in left for a two-run homer.

“He’s a tough batter,” Kraybill said of Tearney. “In previous years he’s hit home runs off me too. I didn’t think he was going to swing on a 3-and-1 pitch. It wasn’t tight enough.”

“We try to tell them, with Andre you’re not going to get too many pitches right down the seam,” said Gerber. “So if you get it, you better not take it.”

While Kraybill allowed the Black to get close, he wouldn’t yield any more runs for the rest of the way.

Afterward, Gerber tipped his cap to the Comet Blue hurler.

“That one big inning has been the downfall for every loss we’ve had,” Greber said. “I can’t say enough about the effort of their pitcher and I like my pitcher’s effort too. This is what midget baseball’s supposed to be.”

In the first game Bears Blue left Hempfield red, mauling them with an 11-run first inning — an abyss from which Red (10-8) could never escape.

Blue batted around plus six as Brian Risser, Justin Garber, Jimmy Kreider and Derek Lokey each drove in a pair of runs. Tyler Hostetter, Mitch Hummer and Joseph Herr also drove in single runs as Blue utilized nine hits, three walks and a hit batsman.

They added an RBI single by Ryne Christian in the second and Ryan Kiscaden’s pinch-hit, 3-run home run in the fifth inning. “We were fortunate to come out and hit a lot of line drives,” said Blue coach Jim Raffensberger. “It’s nice to get a big start.”

A big start that ensured the game would be shortened to five innings by the ten-run mercy rule. The beneficiaries of this onslaught were Garber, who started and went two innings — exiting to save some pitches for the championship game of the Kratzer tournament Saturday night (they played Hempfield Black) — and Kreider who picked up the win with three innings of relief.     The Bears duo allowed just two baserunners in five no-hit innings — Garber hit Jake Sliter to start the game and Kreider walked the first batter he faced, John Carpenter.

Two fielding plays preserved the gem for Blue. Hummer made a super, diving catch in center to rob Zach Houseal in the first inning and Seth Brinser held on to Matt Oblender’s fly to left while falling down in the third.

The win was the latest in a string of success for this group. “They had a real good (high school) JV season,” Raffensberger said. “We had a little bumpy spot in the middle of our season, but they seem to have pulled it together here lately. The last two, three weeks, we’ve hit our stride pretty good.”

Now the stage is set for what should be a super semifinal, Thursday at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field. Comet Blue takes on the Lititz Oddfellows and pitcher J.J. Palomarez in the opener, followed by the Bears and perennial NET finalist, the West Lampeter Pioneers.

“You guys are going to have a good finish to the New Era Tournament,” said Gerber. “Any one of the four teams could win it. There’s not a team that’s in it that doesn’t belong there.”

Bears Blue’s Ryne Christian (7) congratulates Justin Garber.

Hempfield’s Jason Smith slides safely back to first as Comet Blue’s Shane Rineer applies the tag.