BY DAVE BYRNE
It is said one picture is worth a thousand words.
There were no words for the crushing disappointment experienced by E-town Navy, Saturday afternoon at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
There was only one word that mattered for Lititz VFW: Safe!
As the New Era tournament Junior-Midget elimination game lurched toward a possible conclusion — or the 10th inning — VFW’s Justin Byler found himself caught in a rundown after taking the big turn at third base in the bottom of the ninth inning.
He scrambled for home as Navy third baseman Zach McNitt threw to catcher Cayden Livingston.
Livingston received the ball in a timely fashion and moved to swipe-tag Byler well in front of the plate.
Byler dropped his shoulder, dropped to the ground, reached out and tagged home with the winning run.
A run that delivered an 11-10, extra-inning victory for VFW (27-13-1), and moved VFW into Monday night’s championship game. Lititz will meet Donegal back at Kunkle with a 7 p.m. first pitch.
“Live to fight another day,” said VFW coach Dana Clark, whose team lost an opportunity to defeat Donegal Friday night when an illegal bat ruling wiped out a game-tying single in an eventual 3-2 loss.
At least he was on the right side of controversy Saturday. “I told the guys,” he said, “baseball karma, it always comes around.”
In a game that saw three ties and five lead changes, Navy (17-8) took a 10-9 lead in the top of the ninth inning on an RBI double by Austin Denlinger.
Denlinger, one of the hitting heroes in a game filled with intrepid efforts at the plate, knocked in four runs on a solo homer, a two-run double and his single.
Centerfielder David Shank made an outstanding play for the first out in the bottom of ninth when he sprinted to his right, dove and snared Carter Forney’s liner to the gap.
But Evan Clark worked a walk from Ryan Rupp, pitching his fifth inning of relief. Rupp got the second out, but walked Byler, and then Brandon Perezous — calls that were much to the displeasure of the Navy dugout.
With the bases now loaded, winning pitcher Bryce Zimmerman pulled reliever Greg Good’s third pitch toward Denlinger at second base.
“I tried to hit a line drive over the second baseman,” Zimmerman said. “It didn’t really work, and I just wanted to beat it out.”
But it was Perezous, busting to the bag, who beat Denlinger’s throw to shortstop Chad Caley as Clark crossed the plate with the tying run.
Thinking he saw the ball get away from Caley, Byler rounded third with home on his mind.
He soon realized his erroneous assumption, as well as the ensuing predicament.
“When I realized (McNitt) had the ball, I booked it home,” Byler said. “(Livingston) tried to tag my helmet, I ducked my head and slid my arm around.”
The controversial finish concluded a madcap game.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re down by 20 or down by one,” said Evan Clark. “We will keep going until we just can’t.”
Navy’s Ryan Rupp played one-up with Clark, answering Clark’s three-run blast to left — that gave VFW a 7-3 lead — with a two-run homer over the scoreboard, part of a six-run bat-around in the sixth inning.
Clark, whose play at third base as well as his hitting prowess is reminiscent of Atlanta Braves’ slugger Bob Horner, shrugged off the comparison.
“The name is familiar,” allowed Clark, who, up until Saturday had two or three round-trippers — he wasn’t completely sure — and did not consider himself a bomber. “I guess you consider me one now, if you want to.”
Clark broke up Navy starter Larry Locker’s no-hitter in the fourth inning with an infield single.
His 2-run,opposite-field shot tied the game at 9-all in the seventh, sending the game to extra innings.
Zimmerman, the fourth hurler to toe the slab for VFW, opened the game at shortstop but pitched the final 3 1/3 innings, allowing an unearned run on three hits.
Rupp who went 4 1/3 innings behind Locker’s 4 1/3, took the loss.
“You talk about neither team wanting to give up on this game,” Dana Clark said.
“You saw it at the end. Everybody got a little hot. And you certainly understand that. That’s how intense this game was.”