New Era Correspondent
Ray Lopez wasn’t everywhere Thursday night.
It just seemed that way.
Lopez, shortstop for the Strasburg/Willow Street White Sox, had a key role in each of the three biggest plays of the game as the White Sox edged Rheems Gray 4-3 and advanced to the Junior-Midget championship game of the New Era Tournament.
The Sox (27-7-2) return to Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field tonight to face Hempfield Black for the J-M title.
Hempfield defeated Solanco Gold 15-12 Wednesday night. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.
From his shortstop position, Lopez had three assists and three putouts, triggering two of SWS’s three double plays.
Batting out of the leadoff position, he was 1-for-2, driving in a run and scoring the winning run in the fifth inning, acrobatically eluding the tag of pitcher Aaron Buckwalter.
And, in a two-pitch relief appearance, he induced a double play groundball that killed Rheems’ last scoring opportunity.
“He was just amazing,” Gray coach Allen Toth said with admiration.
“The plays that he made … that was the difference.”
Where to begin?
The play at the plate.
“Which one was that?” Lopez asked.
Meanwhile, there was his relief effort. Down 4-3, Rheems (17-7-1) put its first two batters of the sixth inning on base as Allen Toth’s singled and Jordan Jones was hit by a pitch.
Leadoff hitter Tyler Good ripped reliever Peter Darrenkamp’s 0-2 offering up the middle, on a track for center field and an RBI.
Lopez flashed across the infield, picking the ball on the first-base side of second. He tagged Jones on the way by and threw a laser to first, retiring Good.
“He cuts it off and we’re in a double play,” said Coach Toth, shaking his head.
“That’s what it is (about), making plays.”
One inning earlier, Lopez put his keystone partner and brief substitute, Dan Neff, in a position to make a play when Lopez came on to relieve starter David Pittman with two on and one out.
Facing Alex Faus, Lopez threw two fastballs. Faus hit the second one right at Neff, who initiated a 6-4-3 twin killing.
SWS then took the lead in the bottom of the inning, putting Lopez in position to be the winning pitcher.
But it was back to short when SWS came out on defense.
“It caught me off guard,” Lopez said of Darrenkamp’s arrival.
“Coach (Dan Herr) was like, ‘Oh, I just had you come in for the double play.’ “ Which makes Herr a genius.
“We were lucky enough to get the right guys in the right positions to make the plays, I guess,” Herr replied modestly.
And Lopez found the right position on a bang-bang play at the plate in the fifth inning. Gray starter Mike Kinderwater got the first two outs of the fifth, then walked Lopez and Neff.
Toth brought Buckwalter in to relieve Kinderwater, and Nate Shank greeted him with a sharp single to left.
Jones came up firing and the ball easily beat Lopez to the plate.
So easily that, despite the ball getting away from catcher Jerred Long, Buckwalter recovered and was waiting for Lopez, who contorted his body in a manner that avoided the tag.
“I just made a quick reaction,” Lopez said. “I tried (to) dodge it and … I got the corner of the plate.”
Needless to say, Rheems felt otherwise, and expressed that certainty. Afterward, Toth defused the controversy.
“Earlier in the game, we had a good chance to get runs early,” he remembered. “We had the bases loaded (and) we had a baserunning error that kind of took us out of the inning. We capitalize on that stuff early in the game, (Lopez scoring) doesn’t matter.”
Rheems took advantage of three errors by normally sure-handed third baseman Matt McCrudden to go up 2-0 in the first inning.
Jon Garber had an RBI groundout and Long plated a run on McCrudden’s third miscue.
SWS came back in the bottom of the inning to tie the game with RBI singles by Neff and Shank.
But Rheems was back at it in the top of the second as Ethan Beck walked and took second on a walk to Jones.
Pittman’s first pitch to Good bounced away from catcher Ethan Moore, but not far enough as Moore gunned down Beck pulling into third base.
Good eventually walked, as did Buckwalter, but Garber’s deep fly to center was the third out instead of a run-scoring sac fly.
Those two “lost” runs loomed large later in the game.
SWS went ahead in the second as Lopez knocked in Colton Stoltzfus. But Rheems tied the game again on Devin Eberly’s solo home run in the third.
And so the game remained until Lopez’s late heroics.
“It was no (one) individual,” Lopez said, shirking the hero’s mantle.
“It was a team effort.”