Leola and Hempfield in the midget semis

Hempfield’s Craig Labarbera mows down 8th Ward.

By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent

It was baseball at its most sublime and its most ridiculous as Leola and Hempfield Black advanced to the midget semifinals of the 50th New Era Baseball Tournament with a pair of victories on Saturday at Manheim Township.

Leola and Manheim VFW engaged in an entertaining and crackling 105 minutes of baseball, with Leola emerging on the favorable side of a 2-1 margin.

Then in a game that seemed would never end, Hempfield lambasted and wasted the 8th Ward Eagles, 26-1.

Leola and Hempfield will meet in the second game of a doubleheader scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday evening at Township. Willow Street and Solanco, Saturday’s other winners, will play in the opener at 6:15 p.m.

Leola (16-3) had just a little too much Brent Buckwalter and Kris Toomey for Manheim (21-5). Buckwalter slammed a homerun for the Eastern County League champions’ first run and contributed to the game-winning rally with a single, but made more of a mark on the mound. The CV junior-to-be allowed an unearned run on two hits and four walks while striking out 13 in a command performance.

Working quickly, Buckwalter never gave the Lanco League champions a chance to feel comfortable at bat. A good fastball and sharp curve he consistently put on the inside corner to righthanders enhanced his performance.

“He had our good hitters, at the top of our lineup, off stride,” said Manheim coach Barry Lewis. “We had our chances out there, we just couldn’t put the ball in play.”

Buckwalter is one of three pitchers Leola coach Randy Gibson has on hand with varsity experience.

“They have really pulled it together in the last month,” he said. “They pitched a couple of no-hit shutouts (in the league championship semis and finals).”

Had Leola not taken advantage of the chance given it in the fifth inning Saturday, these two teams might still be playing today. Manheim jumped on top with its lone run in the first inning. Eric Connelly led off with a walk, stole second and scored on a two-out error by shortstop Paul Lewandowski.

Leftfielder Tom Patrick preserved that lead in the bottom of the inning when, with one on and two out, he loped to his right and ran down Kris Toomey’s smash to the left field corner, making a highlight show, body-extended catch.

That aggressiveness would backfire on Patrick later, but not until after Buckwalter knotted the game in the third, launching a Chris Thompson fastball on a 340-foot journey over the fence in left.

Lewandowski led off the fifth inning with a walk and scampered to third as Buckwalter lined the first pitch safely to centerfield. Thompson put Toomey in an 0-2 hole, then induced the slugging catcher to sky a ball to deep left, foul.

Patrick drifted across the line and squeezed the ball as it settled in his glove. Tagging at third and patiently awaiting his moment of redemption, Lewandowski scored the go-ahead run easily.

“To me, that was a mental mistake,” said Gibson. “It’s E over I, instead of I over E.

“You need intelligence over emotions. When you’re playing ball and you have emotions over intelligence you don’t quite think like you should.”

But Gibson added, “We can sit on the sidelines and say that he should’ve let the ball drop, but to that kid, that’s what he’s been doing all year. He’s hustling, giving 110 percent to the ball. It just happened to cost him a run.”

In the second game, Hempfield (28-6-1) touched three pitchers for 22 hits and 26 runs, gladly accepting 11 errors by 8th Ward (9-8). Of the 26 runs, eight were earned. Hempfield scored five runs directly on errors and another five on wild pitches and passed balls.

Hempfield batted around in three straight innings and scored in every inning except the fourth, when an acrobatic double-play turned by shortstop Santos Padilla sparked a 1-2-3 inning.

Playing its fourth game in five days, Hempfield jumped on 8th Ward ace Ricky Habel for nine runs in 2 2/3-innings. After he left the mound, Hempfield mauled his successors for 17 more runs, six earned.

Leading the hit parade was winning pitcher Craig Labarbera (4-for-6, 4 RBIs, 2 runs scored), third baseman Shawn Wettig (2-for-6, 2 RBI, 4 runs), and first baseman Michael Bernhardt (4-for-6, 1 RBI, 2 runs).

Labarbera pitched well enough to be in a one-run ballgame and carried a four-hit shutout into the seventh. The Eagles finally reached him in the seventh as Jeremy Dellinger (2-for-3) singled, stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error, and came home on a passed ball.

Afterwards Hempfield coach Ken Gerber had definite mixed emotions. “I’m glad we’re here and I’m glad we won,” he began before expressing his sympathy for 8th Ward.

“I’ve been on the other end of butt-kickings like this one,” he said, noting he went 0-16 with this group of kids four years ago as midget-midgets.

“It’s just a statement in itself. The format has to be revisited here. Nothing against 8th Ward, I’m sure they were thrilled to be here, but there were some teams that should’ve been here that weren’t and they (8th Ward) didn’t deserve to get here and get whupped like they did.

“It’s just one of those things. I’m glad it’s behind us and we can look forward to meeting a real good team in Leola come Friday night. We respect them and we’ll be ready for them.”