New Era Correspondent
Safe Harbor catcher Dan Velcheck anticipates the throw
against Lancaster’s D.J. Shoffstall.
Both the simplicity and the difficulty of baseball were on display in the Midget Division semifinals of the New Era Tournament.
Hempfield Black and Strasburg/Willow Street Red emerged victorius Friday night at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field. They will vie for the tourney’s Midget Division championship Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. at Manheim’s Baron Athletic Complex.
Austin Hinkle tossed a two-hit shutout as Black (19-5-1) bested Conestoga Valley 3-0 in Friday night’s opener.
In the nightcap, Red’s Chris Shehan benefitted from some fine leatherwork and scattered eight hits as SWS (17-4) topped Ephrata Pride 8-3.
“Our team is incredible with defense,” Shehan said. “I know I don’t have to strike guys out. I just throw it in there and let them hit it at ’em.”
In fact, the leather was flying on both sides early on, as the Pride (21-9) matched Red’s defensive prowess. That is, until the Ephrata leather split at the seams.
“They took advantage of the mistakes we made,” said Ephrata manager Craig Kliewer. “And then when it came time to shut us down, they made the plays.”
Through 3 innings it looked like runs would be at a premium. Strasburg/Willow Street led 2-1 on Jeff Bianchi’s steal of home on a delayed double steal and Shehan’s RBI single.
But Red’s Steve Diehl was nailed at home on a failed squeeze bunt in the second and hit into a double play in the third, one of two twin-killings turned by Ephrata.
The Pride’s Shaun Hagey tripled home the first run of the game in the top of the third, one inning after Chris Pratt gunned down Adam Gerhart, who tried to score on a fly to right.
That was one of four times Red’s defense turned aside the Pride. Third baseman Andrew Frank threw out Hagey on fielder’s choice in the third inning, and Frank and Bianchi teamed for an “ESPN Web Gem” play in the fourth.
With a runner on third and two out, losing pitcher Jason Franks hit a ball that deflected off Frank to Bianchi at short. Bianchi stopped the ball, then turned and fired to first, just in time.
And finally, Bianchi turned a 6-3 doubleplay with a runner on second and nobody out, then ranged far to his right to grab Frank’s grounder and get the force at second.
In all, Bianchi had two putouts and seven assists, but as much as he affected the outcome of the game with his glove, he sealed the deal for Red with his stick.
Frank and Domminick Lombardo followed Pratt’s fourth-inning double-play ball withsingles, but Ephrata could see its way out without a score if Frank could retire Bianchi.
Frank got two strikes on the talented sophomore, who then worked the count full. Frank gave Bianchi a 3-2 breaking ball. Bianchi poked a single to left, just beyond the edge of the infield.
“I was thinking fastball,” Bianchi said. “If they walked me, that would’ve loaded the bases, and I didn’t think they wanted to do that. I was looking fastball all the way and I got a curve. Luckily I stayed back on it enough just to poke it in there.”
Two runs scored and the floodgates opened. Ryan Visneski walked, and both runners subsequently scored on an error on a grounder to second.
Nick Maguire scored on an error in the fifth, and Diehl’s RBI double produced a run in the sixth, as SWS put the game out of reach.
Ephrata got a couple back in the seventh on Hagey’s second RBI triple of the game and on Adam Gerhart’s RBI single. But Shehan bore down after a walk and retired Ben Snyder on strikes to end the game.
Conestoga Valley righthander Kyle Swartz was pretty good in the first game. Austin Hinkle was just better.
Swartz allowed four hits two by Kyle Enoch — and walked two while giving up two earned runs.
“We didn’t hit the ball very well,” Enoch admitted.
Blame the tourmanent schedule, at least a little.
“The difficulty in this tournament is keeping your hitters sharp,” said Hempfield manager Tom Herr, a former major-leaguer. “The whole key to hitting is timing and you play once every six or seven days, it’s very difficult. CV had the same problem.”
“We hadn’t played in almost two weeks,” pointed out CV manager John Swartz. “I know we got the forfeit win last week, but it would’ve been nice to play that game. That really put us behind.
“We gave them a game. Hinkle’s a quality pitcher, and that’s what you’re going to see at this level.”
Hinkle was superb. He walked two and struck out 14. The only balls to reach the outfield were Kyle McKillip’s single in the fourth and Swartz’s hit in the seventh. They were the only hits for CV (13-6).
“It’s nice having Austin pitch,” observed Enoch. “He throws great every time. You sit out there and you’re like, “Yeah, we got this one!’ ”
“I felt a lot better today,” said Hinkle, who wasn’t satisfied with his performance in the tournament opener against Denver.
“Like last year, my grandpa tapes the games. I looked to see what I was doing wrong, and I fixed it.”
He’ll find little to fix off this performance. Meanwhile Hempfield was making the most of its chances.
Drew Pare led off the second inning with a booming triple to center and scored on Ryan Hogentogler’s grounder to short.
Enoch singled to start the fourth and pulled into third base as Zach Harpin dropped the throw at second on Jordan Herr’s fielder’s choice to third. Enoch then scored, as Pare stroked a sac fly to right.
In the fifth inning, Hinkle singled and took second on a passed ball. Brian Millaway executed a perfect sacrifice bunt, moving Hinkle to third and Phil Harnick scored him with a fly ball to center.
“It’s just A-B-C baseball,” said Herr. “In a game where you’re struggling to score runs, when you get guys on, you’ve got to do that.”