BY DAVE BYRNE
LNP Tournament history works both for and against the Strasburg/Willow Street midgets as they prepare for Wednesday’s quarterfinal doubleheader at Clipper Magazine Stadium.
As a program, SWS is 0 for 7 in NET Midget championship games, including four straight barren appearances, 2009-12.
But this particular group has embraced success, winning the LNP Midget-Midget title in 2010 and Junior-Midget crown in 2012.
This being an even-numbered year, the progression suggests that it’s SWS’s time.
Their quest begins Wednesday afternoon at 5:15 as they square off with Lancaster in the first game of a quarterfinal doubleheader at Clipper Magazine Stadium.
Defending champion and fifth-seeded Lititz Oddfellows meet No. 4 seed Garden Spot in the second game, twenty minutes following the conclusion of the first.
The quarterfinals continue at the Clip on Thursday as No. 2 seed Hempfield Black and seventh-seeded St. Leo meet at 5:15, with third-seeded Bears Blue and No. 6 Ephrata Pride following.
The semifinals are set for Friday, with the championship game on Monday, all games at The Clip.
This is the ninth season the tournament will be conducted in the home of the Lancaster Barnstormers.
As a team SWS has hit over .300 and has a deep, experienced pitching staff composed of Brandon Nickel, Dan Eshleman, Garrett Groshong and Colin Eckman — whose grandfather, Al Eckman, coached the last city team to win a LNP Midget title, the LT Orioles, in 1989.
If any team is capable of bucking the ’10-’12-’14 trend, it is 2013 runnerup Hempfield Black.
Next to Manheim Township’s seven, Black has the most NET Midget titles with six, the most recent in 2011.
SWS and Black finished the Lanco School League season deadlocked for first place at 12-2.
The two teams tried to break the tie Monday, but Mother Nature had other ideas, washing out SWS’s 4-2 lead after an inning and a half.
With the prospect of further inclement weather Tuesday and the tournament’s commencement today, it was decided to use the result of the regular-season meeting, a 5-3 SWS victory, to determine the top seed.
SWS wouldn’t have needed that if not for a wild, multi-suspended game with Garden Spot, ultimately won by the Spot, 24-16, on a late touchdown and field goal.
The Oddfellows have won four LNP titles in the last eight years. Bears Blue is a two-time NET champion, the last in 2000, while Ephrata has five titles, the last in 2009.
Garden Spot and two-time finalist St. Leo (2007 and ’08) are searching for their first NET titles.
LNP TOURNAMENT MIDGET MATCHUPS
Lancaster vs. Strasburg/Willow Street Blue
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Lancaster defeated Manheim Township Blue, the Community League champion, 9-2, to earn the No. 8 seed. SWS was awarded the top seed over Hempfield on the basis of a 5-3 head-to-head regular season victory. SWS took the regular-season meeting with Lancaster, 9-4.
ABOUT LANCASTER — Making its first appearence in the LNP Lancaster (8-7) is only the third team from the city to play in the NET in this century. Head coach Wilfredo Viera has mentored this group in the SALSA program through the 12Us and 14Us. Second-year player Robert Rodriguez and first-year Dealeuri Marshum are the top pitchers. Rodriguez, Luis Padilla, Jeffrey Acevedo and Edrick Surillo — all second-years — and rookie Cristian Viera are the top batters.
ABOUT SWS — Blue (12-2) returns 13 players from last year’s semifinalists, paced by pitchers Brandon Nickel (4-0, 1.44 ERA), Dan Eshleman (3-0, 1.42) and Garrett Groshong (4-1, 3.18). Shortstop Bear Shank and outfielder Ben Rhoades hit over .400) Infielders Austin Pletcher and Jake Howells hit over .350. Outfielder Devon Weiant led the team with 2 home runs and 19 RBI.
Lititz Oddfellows vs. Garden Spot
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Garden Spot (11-3) finished a game ahead of Lititz to nail down the No. 4 seed. The defending champion Oddfellows (10-4) bested Spot 6-4 in the regular season, but a 15-5 loss to St. Leo helped drop them to the fifth seed.
ABOUT LITITZ ODDFELLOWS — Tim Greist (5-0, 0.68 ERA), who go the win in relief in last year’s title game, returns along with Justin Smith (.455 avg., 7 RBI), Luke Mariano (.429, 9 RBI), Matt Cover (0-3, 2.63), Thomas Elliot (.333) and Tyler Martin. Zach Peters (4-0, 1.88), Ethan Norman (.333), Nate Hess and Dalton Uibel move up from the J-Ms.
ABOUT GARDEN SPOT — Matt Brubaker leads the team in nearly all categories, batting .651 with two home runs, 31 runs scored and a slugging percentage of 1.186. Brock Kauffman hit .537 with a team-leading 23 RBI. Anthony Torreulla (.357, 21 RBI), Logan Eby (.316, 16 runs) and Zach Skinner (.326, 16 runs) are also among the batting leaders. Kyle Ebersole (4-0, 0.37 ERA) struck out 38 in 26.2 innings, backed by Nick Lehman (2-1, 15Ks in 15.1 IP) and Ryan Smith (3-1, 20 Ks/23 IP).
St. Leo vs. Hempfield Black
HOW THEY GOT HERE — The No. 7 seed, St. Leo (8-6) pushed ahead of Lancaster with its 10-run rule victory over Lititz. Hempfield (12-2) won the regular-season meeting with St. Leo, 12-2, and finished the regular season tied with SWS, but took the No. 2 seed with the loss to SWS.
ABOUT ST. LEO — One third of the roster is comprised of the 2013 J-M champions, led by top hitter Mitch Eck (.525) and Dillon Marsh (.333), the RBI leader with 15. Among the returning, second-year players, reliever Harry Womble was 2-3 with an 0.52 ERA in 13.1 iniings, striking out 11. He also hit .417 BA. Casey Regan hit .429.
ABOUT HEMPFIELD — Ryan Drager, Andrew Corso, Alec Miller, Michael Clay, Reilly Workman, Jeremy Noel, Ty Jackson, Tim Gailor, Chad Wiggins, Jon Beck and Jon Peterson return from the ’13 runnerup .
Ephrata Pride vs. Bears Blue
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Playing to a 4-4 tie proved providential for both teams. It helped Ephrata (8-5-1) finish ahead of St. Leo for the sixth seed and allowed the Bears (11-2-1) to hold off Garden Spot for the No. 3 seed.
ABOUT EPHRATA PRIDE — Justin Carvell (.466), Nick Auker (.407) and Dillon Good (.290) lead a group that has been, of late, a stranger to NET competition both at the Midget and J-M levels. Matt McGillan (4-2, 4.16) and Ashton Sensenig (2-0, 3.86) are the top pitchers.
ABOUT BEARS BLUE — Blue rebounds after dropping a 2-1 extra-inning decision to Lititz in the ’13 semifinals. Seven players return from that squad led by pitcher Jeremy Sabathne (5-0-1, 2.25), Jeremy Newswanger (.429) and Brendan Young (.325). Noah Martin (3-1, 3.15) moved up from the Community League team and Justin Shelly (.552) is the top hitter among eight first-years promoted from the 14Us.