One is a savvy veteran of multiple LNP Tournament wars. The other, by comparision, is still wet behind the ears.
Austin Hinkle and Jason Enoch pitched Hempfield Black to the Midget Division championship of the LNP Tournament , defeating defending champion Bears Blue 2-1 Thursday night at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.
Since Black’s record is 19-10 and Blue’s is 25-3, Hempfield’s win seemed like an upset. But it wasn’t, according to Hinkle.
“Personally, I don’t think we were the underdog,” he said. “I had a lot of confidence because we beat them earlier in the season.”
Hinkle translated that confidence into a pitching performance that belied his lack of big-game experience. And it wiped out the taste of a less-than-satisfying outing in the tournament semifinals.
Hinkle struggled through 4 1/3 innings in Saturday’s semifinal win over Lititz, yielding five hits and three runs while throwing 95 pitches. He got the win, but it wasn’t pretty.
“I reviewed the (video) of that game,” he related, “and saw what I was doing wrong.”
He was doing right last night. He tamed the hard-hitting Bears with a mix of fastballs, changes and knuckle curves, shutting them out on four hits through six innings.
The key to his success was getting first-pitch strikes.
“That kind of set up everything else,” he said. “They were getting out in front of it.”
Hinkle gave the Jason side of his infield plenty of work, as third baseman Jason Smith and shortstop Jason Enoch were involved in 12 of the 21 outs.
Blue broke through in the seventh inning with a hit and a walk, aided by Hinkle’s throwing error on Reno Brosey’s sacrifice bunt. With a run in, nobody out and runners on second and third, Gerber waved in his closer, Enoch.
“I can’t say enough about Austin Hinkle,” said Gerber. “He had command. (But) at that point, it was time to go to Enoch. When you’ve got a guy like that, you don’t want to wish you used him. Everybody wanted Austin to finish this game, but in that situation, (Enoch’s) a nice guy to have.”
Enoch, who pitched Black to back-to-back junior-midget titles in 1997 and ’98, struck out Derek Lokey on four pitches, survived a scare when Chad Eberly fouled off a suicide squeeze bunt before striking out and then whiffed Robbie Grogan.
“I threw all fastballs, trying to overpower them,” Enoch said. “Mostly it worked. At the end of the high school season I was struggling with my control. I finally got it back and now I’m throwing a lot of strikes.”
About that squeeze play?
“I saw it coming and I did what I’m not supposed to do. I threw it down the middle. I’m supposed to throw it up and in. Luckily, we got through it without any damage.”
And without any damage to the heart muscle of Gerber, a survivor of two cardiac events.
“We were anticipating (the squeeze),” he said. “Thank goodness they didn’t get it down. If he gets it down, I’m looking for my nitroglycerin.”
Not only did Enoch save Hinkle with his arm, he also did it with his glove. With one out in the third inning Grogan singled, then took third on Tyler Hostetter’s bouncing ball into centerfield.
Hostetter took second, as the throw went to third, and with Justin Garber in the on-deck circle, Hinkle was in trouble. Without hesitation, Gerber waved Garber to first with an intentional walk.
“We made a conscious decision, out of complete respect for Justin Garber that, given the situation, we weren’t going to let him beat us,” Gerber said. “No knock on (Matt Soltani, the next hitter). We didn’t feel we had an option.”
Soltani laced the next pitch toward centerfield. Enoch, drifting two steps to his left, snared the liner and stepped on second to complete an inning-ending double play.
“That’s not how we were looking for it.” said Gerber.
“It gave me a big lift,” Hinkle said. “I told him, “Thanks’ as we ran off.”
While Hinkle was keeping the Bears off the board, Garber was doing likewise to Hempfield. Working from the middle of the plate out, Garber had six strikeouts through four innings while allowing three hits and a walk.
Hempfield’s hitters changed their approach as the game wore on, and they began just trying to take the ball where it’s pitched. Brent Mitzel led off the fifth inning by flaring a ball into short right for his second hit of the day.
The ball bounced into foul territory and Mitzel pulled into second with a double. With one out, Enoch grounded a ball through the hole between first and second — his second hit — and Mitzel beat the throw home.
Enoch took took third on the play and was still there with two out. Designated hitter Nick Riehl worked Garber for a walk and Drew Pare sliced an 0-1 pitch into right to score Enoch.
“Just put the ball in play,” Enoch said. “We put the ball in play and ended up scoring two runs. And getting two runs off Garber, that’s a huge lift.”
And a huge lift for Gerber, who won his first NET title in his fourth try.
“I’ve been on their end of it three times,” he said, nodding to the dejected Bears.
“I’ve been a bridesmaid and these guys helped me ease a lot of disappointments. That’s history. I can’t say enough about my club. I’m so proud of these guys.”