LNP Sports Writer
The semifinal round in the midget division of the 56th annual LNP Tournament is set, and thanks to solid pitching performances by Austin Hinkle and Eric Wagner, Hempfield Black and the Lititz Oddfellows will join Bears Blue and Lancaster Red in the final four on Saturday.
Saturday in Manheim, Hinkle pitched a gem, allowing just one hit in five innings as Hempfield Black blanked Hempfield Gray 10-0 in a mercy rule-induced game. In the second game of the doubleheader, Wagner, the fourth man in the Oddfellows’ rotation, scattered seven hits and allowed just one earned run as Lititz drubbed the St. Leo Cubs 8-1.
After the quarterfinal round, the midget bracket looks like this: Saturday at 10 a.m. in Manheim, Bears Blue (23-2 overall) will take on Lancaster Red (18-10). In the other semifinal game, Hempfield Black (17-8) will face Lititz (21-8). The midget title game is slated for July 26 at 7 p.m. at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field. Bears Blue is the defending champ.
“The goal is to get here,” Hempfield Black coach Ken Gerber said. “And when you get here, the goal is to not only play well, but to win it. And we’d like to win it.”
Hempfield Black certainly played like a champion Saturday, teeing off against Hempfield Gray. Designated hitter Nick Riehl went 3-for-3 with a walk and three RBIs. His single to right with no outs in the bottom of the fifth scored Jordan Herr to make it 10-0 and end the game.
It was the last of five runs in the fifth for Hempfield Black, which had knocked out Hempfield Gray starter Matt Ressler after two innings. Hempfield Black wasted no time against Ressler, scoring two in the first and three more in the second.
Credit the top of the lineup for Hempfield Black’s early uprising. Jason Enoch and Brian Biggs drew consecutive walks to open the bottom of the first. Enoch scored on Riehl’s single to right field and Biggs scored on Drew Pare’s single to left.
With two away in the second, Enoch and Biggs hit back-to-back singles and Enoch scored to make it 3-0 on Riehl’s single to right. Biggs and Riehl scored when Pare slammed a two-run double to the wall in center and it was 5-0.
Hempfield Black tacked on five more in the fifth. Mike Zimmerman and Jason Smith worked consecutive walks and both came around to score when Brent Mitzel bunted. Reliever Keith Dowell tried to peg out Mitzel at first, but his throw airmailed Matt Lausch at the bag. Mitzel ended up on third.
Justin Simmons, who caught Hinkle’s masterpiece, followed with a single to center and Mitzel scored. Herr, Enoch and Biggs drew walks before Riehl’s third hit scored Herr to end the game.
In between the offensive fireworks, Hinkle was the man on the mound. He didn’t allow a hit until Brian Millaway looped a clean single to right with two away in the top of the fifth. Hinkle walked two batters and one reached on an error. He was in trouble just twice: In the fourth, John Carpenter worked a one-out walk and advanced to second on a passed ball. But Hinkle fanned Ryan Hogentogler and Dowell to get out of the inning.
In the fifth, Ressler walked before Millaway singled. But Hinkle — using his fastball, knuckle-curve and changeup effectively — dug deep, getting Eric Eshleman to bounce to short to get out of the inning.
“Austin was hitting his spots,” Simmons said. “He was mixing it up inside and outside. He had great control. And when he hits his spots like that, you know he’s on.”
Hinkle, who fanned five, was on from the outset.
“Austin can hit his spots and he can put the ball pretty much anywhere he wants it,” Gerber noted. “We feel confident when he’s on the mound. He’s our guy. He’s pitched well for us all season.”
And Hinkle picked a great time to fire a one-hit shutout.
“Everything was working,” he said. “I was using my changeup and it was getting them out front. I was just thinking about getting the next guy out. I was thinking about a no-hitter a little bit, I guess. And I was a little mad when he got that hit, but… ”
But it hardly mattered.
Wagner was just as overpowering for Lititz. He struck out six and didn’t labor until the bottom of the seventh when the Cubs scratched out a run on Tom Schnoor’s fielder’s choice grounder which scored Kevin Yeaglin. Yeaglin singled, Ryan McCauley followed with a walk and Dan Cotchen singled to load the bases off Wagner, who was visibly tired.
But Lititz had a big lead compliments of a huge second inning when the Oddfellows batted around and Cotchen, the Cubs’ starter, needed 48 pitches to get out of the inning. Joe Brenner delivered a bases-loaded triple and J.J. Palomarez had a two-run single during the outburst. Palomarez also walked twice and knocked in three runs.
J.D. Deffibaugh knocked in Kyle Jones to make it 6-0 in the third and Palomarez drove in Eric Rehm — who reached on a three-base error — to make it 7-0 in the fourth. Brenner scored the final run in the sixth when he walked, swiped second and came around on a wild pitch by Schnoor.
“This is a good sign,” Lititz coach Frank Camera said. “I didn’t think we played all that great, but it’s a good sign when you can win any game — especially in the LNP Tournament .
“This is a really big deal to the kids. And winning this is really important to the team.”