New Era Correspondent
Perhaps all that pre-final press about the elevation of the Pioneer Baseball Club to Cooperstown was a little premature.
Let the record show that, regardless of past history, this is why you play baseball games.
Hempfield Black 6, West Lampeter Pioneers 5.
“That’s exactly right,” said winning manager Skip Walters. “We play the game between the lines.”
Black (21-8), the Penn Manor League runnerup, repaid the Pioneers for four losses this year, including one in the league championship game.
“We had a lot of respect for that team going into the game,” said Pioneers’ manager Steve Ewing. “They came out and showed they could play this game, too.”
That they did, and they did it in every aspect of the game.
“We were pumped,” said a jubilant Josh Jones, owner of two of Black’s four hits. “Being the underdogs, we had nothing to lose. We’ve been playing well the whole tournament and we came ready to play.”
Offensively, Justin Tearney got Black’s first hit of the game and made it count, a 3-run homer that exited Kunkle Field just to the right of center field in the third inning.
After Drew Unton and Josh Jones each worked starter Ryan Ewing for six-pitch walks, Tearney ripped the first pitch he saw, a low-and-away fastball.
“I was looking for any pitch over the plate,” he said, “just trying to get it in play and advance the runners.
Mission accomplished. “It felt good as soon as I hit it. You know if you hit it good, and I knew it was out.”
“That was real important,” Walters said. “That put the pressure on them. I felt coming in here, if we could hang with them early – which we did – and we could get a lead, boom!”
Keeping the heat on the Pioneers, Hempfield struck for unearned runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. The last run came after the Pioneers (27-2) had clawed back to tie the game.
Shaun Thomas walked with two out in the fourth, eventually scoring when Rob Duvall bobbled Jason Enoch’s grounder to short.
Duvall took over for Ewing in the fifth and Jones greeted him with a single. Jones then stole second and third and scored when the throw sailed into left field.
In the sixth inning Dan Walters lived on an error on his grounder to second. Evan Ernest came in to run for Walters, prompty stole second and scored on Andy Grumbrecht’s hit to right field.
“I was just happy I didn’t get too much of it and it wasn’t caught,”
Grumbrecht said. “Or too little and the other guy catches it.”
Enoch capped a stellar tournament with a 13-strikeout six-hitter. In eighteen innings, the just-turned-13-year-old had an ERA of 3.50, gave up 12 hits and walked five while striking out 38 batters. Oh yeah, he was 3-0.
Other than a near disasterous fifth inning, the Pioneers never laid a glove on him Monday night.
Overdosed on nerves and adrenaline, Enoch labored early, striking out the side in the first inning after giving up two hits, then striking out Dan Hane cak on a wicked down-and-away curveball with the bases loaded in the second.
When he took the mound for the third inning he was the proud possessor of a 3-0 lead – the first lead Black held on the Pioneers this year – and it had an effect on his pitching.
“He came out more relaxed,” said Jones, who caught the first five innings.
Enoch retired six in a row, including a great leaping-and-diving catch by Tearney in center, and carried a 5-0 lead into the fifth inning.
Then he faced his greatest test. Jonathon Lopez reached first on a strikeout/wild pitch to begin the inning and Mark Wagner dropped a single into short right.
Both scored on a double error on Willie Rivera’s grounder to short and Ewing delivered Rivera with a double to the fence in right center.
Walters had visited Enoch just before Ewing’s double but left him in the game.
“I thought he was still okay. I tend to stick with guys,” Walters said. “I don’t do this Captain Hook routine too much. And, I ended up being right this time.”
But not right away. Enoch got Adam Devlin on a deep fly to center but hung a first-pitch curveball to Duvall. Tie game.
Enoch settled and retired the next five in a row. Grumbrecht, now in center, broke to the ball and made a nice catch for the last out of the sixth on a ball Wagner smoked right at him.
“I was coming in for it and I was scared to death that I was going to drop it,” he said. “It fell in my glove and I was happy.”
With the number 2-3-4 Pioneer hitters coming up, Enoch had one last crisis in the seventh. A fielder’s choice put Ewing on first with one out and Devlin stepping to the plate.
Enoch got two quick strikes on high pitches. Devlin fouled off a good low pitch, then looked at strike three, an offering Enoch stuck high on the outside corner.
That brought to the plate Duvall who, after working the count to 2-2, waved and missed at a high fastball to end the game.
“We had a runner on and our number four and five hitters coming up. You couldn’t ask for a better finish,” Steve Ewing said.
Or a better finish to Walters’ storied coaching career. Walters, who teaches biology at Manheim Township, coached a Lancaster-Lebanon League championship team there in 1980 and most of that team’s players on a District 10 American Legion championship team in ’81.
He coached his son Dan through the different levels of summer ball, nearly winning a New Era Midget-Midget title in 1995.
His East Petersburg team, which included Dan and Tearney, took an 8-6 lead into the last inning against Mountville. But the Indians scored 12 runs in the sixth inning to win the title 18-8.
“That was like a lightning bolt hit us,” remembered Walters.
So did losing that one make this one sweeter?
“The season is so long, you come down to a certain point, it feels like a relief at the end anyway,” he said.
“I was just glad that when the Penn Manor League picked names out of a hat they (the Pioneers) ended up in the other division.
“Otherwise, to be very honest with you, I don’t think we’d be here,” he said. “And that would be a shame because obviously, we’re not too bad a ball team.”
Not too bad at all.
Defying all the odds makes title sweeter
By Toby Therrien
New Era Sports Writer
This is why they play the game.
There are no certainties on the baseball diamond. History gets left behind when the umpire yells, “Play ball.”
And that’s a good thing for Hempfield Black.
Because even the best pitcher, a guy like West Lampeter’s Ryan Ewing, can lose touch with the strike zone and struggle against a team he has dominated before.
Because even Hempfield’s Justin Tearney can, for just an instant, defy gravity and look like Ken Griffey in center field.
And because Andy Grumbrecht can come off the bench to get just enough bat on the ball to bloop a soft hit inside the rightfield line, a game-winner as unlikely as any you’ve ever seen.
Hempfield – the team that everyone thought would have been better off calling in a forfeit and heading for the beach – walked triumphantly away from Kunkle Field Monday night as the Junior-Midget champions of the New Era Midget Baseball Tournament.
This was supposed to be Hempfield’s fifth lopsided loss to the fearsome West Lampeter Pioneers, the team with the 27-1 record, beefy batting order and rocket right arm of Ryan Ewing.
Hempfield Black had been told they had no chance.
Naturally, the players and coaches took exception to that assessment.
“I was ticked,” said Black coach Skip Walters, the former varsity baseball coach at Manheim Township High School. “I thought we got no respect at all. I reminded them of that all week long. I think it helped us in the long run.”
“It got us fired up,” said Tearney. “It helped us because it took all the pressure off us and put it on them. If they were supposed to win, then we had nothing to lose.”
Walters is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates, so he knows a thing or two about nothing to lose.
The incomparable New York Yankees won three blowouts against the Pirates in the 1960 World Series, but Pittsburgh still took home the championship when Bill Mazeroski crunched a series-ending home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7.
Walters also picked a more recent reference when he talked about Mountville winning the New Era Midget-Midget title last year.
“They were supposed to lose,” he said, “but this kind of stuff happens.
That’s why we play the game.
“Baseball isn’t like basketball or football, where a big kid or two can dominate a team. In baseball, you can do everything right and come away with nothing.”
The Pioneers did quite a few things right, but Hempfield always held the trump.
West Lampeter put its first two runners on base. But Black’s Jason Enoch used high fastballs to strike out the heart of the order – Ewing, Adam Devlin and Rob Duvall – a recurring theme that would haunt the Pioneers.
In the fourth, Nathan Groff absolutely crushed a ball straight away to center field, but Tearney made an astounding all-out dive to catch the ball over his shoulder at the base of the fence.
And Devlin sent another deep fly to center for the first out of the fifth inning, just before Duvall tied it at 5-5 with a towering two-run homer to left.
But Walters pulled two cards from his sleeve when his son, Dan, led off the sixth by reaching base on an infield error.
First, he put Evan Earnest in as a pinch runner. Earnest promptly stole second base.
Then, with two outs, he sent Grumbrecht up to pinch hit.
Though he hit .330 this season, Grumbrecht had only seven RBIs. But his fading hit along the rightfield line carried just enough to score Earnest.
And suddenly history had been re-written.
“This is unbelievable,” said Tearney, who has played four seasons of baseball for Walters, “especially beating such a good team. I knew we could do it, though. Every other game we lost to them I knew we didn’t think we were going to win. This time, we just knew we would win.”
There is another reason why they play the game: For the lessons the players carry beyond the baseline chalk.
Sure, there was the obligatory handshake between teams after the game had ended.
But after Hempfield had received the championship trophy and celebrated with exuberant grace, Steve Ewing approached the clump of players with his Pioneers packed tightly behind him.
Ewing talked of the respect his team had for the Hempfield players, and when he was finished both teams shared a closer handshake.
“There is a great deal of admiration between these two teams,” said Walters long after the field had cleared. “There are a number of players who have become friends through baseball.”
Competitors to the end, but friends, as well.
That is why they play the game.