New Era Sports Writer
There is simply no stopping Jason Enoch.
If he wants the ball, give it to him.
If he wants to throw a fastball, let him.
If he wants to snap off a nasty curve ball, let him.
And if the game is on the line and he wants to challenge the last batter with his best stuff – you guessed it – let him.
Enoch, Hempfield Black’s hard-throwing righty, went the distance Monday night as his team edged Manheim Township Black 6-5 in the New Era Tournament Junior-Midget semifinals at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
Enoch struck out 10 and scattered six hits, including a couple of long home runs, and wiggled out of a mess of trouble at the end.
After silencing Township’s bats over the middle innings, Enoch hit a batter and allowed a single and a run-scoring double with two outs in the bottom of the seventh as Township sliced Hempfield’s lead to 6-5.
But after a pow-wow on the mound with assistant coach Doug Rhoads, Enoch got Kevin Whitworth to bounce to second to end the game.
The win sends Hempfield, the defending New Era Tournament Junior-Midget champs, to next Monday’s championship game. Rheems Gray, which toppled Conestoga Valley in last night’s other J-M semi at Kunkle, awaits.
Enoch and his buddies will be waiting, too.
“Jason is the most phenomenal kid I’ve ever seen for a kid in his age bracket,” said Rhoads, who huddled with Enoch after Township’s Chris Diebler laced a one-hop ground-rule double to center to score Kyle Storm, who was plunked by Enoch to open the seventh.
“We just wanted him to throw his best stuff,” Rhoads said. “If they were going to beat us, it would have to be off his best stuff. We wanted to get Jason to relax, and he did and he came through.
“If he has confidence in his pitches, we let him throw it because he’s going to deliver. And tonight he did.”
Enoch, who had a high-octane fastball working throughout the evening, went after Whitworth with high gas, and got him to bounce to Mike Baker at second to end it. The party started just outside Hempfield’s dugout shortly thereafter.
“I love pitching in big games,” said Enoch, who allowed first-inning homers to Jared Ellis and Josh Bucher as Township (19-7 overall) took an early 3-1 lead. “At the end, I just had to keep my head in the game and not worry about what happened before.”
He did, sending Hempfield (26-6) back to the title game in the process.
“Clearly Township was a great team and they were prepared for this game,” said Charlie Enoch, Jason’s dad and a Hempfield assistant. “We just got a little lucky.”
That and Township lefty Casey Pfautz just plum ran out of gas. Pfautz needed 39 pitches to get out of the top of the second, when Hempfield pushed across three runs to take a 4-3 lead. In the frame, Justin Simmons walked and swiped third, Brett Rhoads singled and stole second and Ryan Hogentoger walked to load the bases.
Brian Biggs then drew a walk to force in one run, and Baker, who hit a solo homer to right to give Hempfield a 1-0 lead in the first, lined a single to left to plate Rhoads and Hogentoger and it was 4-3 Hempfield.
Hempfield went ahead 6-3 in the fourth when Pfautz plunked Hogentoger, who stole second and scored when Biggs reached on an error by Whitworth in center. Then Baker singled home Biggs, bringing Township coach Jim Lilley out of the dugout to lift Pfautz, who threw 92 pitches in 3 2/3 innings.
He allowed just four hits, but walked four, struck out eight and hit a batter.
“I thought Casey was losing velocity,” Lilley said. “And we were in a situation where we just couldn’t give up any more runs.”
The good news was that Ellis, who relieved Pfautz, didn’t allow any more runs. The bad news was that Enoch was firing darts.
After Bucher’s homer in the first, Enoch didn’t allow another hit until Ellis roped a one-out double in the sixth. He fanned nine batters over that stretch, and was pitching with a seemingly comfortable three-run cushion.
“Jason is the best pitcher you can have,” Baker said. “He throws so hard and he has a great curve ball. I love him.”
Lilley liked him, too.
“Jason is as good as it gets,” he said. “He shut us down through the middle innings and he didn’t give us any opportunities. We just couldn’t get any baserunners.”
Township did chip away in the sixth. After Ellis doubled, Bucher hit a lazy fly ball to Hogentoger in left, but he misplayed it, allowing Ellis to score and make it 6-4.
Enoch retired Pfautz and Tim Myers on ground balls to get out of the inning. Enoch got out of a pickle in the seventh, too. After Storm was hit on Enoch’s first offering of the inning, Shawn Keller looped a check-swing single to right to put two runners on with no outs.
Leadoff man Greg Testa hit a bouncer up the middle and the ball ricocheted off Enoch’s glove, directly to Biggs at shortstop. He stepped on second and threw to first for the double play.
“That was huge,” Jason Enoch said. “Absolutely huge. If we don’t get that, we’re in big, big trouble.”
Enoch still wasn’t quite out of the woods yet, as Deibler followed with his clutch RBI double. But Enoch dug down deep and got Whitworth to end it.
“Jason is our horse, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Charlie Enoch said. “I don’t think the pressure really bothered him because he pitched every game for us in last year’s New Era Tournament .”
Translation: Enoch has been here and he’s done that.
He and his mates will try to make it two straight next week.
NOTES: Baker went 3-for-4 with four RBIs. … Charlie Enoch and Doug Rhoads shared the managing duties for Tom Herr, who is with his son, Aaron, at a baseball camp. Herr’s youngest son, Jordan, has not played in the NET because of a broken wrist. … Jason Enoch threw 109 pitches. He only walked one batter, but hit two. He also had a wild pitch and was called for a balk. Enoch also made two great defensive plays, including a nice grab to rob Storm of a sure hit in the second inning.
Enoch and 1B Nick Vosnock are the loan holdovers from last year’s championship team. … Ellis went 2-for-4 with a double and a homer for Township. On the mound, he allowed just two hits, walked two and fanned five. He did uncork one wild pitch. … This was the third meeting between these teams this summer. Hempfield is now 3-0.
Rheems Gray bombs CV Braves to reach title game
By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent
The unbridled joy of a 14-year-old boy is infectious. And the Rheems Gray Junior-Midget baseball team is this close to starting an epidemic.
It was a jubilant Gray welcoming committee that gathered at home plate to great Tyler Hostetter in the bottom of the sixth inning last night. His leadoff home run terminated Gray’s semifinal showdown with the Conestoga Valley Braves, 10-0, and ushered Rheems (16-7) into its first New Era Tournament championship game at this, or any, level.
“This is unbelievable,” Gray second baseman Aaron Nelson said. “I’ve never been on a winning tram before this year.”
Gray will play Hempfield Black next Monday evening at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field for the NET Junior-Midget championship. Black defeated Manheim Township Black 6-5 in the second game of J-M doubleheader last night in Mount Joy.
Earning the New Era Tournament final is the latest achievement for a team that has out-performed expectations since winning the West Division title of the Susquehanna League.
“We started out bad, 10-6,” Hostetter said after the game. ” Then we won the League (tournament ). Now we’re in the championship of the New Era .”
What turned it around? There’s this ritual between Hostetter and his coach, Dave Ritchey. It’s been going on for five or six games now.
“(Tyler) and I trade hats,” Ritchey said, sporting his “Rheems” hat after wearing Hostetter’s New York Yankees hat during the game. “I think his “R’ fell off, or something.”
Winning streaks have sprouted in stranger soil. But, as Ritchey noted, there’s also a more logical explanation.
“They stopped being individuals and started playing as a team, picking each other up,” he said of his team. “It’s a special team and a special year. It’s something we dreamed of in March, to get here. We were lucky enough to have it happen.”
They made things happen Monday night, taking advantage of an error to punch across the only runs Hostetter would need.
Kris Miller’s two-out bobble of Seth Brinser’s bounder to first nudged the door open and Gray barged through with an RBI single by Ryne Christian and Nelson’s 2-run thunderbolt to the parking lot beyond left field.
“I’m on a roll now, baby!” said Nelson, who also cleared Kunkle’s limits in Gray’s 3-homer, 4-run, fifth-inning assault on the Braves (15-6-2).
It was Nelson’s third homer in seven days after going homerless for the season.
“Anything they throw me right now, it seems like I crush it,” he said. “It’s just reaction. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Ritchey might disagree. Recent batting practices have been devoted to developing leg-drive and generating power from it.
“Aaron’s always been a line-drive hitter who just tried to put the ball in play,” Ritchey said. “Suddenly, he’s got a little bat-speed power and the ball’s carrying for him.”
Trevor Rodriguez singled home Chad Eberly (3-for-3) in the second inning and scored on a wild pitch, but CV’s Jeremy Stoltzfus settled down and retired seven of the next nine hitters he faced.
Hostetter was simply better. He allowed singles to Mark Cisney in the first and Miller in the second and had a moment in the fourth, when the Braves loaded the bases with two out on a pair of walks and a hit batter.
Hostetter struck out Chris Brossman to end the threat and was in comand the rest of the way, striking out 13.
“Just about anything he threw, he threw for a strike,” said Brinser, who left E-town to join his friend and play Tim McCarver to Hostetter’s Steve Carlton. “I think he’s the best pitcher in the league right now.”
Stoltzfus hit the wall in the fifth inning, and Rheems cleared it at will. Hostetter dropped a Kunkle fly just beyond the fence in right to open the inning and, one out later, Christian and Nelson went back-to-back, well beyond the confines of center field.
Eric Stauffer’s RBI single topped the outburst and Hostetter launched Justin Buckwalter’s first pitch of relief in the sixth to end the game.
“We did about as well as we could,” offered the Braves’ Bob Buckwalter. “They’re’ an “A’ team. We’re a “B’ team. There’s a big difference.”
Some will say, despite Rheems’ winning the Susquehanna title, there’s a big difference between the two NET finalists. Winning the Susquehanna title may have gotten other teams’ attention, but not their respect.
“I think that’s true,” Ritchey agreed. “Maybe they’re still a little skeptical, thinking maybe that was a lucky three games. Our team doesn’t think that way.”
Added motivation comes from published reports that the “best” teams in the tournament resided in the half of the draw that included the Blacks – Hempfield and Manheim Twp. – and Lititz VFW.
“The kids looked at that and said maybe we can prove some sportswriters wrong,” Ritchey said with a smile.