New Era Correspondent
What a difference a year can make.
Donegal and Manheim Township Black, last year’s New Era Tournament Midget finalists, were unceremoniously eliminated from this year’s tournament, Friday night in a quarterfinal doubleheader at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.
Manheim Townhip Black, winner over Hempfield Black 1-0 in eight scintillating innings in last year’s opening round, had the tables turned quite convincingly as Hempfield (21-3) hung a 10-2 haymaker on it in the first game.
Penn Manor (10-10) used two bat-around innings to demolish Donegal 13-1 in the second game, claiming its eighth win in the last eleven games.
The Comets will be looking for their first win against Hempfield this summer as they take on Black at 7:45 p.m. Monday in a semifinal doubleheader at the War.
Solanco Gray and the Lititz Oddfellows meet in the opening game at 5:30.
The cast of characters has been changed from last year for these teams, with the notable exception of Hempfield, which has five players back from its team, plus three that played for Hempfield Gray.
That could be one reason Hempfield Black is a favorite to reclaim the midget title it relinquished last year.
Another could be the mound mastery of Ryan Walters, who won several games for the Black Knight varsity this past Spring.
Hempfield certainly looked the favorite Friday night as the hitters pushed across a pair of runs in the first and second innings for a 4-0 lead.
Money in the bank with the way Walters was throwing.
Walters threw five innings of shutout ball, scattering five hits and two walks.
“He’s our ace,” said assistant coach Jack Merrifield, filling in for coach John Enoch, who was out of town.
“You know what you’re going to get when he throws. He’s going to be around the plate. If we field the ball, catch it and throw it, he’s going to win the game. That’s the bottom line.”
Designated hitter/third baseman Derek Dornes singled in one run, then scored on an overthrow two-base error in the first inning.
Taking advantage of Township starter Keith Bires’ inability to consistently throw strikes in the second inning, Ryan Walters and Dornes each walked with the bases loaded to force in the third and fourth runs of the game.
“The last time we faced him he had troubles with the strike zone with his offspeed pitches,” said Merrifield.
“Our guys are smart enough to know that anything that’s not spinning backwards, just lay off of it until he throws strikes with it.”
Walters led off the fifth inning with a triple and scored when Dornes singled off shortstop Bernie Zaritsky’s glove with the infield in.
Mark Merrifield and Joel Gatti added RBI singles and Hempfield opened a 7-0 bulge.
Township (10-10) got on the board against reliever Ryan Hungarter on Joe Forseman’s RBI double in the sixth, but Hempfield responded with Tyler Swezey’s 2-run triple and Ryan Hungarter’s sacrifice fly.
Zaritsky got his third hit of the day leading off the seventh inning and scored on an error on Gene Gross’ single to center.
In the second game Donegal (14-5) had the Comets scratching their heads in the first inning. Twice, with runners on first and third, the Comets tried to steal second.
Twice catcher Nate Witwer sold the idea he was throwing to second when in reality he threw back to pitcher Tyler Persun.
The first time they caught DJ Rineer trying to come home from third and Witwer, on the return throw, tagged him out.
After Tony Oktela singled, Persun and Witwer worked their voodoo again, picking Bobby Adams off third as Oktela lit out for second. This time third baseman Seth Hershey had the honors of the putout.
Donegal used that momentun to spring to the lead on Witwer’s RBI double in the bottom of the first.
After that inauspicious beginning, the Comets lit up the night.
Three walks by Persun and a pair of errors keyed a 5-run second inning. Three walks from Persun and reliever Darin Giberson, plus three more errors opened the heavens in the third as the Comets score seven runs.
Adams was in control on the mound, allowing only Witwer’s hit through four innings.
However, he strained a hamstring legging out a double to deep right center in the fifth, and yielded the basepaths to Phil Witmer, who scored on Kurt Martin’s hit.
He also turned over the pitching chores to Andy Sellers, who loaded the bases with a pair of walks and a hit while striking out the side in the bottom of the inning.
In the end, it was more than enough for the Comets to sustain their recent string of success.
“They’re playing well as a team,” said Comet coach Joe Oktela. “We started slow, really beating ourselves with errors. Once we cleaned up our errors …
“We can hit with anybody. One through six, they’re hitting the ball, and the bottom is keeping us in innings. We keep stretching ’em. Hopefully it keeps moving that way.”