By Dave Bryne
Last year’s integration of wood bats into the Junior-Midget division of the New Era Tournament was an unqualified success and the sweet sound of hickory meeting horsehide (OK, maple mashing cowhide) will once again resound from Mt. Joy’s Kunkle Field.
The Junior-Midget division of the 65th New Era Tournament gets under way tonight with a quarterfinal doubleheader at Kunkle Field.
The eight-team field is paced by perennial contenders like Strasburg/Willow Street (seventh appearance in 10 years), Lititz VFW (sixth) and Manheim Township (sixth), Rheems (fifth) and Manheim (fifth) and Solanco (third) and newcomers Donegal and Conestoga Valley, making their first appearance in this century.
Not in the field this year are last year’s finalists, champion Hempfield Black and runner-up Mountville Angels.
Rheems Gray (8-14) vs. Strasburg/Willow Street White Sox (28-5-1); 6 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Rheems, third in the Central Division of the Lancaster County Youth Baseball League during the regular season, played its way into the tournament with a 7-1 victory over the Mountville Angels. The White Sox, who nailed down the LCYBL American Division title, won the Mt. Joy & SWS tournaments and placed second in the Penryn tournament.
NEW ERA TOURNAMENT HONORS: Rheems, a back-to-back semifinalist in ’08 & ’09, is looking for its first NET title. SWS has won seven titles overall, most recently in 2008.
RETURNING PLAYERS AND OTHERS: Luke Longenecker (.404 avg., 6 HR) is the only returning player from Rheems’ ’09 NET semifinalist. He is joined by Austin Hilsher (.438), Sam Epps (1-1) and Brady Lefever (2-1), up from the M-M ranks. Grant Dohner (3-3) is the staff ace. Jack-of-all-trades Brett Brooks (.537 avg., 1.85 ERA), Regan Hershey (.500), Matt Wright (.425) and Jared Horn (.317, 3.46 ERA) return for the White Sox, who also reached the J-M semis in ’09. Michael Warfel (.410) and Sam Meck (.419, 2.19) also bear watching.
Conestoga Valley (11-5-1) vs. Lititz VFW (15-6-1); 20 minutes after completion of first game.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: A nine-game winning streak sparked a turnaround from a 1-15 season in ’09 for CV, which placed third in the LCYBL National division. Back in the field after a two-year absence, VFW won the American Division of the LCYBL before losing to Solanco in the LCYBL playoff final.
NEW ERA TOURNAMENT HONORS: CV-related programs won two J-M championships in early ’80s. Lititz-based teams have also won two titles.
RETURNING PLAYERS AND OTHERS, TO LOOK FOR: Brendon Martin (.388 avg., 14 RBIs; 6-0, 3.46 ERA), Nathan Staffieri (.431, 24 RBIs; 4-3, 3.57), Aaron Blain, Marcus Huertas, Sam Spangler and Zach Rider return for CV, joined by Matthew Hess (.466), Austin Dienner (.378) and Luke Whitacre (.321).
Adam Rohrbaugh (.500 avg., 5-2) and Travis Reapsome (.349, 6-2, 1.88 ERA), Seth Earle (.439), Ben Keyser (.397), Garret High (.380) and Ian Hart (.375) lead VFW.
Donegal (9-8) vs. Manheim Lions (19-9-2); 6 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Manheim and Donegal finished 1-2 in the Central Division of the LCYBL, with Manheim sweeping the regular-season series. Donegal placed second in the Mount Joy wood bat tourney and defeated the Ephrata Jaguars 6-0 in an NET play-in as Austin Martinez walked two and struck out 15 in the shutout. Manheim split two tournament title tilts with SWS, winning the Penryn championship but losing the SWS final.
NEW ERA TOURNAMENT HONORS: Relative newcomer to the NET, Donegal, the merger of programs from Marietta and Maytown, is looking for its first title. The Lions won the first-ever NET J-M title in 1961 and have won five championships in all.
RETURNING PLAYERS AND OTHERS, TO LOOK FOR: Martinez (.563 avg., 9-4), Zach Trigg (.419), Lucas Morrison and Paul Hiestand return for Donegal. Ben Bomberger (7-1 pitching) and Colin Fry, both of whom hit over .400, return for Manheim along with Andrew Bucher (3-1), Kyle Winters, Shane Good, J. J. Sanchez.
Manheim Twp. Black (15-10-2) vs. Solanco Gold (17-8); 20 minutes after completion of first game.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Township finished second to Lititz in the LCYBL American division. Solanco finished 21-w games behind LCYBL National champion SWS, but eliminated the Sox in the LCYBL playoff semifinals (7-1) before 10-running Lititz VFW (11-0) in the LCYBL championship game. Solanco also placed second in Donegal tournament.
NEW ERA TOURNAMENT HONORS: Township has won five J-M crowns, three in the last seven years. Solanco, riding the Greg Schaub express, won its only J-M title in 1991.
RETURNING PLAYERS, AND OTHERS, TO LOOK FOR: Carter Krick (.481 avg., 3-1 pitching), Nate Werkheiser (.441, 4-2), Dan Vucovich (.417, 7-2), Jonathon Flynn (.359, 1-1) and Trey Campagna (.347) lead Township.
Darren Rutledge (7-1, 2.83), Zach Leonard (5-2, 3.33), Tyler Constein, Mark Burkhart, Devin Marshall, Eric Lefevre and Roy Ingerson return for Gold. Jimmy Howell (.375), Keenan Reigel (.375) and Damon Kreider (.368) lead the team in average. Rutledge and Lefevre share the RBI lead with 17.