New Era Correspondent
This New Era Tournament moment has been a long time in the making for the Hempfield Midgets. From being shut out of qualification in the ’80’s and early ’90’s, to early round elimination two and three years ago to last year’s semifinal loss to eventual champion Leola.
Now their goal is within reach. Next Wednesday evening they will meet Solanco at Lampeter-Strasburg at 5 p.m. to settle the Midget division championship.
While Solanco ensured itself Thursday of a return trip to the finals with a 4-2 nod over West End on one diamond at L-S, Hempfield broke open a tightly contested ballgame with five late runs and pulled away with an 8-3 defeat of the Ephrata Marlins.
“We’re finally where we want to be,” said Hempfield coach Ken Gerber. “We finally got to the finals. Now we want to do something when we get there.”
This is the culmination of a long road back for Hempfield (24-10) which stumbled out of the summer baseball starting gate at 1-and-5.
“(Ryan) Vitti, (Mark) Braun, (Mike) Bernhardt, myself, we weren’t allowed to come down,” said Matt Roberts, who promptly went on the DL when he nearly severed his thumb after his return to the club.
“We got those guys back,” Gerber said, “then had some injuries. The last three, four weeks, we’ve really pulled together. It’s a total team effort. It’s a good group of kids who’ve earned what they got so far. Hopefully they’ll get one more.”
That effort was on display Thursday evening. Nine players contributed offensively and nominal number-3 starter Trevor Seachrist, who carried the pitching load while Roberts and Ryan Miller were injured, limited the Marlins (10-8-2) to three hits.
Seachrist searched for rhythm early as the Marlins’ Aaron “Mick’ Fries whacked a two-run homer in the second inning. Line-drive double plays by second baseman Steve Roberts in the third inning and Braun in center in the fourth and two clean catches on foul pops by Tom Butson at third and Bernhardt behind the plate spurred Seachrist to a greater level.
Suddenly he was dominant, in command yielding only an RBI double to Ben Good and a pop single behind shortstop to Fries. Both coming long after the game had been decided.
“He was more confident, he knew he had the defense behind him,” Bernhardt said when asked what got into Seachrist.
“We were in the late innings of a low scoring game. I had to bring it up a notch,” Seachrist explained.
Emboldened by his confidence, Seachrist challenged the Marlins. “His breaking ball was working nice,” Bernhardt said. “His fastball looked strong. He was strong the whole game.”
“He really established that breaking ball,” Gerber said. “His fastball was good when it had to be and his curve set that up.”
“We started out patient at the plate, but as the game progressed we tended to jump at the first pitch,” Marlins’ coach Jim Frost said. “He did a good job of keeping us off balance and when we did hit it, it was right at a ballplayer.”
Fries had Hempfield off balance too in the early going with a hit batsman (Vitti) and a walk to Matt Roberts to show for their offense.
Leading off the third inning, with Hempfield trailing 2-0, Aaron Herr doubled to left. Although Herr got hung up on Braun’s grounder to short, Roberts and Bernhardt followed with singles, Bernhardt’s a Texas Leaguer into short right that plated Braun.
“I was looking fastball the whole way and adjusted to a curveball,” Bernhardt said.”I barely got it past the second baseman. Whatever, it was good enough for us.”
The top half of the lineup generated the go-ahead offense in the fifth inning as Braun and Roberts hit back-to-back RBI doubles after Vitti’s single. Then it was the bottom half’s turn in the sixth and seventh innings.
Steve Roberts singled and Butson smoked a ball to left that the wind knocked down for an RBI double. When Herr (3-for-4, 2 RBIs) followed with an RBI double to right, Frost called on Ben Good to replace Fries. Good eluded further damage in the sixth but Hempfield presented the bill when he walked three in the seventh inning. One run scored on a botched pickoff and Herr ripped a single to right to close the scoring.
“We don’t have a guy that’s the main deal,” explained Gerber. “If one guy doesn’t get it done, somebody in the other part of the order will.
“It’s always a different guy and that’s what it’s all about. That’s why you put nine names in the lineup.”
Late-inning uprisings are nothing new to this team, which won the Lanco title in nine innings over Mt. Joy and has now won nine of its last eleven.
“Both teams played a hang of a ballgame,” Frost said, “The better team came out on top.”
…set to face Solanco in Midget title game
By John Finger
New Era Sports Writer
After allowing just two hits, no runs, and cruising through five innings with pinpoint accuracy, West End pitcher Shane Heiserman could have tacked this one up in the win column.
All the breaks, it seemed, where going his team’s way. But in baseball things have a way of changing quickly. And taking bad hops.
The Solanco midget baseball team advanced to the finals of the 51st annual New Era Tournament with a 4-2 come-from-behind victory over West End Thursday night at Lampeter-Strasburg High School. A change of momentum, a short hop, solid pitching, and flat out hustle paved the road to victory.
Next Wednesday evening, Solanco returns to Lampeter-Strasburg to battle Hempfield for the New Era Championship. Hempfield beat the Ephrata Marlins 8-3 Thursday night at Lampeter-Strasburg to advance.
Trailing 2-0 with two outs and two on in the fifth, Solanco’s ninth batter Jeff Argue slapped a pitch at second baseman Ryan Helm. The ball short-hopped Helm, who fielded it cleanly, and in his haste to try and nab the hustling Argue, the second baseman threw the ball past first baseman Todd Crawford and out of play to tie the game.
The next batter, Chad Shirk, lined a pitch into right field that scored Argue for the go-ahead run.
The big momentum changing three-run fifth came after West End had thwarted just about every attack Solanco hit them with.
Heiserman’s first pitch of the game plunked Shirk in the back who was tossed out trying to steal second a pitch later. Rightfielder Joe Frymer robbed Solanco pitcher Greg Aument of two hits – one a sure homer – with diving circus catches to end innings.
West End stood up to every challenge, but left the door open just a little bit.
“We knew two runs wasn’t going to be able to beat us,” Aument said. “It was just a matter of time before we got a break.”
Aument almost pitched his way into a mess early in the game but poise and composure battled him through.
The lefthander gave up two unearned runs in the first on two hits and two errors in an inning that saw no ball leave the infield. Aument also threw a wild pitch and balked before throwing six consecutive scoreless innings.
“We came out a little nervous and jittery in the beginning and we were wondering if anything was going to go our way,” Aument said. “Luckily we had that big inning.”
Aument struck out five and allowed eight hits in addition to a hit and RBI in the sixth. Throwing nothing but curves, change-ups, and a change off his change, Aument used his craftiness to get through the West End lineup. He also used some good defense from his infield who turned two double plays – one to end the game.
“I don’t have a fastball that I can use to overpower anybody so I have to throw a lot of groundballs,” Aument said. “It helps when you have a good defense behind you.”
Aument and the rest of his Solanco teammates will try to throw some leather at Hempfield Wednesday night. The two teams have met twice this season already with Solanco sweeping the season series. Solanco thinks they can get the hat trick.
“We want them and they want us,” Aument said. “It works out pretty well.”