In the five years the New Era Tournament has been played at Clipper Magazine Stadium, only two Midget programs have been represented in every year of competition: Comet Blue and Hempfield Black.
Curiously, neither program had experienced success in that period, going a cumulative 0-for-8 coming into this year’s tournament.
And while Comet Blue’s miseries were extended with a quarterfinal round elimination, Hempfield is back in black.
Hempfield Black (15-4-1), winners of four NET Midget titles from 2001-05, returned to the familiar territory of the Midget championship final with a 15-4 drubbing of St. Leo, Thursday evening.
The game, a continuation of Wednesday’s semifinal that was suspended by lightning, was shortened to five innings by the 10-run rule.
Hempfield, the Lanco School League playoff champion, will meet Strasburg/Willow Street Blue for the title at 7 p.m. Friday. SWS (14-4) advanced by out-slugging Manheim 13-11 Wednesday.
Black carried over an 8-1 lead from the stoppage, picking up its continued assault on St. Leo’s pitching.
“We’d hoped to be deeper (with pitching),” said St. Leo coach Chris Gibbons. “Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. That’s how baseball is. Some days you have it. Some days you don’t.”
If there is one glaring flat note in the symphony that is this year’s Midget tourney, it is pitching.
Going into the finals, the composite line for tournament pitching is an earned run average of 7.62, with an opponent’s batting average of .343 and 100 runs scored. In 79 innings there have been 55 walks.
Compounding any staff depth issues the eight teams may have, has been the format of this year’s tournament, dictated by the home schedule of the Clip’s resident tenant.
Needing to work around the Barnstormers, the Midgets have played four straight days, with a fifth on deck.
Pair that with tournament pitching restrictions, which follow that of the PIAA/NHSF: four and five innings work earn a pitcher two calendar days rest; six innings and beyond call for a three-day break.
So it is no surprise that the best-pitched game of the tournament was the quarterfinal between Manheim and Solanco. And it is no surprise that as the tournament advanced through the semifinals, and staffs went to their No. 3 and No. 4 (and beyond) hurlers, things got ugly.
That said, the way Hempfield is hitting the ball right now, Black would be a threat against anybody’s ace.
In two games, Hempfield is hitting .443, scoring 28 runs. Against St. Leo, Black stroked 15 hits, sending 15 batters to the plate in a 10-run, third-inning bat around.
And no hitter is hotter than Nick Yarnall.
“Our team is hitting the ball really well right now,” said Yarnall, a first-year first baseman, who is 6-for-6 with six runs scored and nine RBI. “We’re on fire.”
As with many left hand power hitters, Yarnall has found the right field dimensions of the Clip very friendly. In the quarterfinals, he stroked a homer over and out beyond Clay Street. Wednesday night he homered again, curling a high drive around the foul pole and into the picnic area.
“I was kind of out on my front foot, and I hit it off the end of the bat,” Yarnall said. “I got lucky the wind was blowing out.”
Thursday he capped the game with a two-run single and RBI single, finishing with four hits and six RBI.
“Nick’s really the catalyst for us. I’d say he’s the toughest guy to get out in the league,” said Black coach Cory Beddick. “He’s been hitting all year, but lately … there’s nothing he can’t do.
“The top of our order has been getting on base for him and it seems like every time runners are on base, he’s been driving them in.”
He wasn’t alone. Colton King knocked in two runs. Cory Gantz, Austin Young, Austin Rice, Camden Hess and Nolan Myers each plated one.
On the other side, Brian Haberstroh singled in Ian Bentley Wednesday night to pull St. Leo to 2-1. It was as close as the Lions (10-8) would be.
Saving starting pitcher Cory Gantz’s innings, Beddick called on Jake Lorenzen to pitch Thursday. He left after facing four batters, three of whom scored on a wild pitch, a balk and a fielder’s choice. Nate Booth came in, established order and picked up the win in relief.