New Era Sports Writer
Jonathan Palomarez wasn’t perfect Thursday night, but he was pretty darn close.
The Lititz pitcher flirted with a perfect game in the New Era Midget Tournament quarterfinals Conestoga Valley. He settled for a one-hitter in an 8-0 victory in the nightcap of a Midget Division doubleheader at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.
Palomarez faced 22 batters in seven innings — just one over the minimum — and lost his bid for perfection in the top of the fifth when Ben Martin hit a bad-hop single to right.
“I had my control and I could throw pitches where I wanted to,” said Palomarez, who improved his record to to 7-1. “That was all it was.”
In the first game, West Lampeter Pioneer Blue began its annual trek toward the finals with a 13-8 victory over Rheinholds. But the story of the night was Palomarez, who racked up 11 strikeouts without yielding any walks and completely overwhelmed the CV batters.
It was the second straight strong outing for the Warwick freshman-to-be. In last Friday’s Section 1 championship, he went seven innings and allowed three hits while striking out 10 in a 2-1 victory over Hempfield.
“He’s just been in absolute control of every pitch he throws,” said Lititz coach Frank Camera of his ace. “He’s been keeping people off-balance at the plate, getting ahead of hitters…He’s just been on top of everything.”
According to Camera, the biggest problem Lititz has faced this season is getting run support for its pitchers.
But second baseman Joey Brenner took care of that Thursday night, going 4-for-4, with a double, a triple, two RBIs and a pair of runs scored.
Shortstop Ty Flowers also contributed a pair of singles and scored twice for Lititz.
“Tonight we had a lot of help from Joey Brenner,” said Camera. “He had been in a little bit of a slump lately, but he’s a competitor. To get a few hits from him was big.”
Lititz gave Palomarez all the support he would need in the bottom of the first, when leadoff hitter Andrew Turner drew a walk, stole second and scored on Flowers’ RBI single up the middle.
Flowers then stole second and scored on an RBI single by Brenner.
While Lititz would add six more runs, Palomarez already had an insurmountable advantage. He mowed down the first 12 batters he faced before Martin led off the top of the fifth with a routine grounder toward second.
The ball caught the edge of the infield grass and bounced high over Brenner’s head into right field.
So much for the no-hitter.
“All the guys kept saying, “I don’t want to jinx you, but you have a no-hitter going,” said Palomarez. “I was like, “Thanks a lot.
“When that hit went through it made me mad, but I knew I had to keep my composure and just keep throwing.”
Palomarez quickly shook off the single with three straight outs to end the fifth, then struck out five of the final six batters he faced to wrap up the victory.
Afterward, Camera said his plan coming into the tournament was to alternate Palomarez with centerfielder Nate Jones on the mound.
But after watching Palomarez dominate CV, he said the plan has been changed.
“I was looking at throwing Nate (in the semifinals), but (Palomarez) has got the hot hand,” Camera said. “It’s no slap in the face to our other pitchers, but you don’t mess with stuff like that. It’s also nice to have something to fall back on if (Palomarez) doesn’t have his stuff next week. I’ll have a lot of choices to go to.”
In the first game, Pioneer Blue had no trouble finding offense to support starter Matt Plaza, as it broke open a close game with a six-run rally in the third inning and cruised to victory from there.
Reinholds actually held a slim 3-2 advantage before Blue got things going, tagging Rodney Fox for four hits and taking advantage of four errors.
Tim Bianchi, Chris Kiehl, Alex Brubaker and Todd Smoker all had RBIs to help spark Blue’s rally.
Reinholds got one run back in the top of the fourth, but Blue answered with two more runs in the fifth and a three-run rally in the sixth.
Plaza, who picked up eight strikeouts, appeared to be cruising, but Reinholds tagged him for four runs during a two-out rally in the top of the seventh to make the game respectable.
Rob Duvall came in for Plaza and got the final out after allowing a pair of singles.
“(Plaza) could have been a little tired,” said Blue coach Steve Ewing. “He normally can throw around 100 pitches, but it’s been two weeks since he’s pitched.”
Blue was playing without the services of two starters — Adam Devlin and Ryan Ewing.
Steve Ewing — Ryan’s father — excused the two players so they could help their legion baseball team in its playoff game against Marietta at Willow Street.
Devlin and Ewing will be back in the lineup for next Thursday’s midget semifinals, Steve Ewing said.
“We’ll probably pitch Devlin and put Ewing in at short, so we’ll have our good defense that we’ve had all year,” he said.
Blue is trying to make it to the finals of the New Era Tournament for the fifth straight season. It won the junior-midget title four years ago, but has been thwarted in each of its last three finals appearances.
But Ewing said he isn’t worried about his team getting jittery in next week’s semifinals.
“They’re experienced enough that we hope they won’t get nervous,” he said. “Hopefully, the other teams will.”
As for Rheinholds, coach Jeff Bollinger said his team, which won its section playoffs after finishing fourth in the regular season, was just happy to be a part of the tournament .
The youthful squad will be expecting more next season, he added.
“I’m happy with our effort,” he said. “I knew Pioneer Blue was going to be tough. We have a smaller pool to draw from, so I thought the kids did real good.
“Almost all the team will be back next year, so I’m sure we’ll have a much better team next time.”