Manheim not fooled by trickery; pickoff ices LNP’s Midget-Midget crown

Manheim VFW celebrates its LNP Tournament championship.

By Dave Byrne
LNP Correspondent

We’ve seen this scenario in so many LNP Tournament midget-midget finals.

Late inning. Runner on third base. Runner breaks for home. One of three things usually happens:

  • Batter lays down squeeze bunt, runner scores.
  • Runner steals home.
  • Runner rattles pitcher, who balks, allowing runner to score.

But there is a fourth option, the one Manheim pitcher Tom Kenneff chose Wednesday night:

  • Pitcher steps off rubber, freezes runner and throws him out.

Kenneff’s pickoff nailed Safe Harbor’s Michael Thomas at third for the final out of the game and Manheim VFW capped an outstanding season with a 3-2 victory over the Safe Harbor Cubs at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.

For two teams that combined for 44 runs in their semifinal victories, there was a dearth of offense in the final.

Manheim scratched out three runs — two earned as Cubs’ hurler Ben Rowe allowed two hits. Safe Harbor, in turn, managed one hit — which didn’t figure in the scoring — off Manheim starter Nate Mast and none off Kenneff, who picked up the win in relief. The Cubs clawed out an unearned run in the first and pushed across another tainted tally in the sixth for their only scoring.

Rowe drew a four-pitch walk from Mast to open the game, took second on a wild pitch and third on a ground out. With two out he scored when second baseman Jarod Karns couldn’t get the handle on Curran Blevins’ grounder.

Manheim quickly knotted the contest in the bottom of the first, also with an unearned run. Mast led off and hit a grounder to second upon which Tyler Charles committed a pair of errors — one when he bobbled the ball, and another when his errant throw allowed Mast to advance to second.

Rowe then tried to pick Mast off second, but threw behind Charles covering, allowing Mast to proceed to third. Mast then scored on a wild pitch.

Zach Martin walked to open Safe Harbor’s second inning and Charles followed with the Cubs’ first — and last — base hit, a pop single behind third. Both runners advanced on a strikeout/wild pitch, but Mast evaded trouble with a another strikeout and a ground out.
Mast had thrown 45 pitches in two innings however, and while Manheim hit in the bottom of the second, Kenneff, who began the game at catcher, warmed up.

When the third inning began, he traded positions with Mast and struck out seven of the next nine hitters he faced, taking command of the ballgame.

Manheim gave him a lead to protect in the fourth. Andy Wilson drew a walk to start the inning, then Ted Simmons dropped a bloop single behind first base. Both scored on a two-run triple by Donaven Rodriguez to the gap in left center.

“He fired a hard strike down the middle,” Rodriguez said, “and then he gave me a nice, slow curveball and I just ripped it.”

“Donaven tends to be too aggressive sometimes,” said head coach Bill Karns. “He likes to swing at the first pitch and it’s a fact, 70 percent of the time, when you do that, it’s an out.”

Patience paid big dividends this time, and Rodriguez was there to cash in.

“We knew somebody was going to get the big hit,” Karns said.

“Tonight it was Donaven.”

Three outs from defeat, Safe Harbor made its move as Kenneff suddenly became human. Keith Rutt lifted a fly ball to deep left that Brad Werley circled around, then dropped as he lost his footing. Rutt pulled into second on the play, then took third on a wild pitch.

Dan Reist popped out, Blevins walked and Thomas forced him on a grounder to short as Rutt scored. Martin coaxed his second walk of the night and both runners moved up on a double steal as pinch-hitter Kevin Roak took his hacks.

With two strikes on Roak, Thomas started down the line.

“Somebody told me before the game that they try to make things happen on the bases,” said Kenneff. “He was dancing around and finally the coach yelled, “Go!’ I just knew to step off.”

“We’ve done those kind of plays all year,” said Cubs’ coach Dudley Rowe. “That’s how we were going to go… just play our kind of baseball.”

Timing is everything. If Thomas takes off a split second sooner, mound savvy or not, maybe Kenneff breaks his hands before stepping off and Harbor gets the balk.

Instead, looking at Thomas all the way, Kenneff calmly stepped back off the rubber, waited to see which direction Thomas would commit, then threw to Derek Althouse at third for the tag.

“Sometimes it works,” Rowe said, “sometimes it doesn’t. We were just trying to force the play, force the action and get on the offensive. We knew (Kenneff) was a good pitcher. We really didn’t expect him to get rattled. We were just hoping for something good to happen.”

NOTES: In the somewhat inbred world of Lancaster County youth baseball, where teams share interleague and intraleague adventures in a continuous string of tournaments , it’s strange that these two teams hadn’t met before Wednesday night. “It is odd,” said Dudley Rowe, “that we hadn’t crossed any paths with them. I don’t know if (tonight) would’ve been better or worse.”…

Manheim taketh and Manheim giveth back. In 1974, when Manheim defeated Paradise for the LNP M-M title, the losing pitcher was Bill Karns. Guess what got mentioned in Manheim’s pregame talk? “I told them about a guy that played in 1974, made it to the finals and lost,” he related. “I said, “Let’s go out of here a winner. I might not ever come back.’ I think they wanted it for themselves more than anything.”…

Three of Manheim’s four losses came at the hands of, arguably, the second-best team in the county, Hempfield Black. But Hempfield Black had the misfortune of being placed in the same division of the Susquehanna League as Manheim. VFW beat Black in the first game of the season and also, when both teams finished the regular season at 15-1, in a playoff for the division title and NET bid. VFW also won the overall Susquehanna League title at Black’s expense.

Tom Kenneff.

Kenneff had answer to Safe Harbor’s tactics

By Jeffery Reinhart
LNP Sports Writer

For a catcher, Tom Kenneff sure throws a mean fastball.

He has a crafty pickoff move, too.

And, for Manheim VFW’s sake, he knows what a balk is — and, more importantly, how to combat it.

Kenneff, who burst onto the scene with a three-homer performance earlier in the tournament , slammed the door on the Safe Harbor Cubs Wednesday night in the midget-midget championship game of the LNP Tournament.

Summoned from behind the plate to the pitching mound in the third inning, Kenneff struck out seven batters, didn’t give up a hit and allowed just one unearned run as Manheim capped a 38-4 season with a 3-2 win over Safe Harbor at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.

Donaven Rodriguez rifled a two-run triple to the gap in left-center to give Manheim a 3-1 lead in the fourth, and Kenneff made the lead stand up with superb pitching. And he ended the game in grand fashion, picking Michael Thomas — the potential tying runner — off third with two outs in the bottom of the sixth.

The funny thing is, Tom Kenneff is Manheim’s full-time catcher. And he’s a pretty darn good one, to boot. Coach Bill Karns said Kenneff threw out over 50 percent of would-be base stealers this season, and he only used him on the mound once a week to keep him sharp.

That certainly worked in Manheim’s LNP Tournament games, where he pitched nine innings, allowed just one hit, no earned runs, walked six, and struck out 19.

Wednesday, he was razor sharp again.

“Tom wanted it,” Karns said. “We usually like to keep him behind the plate because he’s so valuable back there. But we had an opportunity for him to pitch tonight, and he was sharp. And he was even OK in the last inning, but he got behind in the count a couple of times and he had to pitch from behind. That makes a big difference.”

Kenneff, 12, was cruising until the sixth, when Safe Harbor, down 3-1, sent up the meat of its lineup, namely Keith Rutt, Dan Reist and Curran Blevins — the 2-3-4 guys on coach Dudley Rowe’s scorecard.
Nobody touched Kenneff before the sixth. He fanned Rutt and Blevins in the third; punched out Thomas, Zach Martin and Tyler Charles in the fourth; and got Richard Maust and Ben Rowe — his mound counterpart — swinging in the fifth.

But in the sixth, Rutt reached on an error and Blevins and Thomas worked one-out walks. Rutt later scored on a fielder’s choice to make it a 3-2 game. But with Thomas dancing off third and Kevin Roak buried in an 0-2 count with two outs, Kenneff unleashed a snap throw to third, picking off Thomas and sending his teammates out of the dugout to get the party started.

It was a heads-up play by Kenneff, who wasn’t goaded into committing a balk and sending the tying runner home.
“I saw the guy dancing off third,” said Kenneff, who will be a seventh-grader this fall. “We knew coming in that they liked to do that. We knew that they liked to break and try to get the pitcher to balk. So I was looking for it and I knew what to do.”

Which was?

“I just had to step off the rubber before I threw it so it wasn’t a balk,” Kenneff said.

Bingo. And a pretty savvy move from a guy who watches most games from behind the plate, not surveying it from the mound.

Kenneff looked Thomas back toward third, but when Thomas danced too far, Kenneff caught him napping and fired a strike to third baseman Derek Althouse, who applied the tag and sent Manheim home happy.

“We were just trying to force a play and force the action and get on the offensive,” Dudley Rowe said. “But Tom wasn’t going to get rattled and we didn’t expect him to get rattled. We were just hoping for something good to happen.”

Instead, the plan backfired, as all Thomas could do was spin his wheels and get tug out in a cloud of dust.

“We’ve tried those kinds of plays all year,” Rowe said, “and that’s how we were going to go into this game… trying to play our own kind of baseball. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Wednesday, it didn’t, thanks to Kenneff, who squirmed out of a serious jam in the sixth to save the day.

“They had their 2-3-4 hitters coming up,” Karns said. “I think Tom knew that and I think he tried to bear down a little more. He did seem to lose a little zip, but he was way out in front of them in his first three innings.”

Kenneff — whose three older brothers, Joe, Jack and John, all starred at Manheim Central — relieved starter Nate Mast in the third inning and went right to work, using a rising fastball and a tricky curve to silence Safe Harbor’s bats. Painting the corners and getting the Cubs to swing — unsuccessfully — at high gas, he was in cruise control. He was locked in. He was in the zone.

“I had my fastball working, and when I combined that with my curve, that really helped me out,” said Kenneff, who walloped three homers and pitched a 1-hit shutout against Manheim Township Red in the M-M semifinals. “I did walk a couple of guys there in the sixth and I got a little shaky, but we got the win.”

And that, in the grand scheme of things, is all that really mattered.

Manheim’s Nate Rowe slides safely into home in the first inning, ahead of the tag of Ben Rowe.