New Era Correspondent
Late-inning heroics were the order of the day as the 51st New Era Tournament of Champions got under way Monday night.
The junior-midgets took center stage with a preliminary-round doubleheader at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
The Manheim Lions, two-time defending J-M champions, proved it would take more than an early knockdown to wrest their title away, coming from behind to claim a 13-8 victory over the Gap Indians in the opener.
In the nightcap, Denver saw a 6-0 lead evaporate, then put up a five-run eighth inning to defeat the West End Phillies 11-7.
The victories earn both teams the right to return Thursday for a quarterfinal doubleheader. Manheim, the Red Rose League champion, will face the Strasburg Braves, who had an opening-round bye. Denver will face the winner of tonight’s Manheim Twp. Cardinals vs. Mount Joy Blue preliminary.
A two-run double by Billy Houder and a two-run homer by losing pitcher Gabe Abreu helped the Indians (23-3) to a 7-0 advantage after two innings, but Manheim crawled back into the game on a two-run third and a three-run fourth.
Abreu, a real workhorse, carried an 8-6 lead into the sixth inning, but had already broken through the 100-pitch barrier with no end in sight.
The Lions (25-7) went walk-basehit-walk to open the sixth and Brandon Bosch deposited Abreu’s 130th pitch over the fence for a three-run homer and Manheim’s first lead, 10-8.
“He’s gone seven innings hard before,” Indians’ coach Ted Sagnor explained afterward. “There’s been games where he’s gotten stronger as he went along.”
The Lions chased Abreu in the seventh and winning pitcher John Lentz greeted reliever Eben Wilson with his 16th homer of the year, a first-pitch, three-run poke that put the game on ice.
“We made a few mistakes and they capitalized on those mistakes,” Sagnor said.
Lentz, the Lions’ ace, earned the win with 5 1/3 innings of relief of starter Jason Lehman. Lentz scattered six hits, including Abreu’s homer and a solo shot by Derek Ulrich, and struck out eight while walking one.
“We were down early, but we just hung with it,” Lentz said. “We really enjoyed the game and continued to fight back. We never gave up.”
The Lions are completely retooled from the juggernaut of the past two years. Only five players are back from last year, none of whom played a significant role in that success. This group looks to claim its own destiny.
“We’ve had to battle all year through some situations,” coach Jeff Mummau said. “Tonight was a good example of that. I’ve got a great group of guys who want to battle every game.”
Denver (16-2), the Northern Lancaster County League champion, spread the wealth while building an early 6-0 lead as five batters each drove in a run (the sixth scored on an error).
West End (18-6) nicked Denver starter Tim Wolfe for three hits in a three-run fourth inning. But Wolfe, who struck out 13, would eventually take control with a fastball and a curve he learned only three days ago.
“I worked with my dad on my pitching,” Wolfe said. “I tried it (the curveball) a lot. I needed it.”
West End tied the game in the sixth inning. Neal Landis led off the inning with a solo home run. Wolfe issued the second walk of the night to catcher Dustin Braun, but then got two strikeouts.
That brought Andy Quinn (2-for-4, 3 RBI) to the plate and Quinn hit a ball off third baseman Sandy Holbert’s glove for an error. Matt Palmer followed with a double to the fence in center scoring pinch runner Bryan Stetler, in for Braun. When Denver booted the return throw to the infield, Quinn scored the tying run.
In the eighth, the Phils were their own worst enemy, allowing Denver to take control with five runs.
Justin Gerhardt led off with a single, stole second and scored on a pair of errors.
John Maier, whose moon-shot homer to left was part of the early fireworks, singled and took third on Mike Sharp’s single. Mike Boyer drove home Maier on a groundout followed by Brandon Gross’ RBI single.
The final two runs scored on a pick-off error at third and a wild pitch.
“I got a lot out of the guys,” said Phils’ coach Steve Daugherty. “It’s a tough game to lose, especially when we had it at the doorstep, we just couldn’t get it done in that eighth inning.”
Given a five-run lead, Wolfe surrendered an unearned run in the bottom of the eighth before closing out the game.
“We’re happy to be here, but we’re not going to be satisfied with just being here,” Denver coach Dennis Sharp said after the opening win. “We have one goal, to win the tournament.”