By Dave Bryne
The Midget division of the 66th New Era Tournament of Champions returns to Clipper Magazine Stadium with play beginning tonight.
It’s a synergistic marriage as the cream of the area’s 14-16 year olds get to compete in the finest facilities in these parts while the Clip gets exposed to fans who might not ordinarily wander through the gates, whetting their appetite for Barnstormer baseball.
Quarterfinal games will go off tonight and Friday night with the semifinals set for Tuesday. The championship game is Wednesday, with first-pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.
This year’s tournament features four teams grouped close enough to cover with a quarter as Hempfield Black, Ephrata Pride, St. Leo and Donegal finished the Lanco League regular season within a game of each other.
The fifth-through-eighth place finishers weren’t chopped liver and one side, Lititz Oddfellows, is on a bona fide hot streak.
No. 1 seed Hempfield Black (11-1-3) vs. No. 8 Strasburg Willow Street Blue (8-7), 5:15 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Based upon the Lanco League’s scoring system, Hempfield finished with 25 points, one better than Ephrata and St. Leo. Black’s only defeat was an 8-4 decision to St. Leo. SWS topped Donegal’s Community team 3-0 in a controversial play-in game on Monday. Donegal had two runs in and a runner on third when heavy rains interrupted the sixth inning, eventually forcing the cancellation of the game. With the inning unfinished, the score reverted to the result after five innings.
NEW ERA HISTORY — Hempfield is the defending champion and has won six NET Midget titles overall. Still looking for NET title No. 1, SWS has five runner-up finishes in the book, including last year when, as the No. 1 seed of the tournament, Blue fell to Black, 6-3.
LOOK FOR — Many familiar faces on Hempfield. Thirteen of the 17 roster players were members of the 2010 title team. Also, a goodly number tasted success as the 2009 NET J-M champions. Collin Miller (.500 avg., .604 OBP) and Andrew Wright (.444, .593) lead SWS with newcomers Brett Brooks (.442 avg.), John Gote (.415), Anthony Witteman (.444) and Jason Lindsley (.412) gaining recognition.
No. 4 Donegal (11-3-1) vs. No. 5 Solanco Gray (9-6), 20 minutes following conclusion of first game.
HOW THEY GOT HERE — In what may be one of the closer finishes in Lanco lore, Donegal was one point behind Ephrata and St. Leo, earning the fourth seed. Solanco lost three of its last four, but the one win, over St. Leo, iced its hold on the No. 5 seed (not to mention damaging St. Leo’s shot at the No. 2).
NEW ERA HISTORY — Donegal programs have won four New Eras, the last coming in 2004. Solanco won twice, in 1992 and ‘96.
LOOK FOR — Pitching from Donegal with Michael Houseal (4-1, 0.95 ERA) and Dalton Garrett (4-1-1, 0.21). They also stick a little as Garrett hit .525 scoring 12 runs and Houseal knocked in 17 while hitting .452. Shortstop/pitcher Matt Murray led Gray with a .500 average, scoring 19 runs and knocking in 11. He also went 3-1 on the mound with one save. Infielder Eli Groff drove in 22 while hitting .450. Left fielder Jake Johnson hit .417.
No. 2 Ephrata Pride (12-3) vs. No. 7 Lititz Oddfellows (7-6-2), 5:15 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Ephrata split its last four games, falling to Hempfield 8-2 and Donegal 11-6, but got the nod over St. Leo based on an 11-0 head-to-head result. Lititz won four of its last five games to vault from ninth place and into the playoffs.
NEW ERA HISTORY — Ephrata won the title in 2009, one of six recorded by Ephrata programs, but was ousted by Hempfield in the first round last year. Back in the field after a one-year hiatus, the Oddfellows snapped a lo-o-o-o-ng history of semifinal despair with the 2006 title and tacked on another crown in ‘08.
LOOK FOR — With eight players back from last year, Ephrata hit .388 as a team, averaging ten runs a game. The ‘Fellows can bash the ball as returning players Chris Wentzel (.500), Bradie Weiler (.419), Zach Hurst (.405), Cody Kimmel (.390), Alex Rhoads (.314) and Caleb Metzler (.313) knocked in an aggregate 65 runs with 26 extra-base hits.
No. 3 St. Leo (12-3) vs. No. 6 Manheim Twp. Black (8-6-1), 20 minutes following conclusion of first game.
HOW THEY GOT HERE — St. Leo won seven of its last eight to wrap up the third seed. In an unwanted nod to its school nickname, Black was streaky this season: win two, lose two, win two of three (tying Hempfield 7-7), lose two, etc. One of Leo’s closing victories was a 5-4 nod over Township.
NEW ERA HISTORY — Also looking for its first trophy-hoisting experience, St. Leo was second in 2007-08. Black has taken seven titles, the last in 2007.
LOOK FOR — Featuring five players from the 2011 Catholic High varsity squad — Ian Bentley, Bryan Haberstroh, Mac McCafferty, Joe Yourgal and Tommy Mattaini — along with Andrew St. Clair, Steve Long, Patrick Kenney, Pat McBrearty, Ben Gingrich and Drew Burford returning from last year, St. Leo is a veteran side. New blood Stephen Rissmiller (outfield, .500) and Carter Krick (infield, 4.88) joined returnees Robert Bolen, Michael Bracero, Jon Kitsock and Pete McKernan.