New Era Correspondent
One pitcher brushed with perfection. The other was his usual, unbeatable self.
Craig Pfautz and Jason Enoch pitched their teams into the Junior-Midget semifinals of the 54th New Era Baseball Tournament Tuesday night as Manheim Township Black walloped the Warwick White Sox 12-0 and Hempfield Black downed Lititz VFW, 7-1.
Pfautz threw a near-perfect no-hitter in a game shortened to five innings by the 10-run rule. He struck out 12 and needed only 57 pitches to dispatch the Sox (27-3).
In the nightcap, Enoch struck out 17 Lititz batters and allowed just three hits, as he improved his career record in the New Era Tournament to 5-0.
Last night’s winners will square off in the semifinals Monday at Mount Joy at 8 p.m., after Rheems Gray and the CV Braves battle in the other semi at 6:15 p.m.
The only blemish on Pfautz’s gem was a fourth-inning error by second baseman Kyle Storm that allowed Warwick’s only baserunner, Ben Hutchinson, to reach.
Hutchinson grounded Pfautz’s first pitch routinely to Storm, who got to the ball, got into Spaulding Guide fielding position and let the ball go right through his legs.
The next hitter, Jason Diehl, smoked a ball toward the right field corner that Chris Diebler glided under and tucked away, ending what passed for the Conestoga League champion’s only threat.
It was not Pfautz’s first brush with greatness this year.
“I had a perfect going earlier this year,” he said. “Again, it got broken up, but that’s all right.”
Only two other balls were put into play on Pfautz. Corey Kreider grounded out to Greg Testa at short in the second and Dustin Yost bounced back to Pfautz in the fifth.
“He (Pfautz) was hitting the outside corner all night,” said catcher Josh Bucher, who just kept putting down the old number one.
And Pfautz kept delivering the requested fastballs.
“It just felt appropriate to throw that,” Pfautz said. “I really didn’t feel I had to go to my offspeed stuff.”
Storm more than made up for his fielding miscue with his hitting, going 3-for-3 and scoring a pair of runs.
But the big bat was swung by Bucher, who drove in seven runs with a pair of three-run homers and an RBI single for the most productive game of his career.
“(It was)probably my best day ever,” he said. “Definitely.”
Bucher’s single put Township (19-6) on the board in the first inning. With two runs in on Greg Testa’s second-inning single and an RBI ground out by Diebler, Bucher ripped Hutchinson’s first pitch, a curveball, out of the park to left, scoring Testa (2-for-4) and Marc DeCarlo ahead of him.
Township continued the scoring rampage in the third. DeCarlo pushed across a run with an infield single and scored on Diebler’s fielder’s choice.
Kevin Whitman walked and with two out, Bucher came to the plate again.
Hutchinson threw him ball one, then threw one way up in Bucher’s widening eyes. Bucher let fly, launching the Big Fly over the scoreboard in left center.
“I watched it and I was like, “Wow. That’s pretty high up there.’ Then I saw it drop over the fence,” he said.
To say that Hempfield Black’s Enoch brings his “A’ game to the New Era Tournament is an understatement.
In his Junior-Midget career, Enoch has dominated in the NET. In five starts, covering the ’98 and ’99 tournaments, Enoch is 5-0 with an ERA of 2.00.
In 28 tournament innings he has given up 15 hits, walked nine and struck out 64. Opponents are hitting .139 against him.
Last night he gave up three hits and a scratch run, walked three, struck out 17 and moved his coach, former major-leaguer Tom Herr, to observe, “It’s like having Dwight Gooden in 1985.”
In Herr’s opinion, Enoch is the best J-M pitcher in the area besides the Ephrata Phillies’ Ross Buckwalter. It’s a contention that is hard to argue.
Buckwalter no-hit Hempfield (25-6) earlier in the year, striking out 18. Impressive, especially considering Black’s potency at the plate.
Another Susquehanna League pitcher, Lititz’s J.J. Palomarez, shut out Hempfield this year and VFW (27-6) was hoping he could duplicate that effort Tuesday night.
Enoch erased that notion in the first inning, launching a home run out to right center.
Lititz tied the game in the top half of the third when Dan Fund singled, went to third on a wild pitch and passed ball and zipped home when Matt Jones dragged a perfectly executed, safety-squeeze sacrifice bunt.
Palomarez dug a hole for himself in the bottom of the inning by drilling Ryan Hogentogler and Brian Biggs in the back on successive pitches.
Mike Baker returned the hurt, high-chopping a 2-run single to center, then scoring on Justin Simmons’ fielder’s choice pop-fly to right.
Enoch (3-for-4, 2 RBIs, 2 runs scored) also singled in the middle of the melee and scored when Eric Rehm booted Brett Rhoades’ grounder to second.
Baker wasn’t done. In the fourth inning, Palomarez hung an eye-high fastball that Baker jumped on for his first home run of the season.
“I can’t believe I hit that home run,” Baker said later. “I don’t think I ever hit a ball that far in my life.”
The ball returned to earth well beyond the left field fence breaking the backs, but not the spirit, of VFW. Palomarez pitched out of a bases-loaded jam and finished his night with a 1-2-3 fifth.
Black pushed across a run off Jones in relief on a walk and a couple of ground outs to cap the scoring and set the stage for a semifinal showdown.
Getting to the semis has been half the fun for both Blacks.
“It’s a pretty big accomplishment,” Baker said. “We got a tough draw.”
True enough, as three of the four “A” teams in the J-M tournament were in the same bracket.
“It was our goal just to get to the tournament ,” said Township’s Bucher. “Now I think we’ve changed and we want to get to the finals.”
One of the two will.