New Era Correspondent
It’s an old baseball truism: Good Pitching Beats Good Hitting.
It was proven again Tuesday night at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field when Hempfield Black (18-4) defeated the Strasburg/Willow Street Storm 4-1 to win the Midget Division championship of the 58th New Era Baseball Tournament.
Hempfield’s Phil Harnick pitched perhaps the finest game of his career, taking the wind out of the Storm (25-5).
He allowed just one hit — Chris Shehan’s first-inning RBI triple — and four baserunners as he silenced the Storm’s potent offense with 13 strikeouts and six groundouts.
“Tip your hat,” said Storm manager Gerry Shehan. “He threw a great game.”
A great game? Dominating the championship game was the apex of Harnick’s NET experience. Earlier in the tourney he saved two wins for Kyle Enoch. So in 12 total innings Harnick allowed two hits and one earned run. He issued three walks and collected 20 strikeouts. His tournament ERA was a minuscule 0.58. Opponents batted an anemic .051 against him.
“These last three games here in the tournament I feel I pitched pretty well,” Harnick understated. “I hope I can only get better.”
Harnick had three pitches working for him Tuesday night — a fastball that crackled, a biting curve and a circle changeup that he spotted to lefthanders.
Harnick also used it to strike out a righthanded hitter — Jeff Bianchi — in a key situation.
It came with Ryan Visneski on first base via a bounced-off-the-ground hit by pitch and with Shehan, a first-team All-State player, in the on-deck circle.
Shehan smacked a fly ball to right field that Keith Unton broke in on, then got twisted around on while trying to get back. The deep fly sailed over Unton as he fell. It rolled to the fence as Visneski touched home and Shehan pulled into third.
Harnick then bore down. He got Tyler Gansner looking at a third strike, then blew away Eric See with a fastball away to end the inning.
Those were the first of 15 batters in a row retired by Harnick.
“After that first inning I guess I got a little frustrated or something,” he said. “It just clicked I guess. I had them off balance and I got on a roll.”
He needed to as Shehan was masterfully blunting Black’s scoring opportunities. Hempfield stranded six runners in the first three innings, including loading bases in the second, when See made a heads-up fielder’s choice at third on Unton’s attempt at a bunt base hit.
Just when it seemed Harnick’s sterling effort would be a losing one, Hempfield broke through against Shehan in the fifth inning. Enoch singled past Gansner at first to lead off, but was forced at second on a failed sacrifice by Greg Brenneman — who had come in for Unton after the second inning.
Sean Killian walked, but Drew Kise flied to center for the second out. Charlie Parker, who had singled in the third, took a strike, then looped a single down the rightfield line, scoring Brenneman with the equalizer.
“I was just looking for a basehit to get us back in the game,” he said. “We hadn’t seen (Shehan) all year. As the game went on, we got used to him.”
It was a sentiment that eased any worries Hempfield manager Jeff Unton might have had about his growing left-on-base total.
“It gave us a lot of at-bats,” he reasoned. “We felt the more times we got up, the more they saw, the better they were going to get. (Eventually) they were going to put a bunch of hits together.”
Eventually came one inning later. Josh Kulp looped a hit into shallow center to open the sixth, then took second on a passed ball.
Harnick ripped the next pitch to the fence in left center, scoring Kulp with the go-ahead run.
“It was a fastball,” he said. “I was sitting fastball the whole time, he put it there, so I ripped it.”
Harnick took third on a two-strike passed ball to Cory Beddick and stayed there as Beddick grounded to third with the infield up. Enoch picked Beddick up, lining a single past Shehan and into center, scoring Harnick.
Enoch stole second, then moved to third on a groundout by Brenneman, a key bit of baserunning as Shehan uncorked an 0-1 wild pitch to Killian, allowing Enoch to score Hempfield’s fourth run.
Killian then tripled to right but died at third, as Kise grounded out to end the inning.
Now with the lead, Harnick came out and got into warm water, bobbling Visneski’s one-out dribbler up the firstbase line. He then walked Bianchi and faced Shehan.
With his triple and a sharply hit lineout to left in the fourth, Shehan was the only hitter to take Harnick out of the infield. He took ball one from Harnick, fouled off a pitch, then took two fastballs for strikes, the second high and away.
He returned to the bench and Harnick retired Gansner on a comebacker. Harnick retired the Storm in order in the seventh and Hempfield was the champion.
“Sometimes you just get beat,” said Gerry Shehan. “That’s all there is to it. When a kid comes out and throws that kind of game it’s tough to beat him.”
“We had Phil ready for this,” Jeff Unton said. “He sucked it up and picked it up whenever he need to. He kept us in the game the whole time.”
Revenge is sweet as program earns 3rd crown in row
By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent
Please excuse some members of Hempfield Black for tossing around the revenge word Tuesday night.
Almost two years to the day after the Strasburg/Willow Street White Sox edged Hempfield Junior-Midget Black 2-1 to win the 2001 New Era J-M championship, the tables were turned.
Phil Harnick, a hard-luck loser that July evening, was wearing the weary-but-satisfied look of a winner this time around as he and his teammates bested the Midget Division version of their tormentors, the SWS Storm, 4-1.
“This one’s pretty sweet,” Harnick declared. “We lost to these guys two years ago.”
In the interim, Harnick tasted New Era success as a member of Tom Herr’s heavily favored Midget Division champions last year. But Harnick and Kyle Enoch were the only players who returned from that team, so expectations were low for these guys, who came into the tournament as the fourth seed.
Low, at least, to those on the outside.
“We had some expectations,” offered Charlie Parker, who got the party started with a game-tying single in the fifth inning Tuesday night. “But it wasn’t really anything. We just wanted to win.”
One thing this team had was desire. That and an uncanny looseness.
“They’re the loosest group of kids I’ve ever seen,” said their manager, Jeff Unton. “Nothing shakes them at all. They could be up by ten or down by ten, and they’d still feel the same.”
That attitude came in handy as Black rallied from 1-0 down with a 5-run fifth inning, then held on to defeat Lititz Oddfellows, 5-4, in the semis. Black faced another 1-0 deficit late in the championship game, and this time Hempfield took two innings to grab an unwavering grip on the lead and the championship. “We’ve been playing like this all year,” said Unton. “We hang in there and then everyone picks it up.”
Tuesday night they picked up the third straight NET Midget Division championship trophy for the Hempfield program. In the 58-year history of the tournament, no program had won three straight Midget titles.
Hempfield also becomes only the second program to win three straight age-group titles. The Manheim Lions won the 1994-96 Junior-Midget titles.