By Dave Byrne
If they were to return from the great beyond, George Kirchner, the father of the New Era Midget Baseball Tournament, and Charlie Henry and Bill Carroll, men whose steady hands guided it for over 50 years, would likely not recognize their baby.
The 67th edition of Lancaster County’s premier youth baseball competition begins tonight with qualifying games in the Midget-Midget (Under-12) division.
The Penn Manor Comets host Hempfield Black while Conestoga Valley hosts the Ephrata Dragons. Both games start at 6 p.m.
The winners move into the quarterfinals as the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds where, if George, Charlie and Bill weren’t already puzzled, they would blink in confusion.
There is a big change in the New Era this year with best-of-three series instituted for the quarterfinal round.
Those games begin Friday on the home field of the higher seed and continue on Monday, June 25. “If necessary” games are set for Wednesday the 27th.
The four survivors advance to the semifinals where, again, change is in the wind.
The final four will play double-elimination beginning Monday, July 9 with a doubleheader at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
The next day, the losers will meet at 6 p.m. with the loser of that game eliminated from the NET.
The first night winners follow at 8 p.m. Tuesday with the loser of that game playing Tuesday’s first game winner on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Confused? Fear not. At this point there are two teams left alive. One unbeaten, one with a loss.
They meet for the championship on Friday, July 13 at 7 p.m. If a second championship game is necessary, it will be played Monday the 16th, also at 7.
Back to tonight’s games.
The Penn Manor Comets (8-8 LCYBL, 10-12 overall) enter the tournament as the No. 7 seed.
The Comets, edged by eventual runner-up Donegal in the 2011 quarterfinals, return Corey Clare.
Clare accounted for seven of the Comets’ 10 wins while striking out 90 batters.
Drew Greenawalt hit .382 with four home runs, while Brandon Harris (.348) and Garrett Fry (.339) provide support. Fry also picked up two victories.
With only one player back from last year’s quarterfinalist, Thomas LaBarbera, Hempfield Black comes in as the No. 10 seed.
Black (7-9 LCYBL, and overall) calls on Eric Sipling and Alec Santiago to deliver the offense.
The Comet-Black winner will meet top-seeded Donegal.
Meanwhile, in Leola, Conestoga Valley enters as the No. 8 seed, hosting the ninth-seeded Ephrata Dragons.
Making its foray into the NET after years of playing Little League, CV (8-8, 12-10) is led by Eric Graff (.543), Cole Forte (.522), Addison Dienner (.444), Trent Rider (.444) and Otis Kreider (.417). The Dragons (7-8-1, 20-14-1), who won the Mount Joy tournament and placed second at the Donegal tournament, also move over from Little League to try their NET luck.
Adam Schwartz (.449, 8 homers) and Tim Beever (.388, 5 HR) lead the attack with Zachary McGillan (5-3-1) and Schwartz (4-2) doing the bulk of the pitching.
The CV-Ephrata winner enters the quarters opposite the No. 2-seeded Mountville Indians.