As July turned to August, the heat wave that held our area in a choke-hold finally broke. There are, however, scattered pockets of resistance.
The Canadian front that drifted in over the weekend did little to chill the sticks of the Hempfield Black Junior-Midget baseball team. Nor did it quench the flames shooting from the right arm of its ace, Jason Enoch.
The combination of good hitting and great pitching, lethal at any level, proved unbeatable again as Black (27-6) crushed Rheems Gray 11-0 to successfully defend the J-M title in the 54th LNP Tournament .
Hempfield becomes the first team to repeat as champions since Manheim won three J-M titles in a row from ’94 through ’96.
“I didn’t even think about (repeating) in the beginning of the season,” said Nick Vosnock, one of two players returning from the ’98 champs. “We had a lot of first-year players, but they came through.”
If getting back to the title game was up in the air, the final result was not.
“Last year’s (win) was a nail-biter,” Vosnock said. “This championship game was a lot easier. I felt the butterflies though.”
And if getting back to the NET was the mission of Vosnock and Enoch – the other returning championship veteran – Black’s Tom Herr was looking to coach in his first LNP Tournament .
“I’ve managed some great teams that never even got into this tournament because we didn’t win our division,” he said.
An example of that would be his ’94 squad that included many of the personnel who helped Hempfield win four straight L-L League titles.
“Our goal this year was, to get in,” he said with a chuckle. “Then, once we saw how the brackets fell, we knew we had a tough task.
“We knew we were going to have to beat three quality teams to win it,” Herr said. “But, when you’re playing once a week and you’ve got a pitcher like Jay, who you can throw every game, we were going to be tough to beat.”
Rheems found that out. Gray (16-8) had beaten Black 7-2 in the championship game of the Susquehanna League, capping an incredible spurt, but had not seen Enoch.
In fact, Enoch had not pitched at all against Rheems this year. And with Rheems going through three “B” teams to get to the NET final, Herr felt it was advantage Black.
“I knew Jay was going to give them trouble,” he said.
Losing pitcher Tyler Hostetter ripped a single past Enoch’s head in the third inning for Rheems’ only hit of the game. Only one other batter, Eric Stauffer, put the ball in play, grounding to Mike Baker at second in the last inning.
Enoch struck out 14 and if he had one shortcoming this night, his control wasn’t up to his usual standards. He walked three and ran six full counts.
“He was up in the zone,” Herr agreed. “He was pumped tonight and maybe a little off. But, getting him five runs was just what the doctor ordered.”
Looking to make amends for the league championship loss, Hempfield came out smoking and took advantage of Rheems’ one stumble of the night.
Brian Biggs struck out swinging to lead off the game, but the pitch eluded catcher Seth Brinser. Brinser got a lucky break as the ball rolled toward first, but couldn’t find the handle as Biggs crossed the bag.
Biggs stole second and advanced to third on Baker’s groundout, then scored on a balk during Enoch’s at-bat.
Enoch walked, took second on a wild pitch and came all the way around to score on Vosnock’s infield single beyond second.
After that, Black quit scratching around and got serious.
Justin Simmons singled off the fence in right center. Ross McCracken popped a fly ball single into short right, scoring Vosnock. Brett Rhoades singled off the fence in center field to score Simmons and Austin Hinkle’s sac fly to left delivered McCracken.
Next inning, Biggs drilled a line drive to left, into the teeth of a stiff breeze, for a homer. One out later, Enoch homered to left center and the rout was on.
“I hit a curveball,”‘ said Biggs, who was tagged with the Susquehanna title loss. “He hung it up there and I just turned on it.”
Biggs would homer again in the fifth inning, capping a 3-for-4, 4 runs scored night with 2 RBIs.
“Usually we come out real slow,” he said. “This game we came out fired up and we killed ’em. It was awesome.”
“The very first play of the game set the tone,” said Gray coach Dave Ritchey. “We strike a guy out and he ends up scoring.
“We don’t make fundamental mistakes like that, so it comes back to me. That’s my fault for not preparing the team well enough.”
Although Black had hit 100 points lower than Gray’s .407 tournament average, it had come against flamers like Lititz’s J.J. Palomerez and Manheim Township’s Casey Pfautz. So, Hempfield was ready for Hostetter’s heat.
“We have a pretty good offensive team with dangerous hitters throughout the lineup,” Herr said. “I felt that anybody could hurt you.”
Black put the hurt on in the fourth inning, increasing its lead when Biggs singled to start a 3-run outburst.
Enoch singled in a run and McCracken singled hard off the fence in left, driving in a pair. McCracken’s hit had such a charge, the ball knocked down the advertising sign when it hit it.
Perhaps he was mesmerized watching the sign fall, or maybe he thought the ball was going out, but McCracken trotted to first and only got a single.
“That was not good,” he admitted, but it was the only cloud on an otherwise sunny 3-for-3, 3-RBI evening.
“This was definitely my best game this year,” said the 13-year old first-year Junior-Midget.
McCracken was also a big part of the recent All-Star aggregation representing Willow Street that won the Mason-Dixon Tournament in York. That experience was a good one, he noted.
“I got more at-bats and I felt more comfortable at the plate.”
“A tournament like that helps your confidence,” Herr said, “gives you some quality at-bats in competition and that’s what you need to get better.”
It’s fair to say that the entire Hempfield Black squad got better as this season progressed. They proved it beyond the shadow of a doubt last night by winning their second straight LNP championship.
Enoch strikes out 14 of 15 batters, firing a one-hitter
By Keith Schweigert
LNP Sports Writer
Hempfield Black pitcher Jason Enoch is an old hand at LNP Tournament games. He’s pitched in eight of them since breaking in as a Midget-Midget player three years ago and has won his last seven.
But Enoch would be hard-pressed to find a performance as magnificent as the one he put together Monday night in Hempfield Black’s 11-0 victory over Rheems Gray in the Junior-Midget championship at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
The Hempfield right-hander mowed through the Rheems lineup like a mini Nolan Ryan in a game shortened by the 10-run rule, allowing just one hit in five shutout innings.
Of the 15 outs Enoch recorded, an astounding 14 of them came by strikeout.
He also helped himself out offensively, going 2-for-2 with a home run and two RBIs.
“I just get pumped up for these games,” said Enoch, who helped the Black win its second straight Junior-Midget title.
But impressive performances in the LNP Tournament are becoming almost routine for Enoch, who compiled a 4-0 record with an amazing 50 strikeouts in this year’s tourney.
Hempfield coach Tom Herr is no longer surprised by anything his ace does on the mound.
“We’ve almost come to expect that of him,” said Herr. “But to have 14 strikeouts in a five-inning game is very impressive. You just sort of sit back and watch him go.”
According to Herr, the way the LNP Tournament bracket is set up gives teams with dominant pitchers an added advantage.
“With the way the tournament is set up, you only play once a week,” said Herr. “I knew we’d be tough to beat this year, because we’d be able to pitch Jason every game. That’s a lot to ask of a kid, but he likes the pressure. He seems to enjoy every moment – it’s a pleasure to see how much enjoyment he gets out of the game.”
The only blemish Enoch could find on his performance was his lack of control at times. He issued three walks and hit a batter, and ran the count full six times.
“I didn’t have as much control as I normally do,” admitted Enoch. “That was one thing I could’ve done better.”
But he still had more than more than enough in his arsenal to subdue Rheems Gray, which had split its two meetings with Hempfield Black in the regular season.
“He did a good job of keeping us off-balance,” said Rheems coach Dave Ritchey of Enoch. “If I had to do it over again, I would’ve prepared my kids differently – taught them not to guess on pitches. You can’t guess fastball with him all the time, and that’s what we were doing.”
But all the preparation in the world might not have been enough for Rheems Gray Monday night. Enoch was just too overpowering.
He was also helped out by his offense, which staked him to a 5-0 lead before he even went to the mound.
“That took a lot of pressure off me,” said Enoch. “To get off to a start like we did was huge.”
“When we came out with five in the first inning, I’m sure they were thinking it would be tough to get five runs against Jason,” said Herr. “But the thing is, you never know. I told him before he went out that this would be his most important inning. He had to send them a message.”
Enoch looked invincible from the get-go, fanning the first four batters he faced.
He ran into a spot of trouble in the second, when he issued back-to-back walks to Aaron Nelson and Ryan Kiscaden with one out. But Enoch immediately recovered, fanning Chad Eberly on three pitches for the second out and sneaking a 2-2 curveball past Eric Stauffer to get out of the inning.
That would be the last time Rheems would get a runner past first base.
“When you have a kid who throws as hard as Jason does from as close to the plate as he is, batters almost have to start swinging during his windup,” said Herr. “Essentially, Jason’s job is to just get them close, and that’s what he did.”
Enoch and teammate Nick Vosnock are the only two players back from last year’s Junior Midget championship team.
Monday’s victory satisfied a year-long goal for them, Enoch said.
“For Nick and I, the goal all season long was to repeat,” said Enoch. “This feels great.”