New Era Correspondent
They won it all as midget-midgets, dramaticly defeating Safe Harbor for the 2000 New Era Tournament title in a tightly played game.
Two years later, Manheim appears to be on a collision course with its old rival, this time for the junior-midget crown.
The Manheim Lions topped Hempfield Black 9-6 Thursday night at Kunkle Field to advance to the J-M semifinals. Catcher Tom Kenneff went 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs, and he came on to close out the victory for winning pitcher Jarod Karns, surviving Hempfield’s late uprising.
Kenneff was also on the hill at crunch time two years ago, calmly picking off a runner at third to end the game and nail down the title. A lot has changed since then, not the least of which is the way these boys approach the game.
“When we won it the first year, it was kind of like we didn’t expect it at all,” said Kenneff.
“(Now) they’re more confident and laid back,” noted Bill Karns, their manager then, and now. “Two years ago I had to build the confidence. This year, they already have it. They’re good, coachable kids.”
Kids who obviously took to the lunchpail drills of hitting — and not hitting — the cutoff man, and it showed in a sequence in the sixth inning Thursday night. A sequence that, at first, seemed just an entertaining afterthought but soon took on crucial significance.
Up 9-1, Manheim (30-2) seemed on cruise control, but Black’s Phil Treier (3-for-4, 3 RBI) singled to lead off the sixth and Jarod Karns plunked Ryan Enoch. Josh Houseal followed with a sharp single to center, and Treier tried to score from second.
Centerfielder Andy Wilson came up cleanly with the ball and fired a strike that cutoff man Dan Witmer let go through. Kenneff was waiting for Treier, who hurdled the Manheim catcher.
Kenneff made the tag and easily gunned down Enoch at third.
“It would’ve taken up a lot more time if he would’ve slid,” Kenneff observed. “I wouldn’t have been able to have him at third.”
It suddenly became important when Keith Unton jerked an 0-2 offering from Karns way over the fence in right-center for a 2-run homer.
“I was surprised to see both of them go,” said Bill Karns. “That would’ve loaded the bases with nobody out. I don’t know if I would’ve sent them. But then again, maybe I would’ve. How often do you see a throw like that come in from the outfield?”
“We tried to be aggressive, tried to get things going,” said Hempfield coach Bryan Dornes. “Unfortunately, the kid made a good play in center field, came up throwing and threw a strike. And with Kenneff behind the plate, to go back to third like that, he made a good play.”
Nate Mast finished out the sixth, then gave the ball to Kenneff in the seventh after walking two Black hitters. Hempfield (28-7) tacked on three more runs in the seventh, as Treier ripped a 3-run blast to center off Kenneff.
Hempfield did nearly all its scoring late, but Manheim took command early with a 7-run third inning. The big inning has become a trademark of this team, this year.
“It’s contagious,” Kenneff said. “When people start hitting, everyone starts hitting.”
Kenneff triggered the outburst, leading off with a solo home run. After an error and a single, Donaven Rodriguez single in a run, chasing Black starter Geoff Dornes.
Derek Althouse greeted reliever Charlie Parker with a sacrifice fly, Jeff Knosp kept the inning alive with a walk and Brad Werley singled him home. Mast hit an RBI ground-rule double into the right field corner, Karns singled off the left field fence to knock in a run and Kenneff got his second RBI of the inning, singling into left.
“They’re notorius for that,” said Dornes, whose team has lost to Manheim three times. “They just hit the ball.”
“We do,” said Karns. “To me, at this level, the key is to have a big inning and keep the (other) team down afterward. Don’t let them change the monmentum.”
And don’t change that momentum toward the J-M title game.