Hempfield, Bears Blue advance to Midget final

Lititz’s Joe Raffoni slides under Hempfield’s Jason Smith with a triple.

By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent

Like the hypnotic repetition in an episode of Sesame Street, Saturday’s New Era Tournament Midget semifinal showcased the number three.

Hempfield Black picked up its first win over Lititz Oddfellows in three years, 6-3, in the second game of a doubleheader at Manheim’s Baron Athletic Complex.

The victory ushered Hempfield (18-10 overall) into its third NET Midget championsip game in six years. Black will play Bears Blue, the defending champion, Thursday at 7 p.m. at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.

In Saturday’s first game, Elizabethtown’s Justin Garber pitched a 3-hitter and Blue (25-2) returned to the finals with a 9-0 win over Lancaster Red. Garber paced the Bears’ offense by going 3-for-3 with three RBIs and three runs scored. His third hit of the day was a triple.

“It’s been kind of like this all year,” he said, addressing his hitting prowess. “I’ve been seeing the ball and hitting it fairly well.”

While Garber’s hitting seems to be the polar opposite of last year’s, his pitching has been same-as-it-always-was: reliable and on the money.

Again Garber didn’t walk a batter. He had one 3-ball count in the game, going 3-0 to Carlos Diaz before Diaz popped a 3-2 pitch to short. Lancaster had four baserunners. Only one runner reached third.

“He didn’t show anything that we hadn’t seen before,” said Lancaster coach Pete VanBuskirk. “But he located the ball well. He kept us off base, and when we did get a runner. He took the bats right out of our hands.”

His mound opponent, Tony Clement, pitched well also, and through three innings Matt Soltani’s 2-run single was the difference in the game.

The wheels fell off for Red (18-11) in the fourth inning as two errors, Tyler Hostetter’s sacrifice fly and Garber’s RBI single keyed a 4-run inning. Ryne Christian singled in a run in the sixth inning as Blue pulled away, and Garber capped the outburst with a 2-run triple.

“They showed why they’re the frontrunners of this league,” VanBuskirk said. “Sometimes the bear gets you, sometimes you get the bear,” he said, turning a phrase.

“This time the Bears got us.”

Hempfield hopes to avoid being the Bears’ next meal, but it won’t tiptoe past the den.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” said coach Ken Gerber.

“We’re not the least bit in awe of them, (but) we have a tremendous amount of respect for them.

“Right now they’re the best team in the county. It’s up to us to prove that we’re better, and right now we haven’t proved that yet.”

Saturday, however, they proved that it’s never too late to start hitting.

Held in check for 3 innings by J.J. Palomarez, Black trailed Lititz (21-10) as Joey Brenner scored on a wild pitch and Joe Raffoni doubled home a run. All that came in the first inning, as Austin Hinkle scuffled through four innings.

Jordan Herr’s 2-run single in the fourth inning gave Hempfield the lead, and when Hinkle walked Matt Jones for the third time in the game, with one out in the fifth, Gerber came with the hook.

“Hinkle pitched a good game,” Gerber said, “but I thought he spent what he had to give. He’s a 15-year-old kid. He isn’t going to be perfect every time out, but he kept us in the ballgame.”

Gerber brought in Jay Enoch, and the veteran of two, now three, NET age groups slammed the door after a bloop single. Enoch struck out seven of the last eight batters he saw to nail down the save.

“We saw (Enoch) in the semifinals of the league tournament and he was a little wild,” recalled Lititz coach Frank Camera. “(Today) he was in command. Ninety percent of his pitches were strikes.”

Enoch and Hinkle were two links in what Gerber would term a total team collaboration. In addition to Herr’s game-winner, Nick Riehl stroked a 2-run single in the sixth inning to put the game away.

Mike Zimmerman went 3-for-4 with a run scored, Justin Simmons was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and Brent Mitzel was 1-for-2 with two walks and two runs scored.

Practically all of this came late. Enoch popped a single into right in the third inning for Hempfield’s first hit. Palomarez got a pair of strikeouts to open the fourth, but by the time he recorded the third out, he had lost his stuff, and the lead.

Zimmerman blooped a hit behind first and Palomarez hit Jason Smith with a pitch. Simmons then dribbled a ball in front of third baseman Chris Ciccarone. Ciccarone couldn’t get to it in time, then airmailed his throw to first.

Zimmerman and Smith scored on the play, then Palomarez walked Mitzel. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch to Herr, son of former major leaguer Tom Herr and brother of Atlanta Braves farmhand Aaron Herr.

Herr then ripped a 1-1 fastball down the left field line, scoring Simmons and Mitzel. Camera questioned the wisdom of that pitch, offering that Herr had been troubled all game by the curve.

Gerber, however, understood Palomarez couldn’t afford another dirtball.

“We felt in that situation, guys on second and third, he had no choice but to come after (Jordan),” Gerber said. “That was a clutch hit in a big spot. He’s a first-year player and he’s got a lot to live up to. He’s gradually getting better and better and it was nice for him to come through. He got a key hit when it really mattered.”

Lititz got one run back in the bottom of the inning on Brandon Gieb’s double but could get no closer. The defeat, Lititz’s second in the NET semis in as many years, went down hard.

Especially coming on the heels of being swept out of the league championship series by E-town in two games, getting 10-runned in the penultimate game.

“It’s tough to finish a season where we had 21 wins with three straight losses,” said Camera. Actually it was two straight — three losses in four games — but the picture is clear.

“We’ve had a little history going (with Hempfield),” he said. “It was only a matter of time until fate changed places.”

Justin Garber delivers against Lancaster Red.