New Era Correspondent
The proceeds of highly productive second innings propelled Solanco Gray and the Lititz Oddfellows into the Midget Division semifinals of the New Era Baseball Tournament Thursday night.
Solanco (21-2) batted around plus two in a 5-run second, then backed off the accelerator and cruised to an 8-3 decision over Hempfield Gray in the first game of a quarterfinal doubleheader at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.
An 8-run outburst was the end result of Lititz’s 13-man second, and the Oddfellows (13-7) nudged St. Leo to the precipice of the mercy rule in the fifth inning, then pushed it over in the sixth, 16-6.
Lititz and Solanco will meet in the first game of a semifinal doubleheader at Ephrata on Monday at 5:30 p.m.
The winners of tonight’s twinbill will meet in the nightcap Monday, scheduled for 7:45 p.m.
Lititz and St. Leo had recently met in the Lanco League playoffs with the Oddfellows taking a 5-1 win.
At the start it looked like another close game was in the offing as starters Tyler Kline and Mike Giurlando had easy first innings.
In fact, Giurlando needed only seven pitches to subdue Lititz in the first. Lititz created a little trouble in the second with a walk to Andy Thompson and Joe Polensky’s sweet hit-and-run single to right. Still, with two out Giurlando could see his way clear and when he got Zach Snyder to miss at an 0-2 fastball, he was free.
Not so fast.
The ball bounced off catcher Nate Schmalhofer’s chest protector and rolled away, allowing Snyder to get to first and Thompson to score the first run of the game.
“Real heads up by Zach,” said Lititz coach Frank Camera. “Knowing there were two out he could still go to first on a dropped third strike.
“You heard their dugout arguing the call, but Zach had his head in the game, and at this age, a lot of players don’t know that that’s there.”
Before the inning was over, all heck had broken loose, and Lititz had scored seven more times. In an inning of bloops, bleeders and wild pitches, the only hard-hit balls were RBI singles by Skylar Gingrich and Thompson, wrapping up the inning.
“It got a little ugly,” said Camera.
Lititz increased its advantage to 15-2 as Mike Freeman knocked in four runs on an infield hit, an infield out and a double. Gingrich and Snyder each drove in two.
Teetering on the edge of elimination, St. Leo (11-6) earned a one-inning stay, scoring four in the bottom of the fifth while Lititz’s attention wandered.
“As you saw, we get mentally flat,” said Camera, allowing that that was the one complaint he had with this group.
“We drift off,” he said.
St. Leo loaded the bases off reliever Zach Snyder on a strikeout-wild pitch, a walk and Andrew Collier’s hit.
Travis Jankowski walked to force in a run, and infield outs by Bill Cassidy and Mark Long scored two more. The fourth run came home on a dropped fly ball by Gingrich in left.
Chastened, Gingrich singled home Kline, who had walked and stolen second, to restore the 10-run bulge in the sixth and allowed Snyder to close the door in the bottom of the inning.
Nate Blough’s first-inning bad-hop RBI double over the head of second baseman Jordan Stephanchick should have been a harbinger that it was going to be Solanco’s night.
Solanco opened the midget season by running off 20 straight wins, only to drop two in a row to Hempfield Black in the Lanco playoff-championship best-of-three series.
“The two losses were pretty rough for us,” said Blough, who picked up the win with four innings of 3-hit shutout ball. “It feels good to be back to where we were at the beginning of the season.”
“We played flat. That happens during a season,” said Solanco coach Hobert McMillion. “When you play Hempfield, you’ve got to be up for it.”
Even though it was Gray and not Black in the opposing dugout, the name Hempfield across the jerseys Thursday night was incentive enough.
Hempfield starter Bill Pennington walked six in 2@-E innings, and while only one came around to score, the free passes kept innings going.
The keys to Solanco’s big inning were Ben Miller’s 2-run single and a 2-run double by Blough.
Solanco chased Pennington in the third on Miller’s second hit of the night and a walk to Jordan McMillion, but Mike Schusko came on and got Blough to pop to first on one pitch, ending the threat.
Solanco did reach Schusko for single runs in the fourth and sixth on hits by Andrew Gordon and Chris Grimsley.
Meanwhile, Blough yielded the mound to Mitch Nesbitt.
Hempfield (11-7) responded to the change by ripping Nesbitt for seven hits and three runs over the next two innings. But Gray left six on base — including loaded bases in the fifth — and with those, any chance of climbing back into the contest.