Gallagher pitches and slugs Black to Junior Midget title
By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent
Austin Gallagher showed up with a new bat Thursday night, but he produced the usual results.
“I broke my bat today,” Manheim Township Black’s superstar explained, “so I had to whip out a new bat. And, it actually worked.”
Did it ever.
Gallagher used his fresh cudgel to subdue Elizabethtown Blue and power Township (31-1) to the Junior-Midget championship of the 58th New Era Tournament. He stroked a pair of home runs — two of the three hits collected by Township — to back his 6-hit, 13-strikeout performance on the mound as Township stopped E-town 4-3.
“It was one of the better games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Blue coach John Fosnot, whose team fell to 24-2. “Obviously, these were two pretty even teams. I felt, coming in, it would be a question of one run.”
As so often happens, it was a question of one pitch.
Township had a baserunner — Nick Downey who doubled to start the game — and one out in the bottom of the first inning when Gallagher, who has been drawing intentional walks in Bobby Bonds numbers, walked to the plate.
With Wonderboy II in hand, he dug in. Catcher Nate Martin stood and waved his mitt in the time-honored signal for an free pass. Erick Baker threw ball one.
Martin didn’t step quite as far away from the plate on the second pitch, and Baker got the pitch a little closer to the plate.
Gallagher fired his hands, pivoted his hips and sent the high floater deep into the grassy knoll behind right field for a 2-run home run.
“There was no way I thought I would swing at an intentional walk and hit it for a home run,” Gallagher said. “My dad had told me to crowd the plate. I was looking for something close and fortunately I got it.”
“We talked about (getting walked) the other day,” said his father — Township coach Glenn Gallagher. “I said, “Austin, feed off the strike zone. If it’s close enough, you’ve got to go get it.’ I wasn’t even thinking of it. (Baker) threw the ball so quick and all of a sudden, BOOM!”
Baker’s father, assistant coach Rick Baker, said Erick had never intentionally walked anybody before and didn’t really want this to be the first time.
Fosnot concurred, saying, “He was a little frustrated because we ordered the walk. That’s a 13-year-old in there and he learned from that.”
Baker’s age and experience were among the subplots of the evening. How would the first-year junior-midget match up against Gallagher, a second-year J-M, who pitched Township to the ’01 New Era Tournament Midget-Midget title?
Baker, who also had some impressive outings as a midget-midget, including a 5-inning perfect game in last year’s quarterfinals, more than held his own in his first title-game appearance.
He allowed just three hits and three earned runs in five innings, walking two and striking out 12.
“He threw very well,” said Glenn Gallagher who, having scouted Baker’s last three starts, shook the rust off his aging right arm and emulated Baker in batting practice.
Austin Gallagher’s right arm was matching Baker’s K-for-K as he stymied E-town with a mix of fastballs and his signature one-knuckle curveball.
But what came in fast went out fast. E-town’s Brett DeGroat halved Township’s advantage in the second inning, pulling Gallagher over the fence in left.
Downey got that back in the third on a tour of the bases that went: infield error, wild pitch, wild pitch, wild pitch.
With two out in the fourth, DeGroat singled to right and scored on Nick Poehner’s double into the rightfield corner, again making it a one-run game.
With the new pitching restrictions limiting both Gallagher and Baker to a maximum of six innings, each coach would have to use a second pitcher for an inning of relief.
The wheels were turning. Do you ride your starter straight through six, then bring out the reliever? Do you slip the reliever in somewhere in the middle so your number one can be there at the finish?
Both Fosnot and Gallagher chose the latter. Fosnot brought Andy Weller in to pitch the fourth, a task he performed cleanly and competently.
Gallagher chose to use Corey Pfautz in the sixth, an inning he navigated flawlessly.
Meanwhile, E-town reached Gallagher in the fifth, tying the game at 3 when Weller jumped on a high fastball, sending it into the parking lot behind left field.
Baker reclaimed the mound in the bottom of the inning, retired Peter Savage on a grounder to third and, with no one on, engaged Gallagher mano-a-mano.
Gallagher took a hellacious cut at, and missed, a curve down and in. Then he fouled off another inside offering, swinging like he wanted to reach Salunga. That got his dad’s attention.
“I told him he didn’t have to hit it 450 feet,” Glenn Gallagher said. “Just hit it out of the ballpark.”
On the next pitch, a curve that strayed out over the plate, Gallagher kept his hands back and took an easy swing the other way, lifting the ball just over the leftfield fence.
“I was sort of looking for a curveball,” he said. “I was just lucky we were playing at Kunkle Field, because that ball would’ve been an out in a normal ballpark.”
“I might be criticized for deciding to pitch to Gallagher that last time,” Fosnot conceded, “but that’s part of the competition. My pitcher wanted to do it. I wanted to do it. And we did it.”
The homer restored Township’s lead and Pfautz got Blue in order in the sixth, thanks to a great catch in left by Robby Shimaneck on Baker’s liner and a nice pick at third by Downey on a grounder by DeGroat.
Gallagher answered the bell in the seventh, issued his second walk of the night, this one to pinchitter Jeremi Jones, then got Josiah Jones on a fielder’s choice to end the game.
Comparing this title to winning in ’01, Austin Gallagher said this one was, “So much better. We put in a lot more time this year.”
“There was a lot of pressure on this year’s team,” said Glenn Gallagher. “That’s why we wanted to play E-town. They are, by far, the best team, besides us.”