By Dave Byrne
Penn Manor threw down the gauntlet at the 2012 Lancaster Newspapers New Era Junior-Midget Tournament, knocking down the Strasburg-Willow Street White Sox on opening night.
Down but not out, the Sox battled back through the elimination bracket and defeated Elizabethtown Navy – which had knocked the Comets out of the tournament – back-to-back to win the title.
With no SWS in the picture this year, and E-town and Penn Manor back for more, it would be logical to assume they are the favorites, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
One thing one learns over decades of New Era Tournament watching is, things are often not what they seem.
Penn Manor and Garden Spot Gray earned the top seeds for the New Era qualifying series which begin tonight at the home fields of the top four seeds.
Penn Manor welcomes Conestoga Valley to Cresswell Park tonight at 6 for the opener of a best-of-three series.
Also tonight, Garden Spot hosts Solanco Gold, third-seeded Donegal rolls out the welcome mat for Lititz VFW at Marietta’s War Memorial Field while No. 4 seed St. Leo hosts E-town at the Dutch Gold Honey complex.
On Wednesday, the scene shifts to CV High School, Colerain Park, Warwick Township Field and E-town’s Poplar Street Field with a third game, if necessary, back at the top seeds’ home on Friday.
The four series winners open the 68th New Era Tournament Junior-Midget division at Mt. Joy’s Kunkle Field on July 17.
The tournament continues on July 18 and 19, with the championship game set for July 22. If needed, a second championship game will be held on July 23.
Of this year’s field of eight, Penn Manor enjoys the most recent NET success, with predecessor Safe Harbor winning in 2000, repeating in 2002.
Lititz VFW won in 1992, succeeding 2001 champion Solanco.
While Donegal’s history is of the recent variety, Mt. Joy Blue won in 1988, two years after Leola brought the last title back to the CV school district.
Despite many title-worthy entries over the years, E-town is still looking for its first J-M title.
Relative newcomers to the Section One wars – St. Leo – or just getting back in after a long absence – Garden Spot – both are looking for their first New Era laurels.
Penn Manor vs. Conestoga Valley
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Penn Manor (25-3) won the Lancaster County Youth Baseball League’s National Division and earned the No. 1 seed with the overall best record in the league. Conestoga Valley (8-12), the final team to qualify for the playoffs, defeated the Manheim Township Streaks 6-2 in a play-in game.
ABOUT PENN MANOR — Four players return from the 2012 J-M semifinalists: Grant Gale and Austin Roberts, the team batting leaders, Conner Bitts and Ryan Witmer. Gale and Roberts front a pitching staff that includes Jeremy Burkholder and Jeff Taylor, promoted from the 14U Section Twos and Dalton Landis, up from Under 12.
ABOUT CONESTOGA VALLEY — Luke Trainer (.533 batting average, .611 on-base percentage) is the only player returning from last year’s 14U team. Konrad Martin (.372, .429) ande Nick Ator (.339, .400) are among the top offensive options. Nelson Habacivch (4.40 era), Trevor High (4.75) and Langston Wells (6.41) head the pitchiubng staff.
Garden Spot vs. Solanco
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Garden Spot (15-3) claimed the LCYBL American title, and with it the overall No. 2 seed in the tournament. Gray took a giant step after losing a play-in for the 2012 tournament. Speaking of play-ins: Solanco (9-12) knocked out Hempfield Black, 6-1, in a play-in to enter the series as the No. 7 seed.
ABOUT GARDEN SPOT — Shortstop Brock Kauffman, centerfielder Seth Thomas and thirdbaseman Eric Muttick return for the Spot and, not surprisingly, are Gray’s offensive core. Kauffman and Thomas are part of a five-man pitching staff that includes Ryan Smith, Cameron Heilman and Austin Wanner.
ABOUT SOLANCO — Dawson Got’ is the only returnee from the 14U squad that fell in the 2012 play-ins. Got’, Michael Worthington, Jr., and Billy Cooney, pace Gold’s attack. Worthington, Colin Ewaka, Brady Frampton, Phillip Quinn, Josh Kreider and Got’ all take their pitching turns.
Donegal vs. Lititz
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Donegal (25-14) finished a game behind Penn Manor in the LCYBL National, esrning the No. 3 seed. Lititz (22-12) finished tied for fourth in the American Division, pulling down the sixth seed.
ABOUT DONEGAL — One year after playing in a merger with Mt. Joy, Donegal goes solo once more. New Era Tournament veterans Ian Rapp (.378) and Connor Green (.452 avg., 29 RBI) return for a second year of 14U action, blending with eleven players promoted from 12U. Two of those, Brady Steinman (9-1, 2.05 era) and Chris Nash Magar, handle pitching duties.
ABOUT LITITZ — Zach Peters (.536 avg., 39 RBI) and Dalton Uibel (.398, 25 RBI) return from a VFW side that went 0-2 in the 2012 tournament. They also lead the pitching staff, Peters 5-3 with a 3.45 ERA and Uibel, 5-0, 1.77. However, Uibel is coming of an extended period of tendinitis-related inactivity.
St. Leo vs. Elizabethtown
HOW THEY GOT HERE — The No. 4 and No. 5 seeds of the tournament, St. Leo (18-4) and E-town (14-4) finished just behind Garden Spot in the American Division, seperated by one-half game. St. Leo swept the season series, 12-3 and 2-1.
ABOUT ST. LEO — Moving up after playing a Section Two schedule last year, St. Leo is led offensively by Dillon Marsh and Dalton Eck, who join Brandon Knarr to form handle mound duties.
ABOUT E-TOWN — Five players return from the 2012 J-M runnerup squad. Braydon Clair (36 runs, 36 RBI) led the team with a .571 average, joined by Nick Stoner (.551, 28 runs, 27 RBI), Logan Yohn (.300, 22 runs), Justin Shelly (.540, 34 runs) and Casey Cooper (.418, 15 RBI). Also pounding the ball for Navy are Braydon Shuck (.368), David Shank (.363), Chad Caley (.340) and Bryce Stone (.326).