Hempfield Black burns Solanco to claim LNP Midget title

Geoff Eastman delivers against Solanco.

By Dave Byrne
LNP Correspondent

The simplicity of baseball has never been explained better than the manager’s shower room soliloquy in that great baseball film, Bull Durham.

“You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.”

Solanco did none of that well Thursday night. Hempfield did.

And, in simple terms, that is why Hempfield is the LNP Tournament Midget division champion today.

Hempfield Black (35-1) closed out the grandest of seasons in grand fashion, burying Solanco 10-2 last night at at Lampeter-Strasburg High School. Black pounded out nine hits, including three home runs, gladly accepting seven unearned runs resulting from eight errors committed by the defending champions.

Eight men left on base didn’t help Solanco (20-6) either.

“It’s real simple, make the plays and get the runs in, you win,” Solanco coach Dave Aument said. “Don’t make ’em, you lose. I don’t want to say baseball’s easy, but we do make it an awful lot harder than what it should be. You’ve got to make the plays and when you get guys on base you’ve got to get them in. We blew it, both ends.”

Chris Biechler led Hempfield’s hit parade going 4-for-4 with four RBIs, two coming on a monster homer to center in the fifth inning. That was a back-breaker – in more ways than one – as Solanco had closed to 4-2 in the top of the inning and starter Greg Aument had just gotten two outs on two pitches.

But an error on Chad Gunzenhauser’s ground ball prolonged the inning and Biechler ripped the first pitch he saw.

“I was hoping to just hit a single to right field, going with the outside pitch,” said Biechler, who added three singles in three other at-bats. “I didn’t really think it was going to leave the park. I just kind of tried to meet it and it went over the fence. Hey, it works!”

The hit was doubly injurious as centerfielder Jeff Argue got flipped by the poly-vinyl, outfield snow fence while going for the ball. He fell hard on the other side, landing on the upper part of his back and left the game after he regained his senses.

Argue had left his imprint all over the early stages of the game. He made three nice catches in center, including running a marathon to catch Geoff Eastman’s fly to right center.

Backing up second on an overthrow, Argue gunned down Biechler at third and saved Matt Wimer an error in the second inning. He also made a valiant effort to catch Josh Enoch’s solo homer in the fourth, high-jumping the fence while trying to make the catch.

Biechler’s homer, and the long delay while Argue was attended to, seemed to let the air out of Aument. He walked the bases loaded when play resumed and was excused for the evening.

Second baseman Greg Barrett greeted reliever Tim Haverstick with a two-run single, his second hit of the day, to open an 8-2 lead and the game was, for all purposes, over.

In addition to Biechler and Enoch, Doug Bechtold also homered. His third-inning shot, a two-run blast, gave Hempfield a lead it would never relinquish.

“This is terrific,” Black coach Don Gunzenhauser said, wringing out the effects of the obligatory water-jug bath. “They deserve it. They play as a team, as a good unit. They’re patient at the plate and these kids can flat out hit, as you’ve seen. When one guy gets a little bit down, we got the next guy to come right in and take over.”

The beneficiary of that hitting support was Eastman, who won his 17th game in 18 decisions, surrendering two earned runs on seven hits with seven ground outs and six infield pops.

“Eastman’s an excellent pitcher. He does everything he has to do,” Gunzenhauser said. “He’s in the strike zone all the time. He can hold his own with anybody, any team.”

He was holding his breath, or at least breathing real shallow in the third and fifth innings as he safely navigated bases-loaded, no-out jams.

In the third, he got Wimer and Aument, (who drove in Solanco’s first run with a single) to pop infield flys to short and second, then retired Ed Vaughn on a fielder’s choice to end the threat.

“I felt pretty good about throwing those guys inside,” Eastman said. “I threw it inside to them and they couldn’t get their bat on it. They popped it right up to our infielders who made nice plays to get them out.”

In the fifth, with a run in, Solanco loaded the bases again. Eastman struck out Vaughn but Kevin Cole, pinc hitting for Brian Tercha, scalded a screamer down the third-base line.

Steve Roberts leaped and, at full extension, snared the shot and stepped on third to double off Travis Morrison (2-for-3, RBI single), who was halfway home.

Coming on the heels of Black’s 16-1 Elanco League Championship series victory over New Holland on Wednesday, the LNP championship caps a productive week. New Holland had handed Black, and Eastman, their only loss of the year, 3-2, last week in Game 2 of the best-of-three series.

While the loss ruined the an unbeaten season, it was a blessing for Hempfield.

“We didn’t let it get to us,” Biechler said. “It wasn’t like we were losing anything and we still had the championship (game) to go.”

Which turned out to be a tune-up for the LNP final after rain postponed the Era game from Monday to Thursday.

“That kind of bummed us out,” Biechler said. “We wanted to get this game over with, but last night kind of pumped us up for this game.”

Hempfield teammates welcome Josh Enoch after homer.

Errors, missed chances plague Solanco

By Keith Schweigert
LNP Correspondent

Solanco failed to repeat as LNP Tournament Midget champion, but it’s not like the dethroned squad didn’t have its chances.

The sons of Quarryville, who were making their third straight trip to the Midget championship game, were soundly defeated 10-2 by Hempfield Black at Lampeter-Strasburg Thursday night.

While the score was a bit lopsided, Solanco contributed mightily to the loss. And when the dust had settled, head coach Dave Aument was left to count the ways.

“Errors, errors, errors,” said Aument with a dry chuckle, as he watched Hempfield celebrate its victory on the other side of the field. “We had too many of those, and then we had the bases loaded twice and only came away with one run.

“We tend to make baseball harder that it has to be, and we sure did that tonight.”

Solanco finished the game with eight errors and left seven men on base.

“We definitely didn’t want that many errors,” Aument said. “You hope to have everything clicking on all cylinders in a championship game. More games are lost this way than any other.”

While the errors certainly didn’t help, Solanco also couldn’t get the clutch hit it needed in two key situations.

With the game tied 1-1 in the top of the third, Solanco appeared to be in a position to break things open, with the bases loaded and no one out. Jeff Argue started things with an infield single and took second when Hempfield second baseman Greg Barrett booted Tim Haverstick’s grounder, allowing both runners to reach base safely.

Travis Morrison then loaded the sacks with a single to left, bringing up the meat of the Solanco order.

Unfortunately for Solanco, No. 3 and 4 hitters Matt Wimer and Greg Aument could only manage infield flies for back-to-back outs. The threat died when Ed Vaughn grounded into a fielder’s choice.

“We had the meat of our order coming up,” Dave Aument said. “And we got nothing out of it. That definitely hurt us.”

Down 4-1 in the top of the fifth, Solanco picked up one run on Morrison’s RBI single, but could have gotten much more as it loaded the bases again with no one out.

Hempfield pitcher Geoff Eastman struck out Vaughn for the first out, sending pinch-hitter Kevin Cole to the plate. Cole smoked Eastman’s 1-1 pitch down the third base line, but directly into the glove of third baseman Steve Roberts, who snagged the liner and stepped on third to double off Morrison and end the inning.

“That was huge,” said Dave Aument. “There were a lot of turning points in the game tonight. We definitely had our chances to open it up but Hempfield made the plays. Everything seemed to go their way.”

From there, the floodgates opened, as Solanco’s errors in the bottom of the fifth contributed to a two-out rally that put the game away.

After two fly outs started the inning, Solanco shortstop Brian Tercha booted a grounder to put Hempfield’s Chad Gunzenhauser on first. Chris Biechler immediately made Solanco pay with a two-run homer that made it 6-2.

Pitcher Greg Aument, frustrated after the homer, issued three consecutive walks to load the bases and was pulled from the game. Haverstick came on in relief, but quickly served up a two-run single to Barrett.

Hempfield got two more in the bottom of the sixth, and Solanco generously helped out again with four errors in the inning.

“It just wasn’t supposed to happen for us tonight,” said Aument. “Hempfield was destined to win it. The biggest thing you hope for is that the kids will learn from this.”

All in all, it just wasn’t a championship-caliber performance from a Solanco team that was making its third straight trip to the Midget finals.

“We’re almost like the Buffalo Bills,” said Dave Aument with a laugh. “At least we got to win one. We had a great season this year. We won the Lanco League title, which we didn’t do last season, but I’m not sure if I like the trade-off.”

The game was the last hurrah for the group of players that made up the heart of Solanco’s championship team. Dave Aument said he was sorry to see the great run come to an end.

“The core of this team has been together four years,” Aument said. “(Greg) Aument, Matt Wimer and Travis Morrison were all called up here when they were 13, so it’s been four years at this level for them. I’m sad to see them all go.”