By Dave Bryne
The 65th LNP Tournament enters the home stretch tonight as play in the Midget Division get underway.
Over the next four nights, weather permitting, Clipper Magazine Stadium will host the cream of the local 16-and-under baseball crop.
The tournament opens at 5:15 tonight with a quarterfinal doubleheader, with another quarterfinal two-fer scheduled for Tuesday, beginning at 5:15 p.m.
The semifinals will be contested with a doubleheader Wednesday and the championship game is set for Thursday at 7 p.m.
Five of last year’s Midget contestants return to the field, including the champion Ephrata Pride and runnerup SWS Blue. Conspicuous by its absence are the Lititz Oddfellows who, after winning twice in three years (2006 & ’08), after six barren Final Fours, have now missed the tournament two years running.
Here’s a look at the teams in the Midget tournament.
Comet Blue (9-7) vs. Strasburg/Willow St. Blue (12-4), 5:15 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: SWS is the No. 1 seed, having nailed down the Lanco School League South Division title. Comet Blue ripped the Community League champion Bears White 13-2 in a NET play-in game to secure the eighth, and final, seed in the tournament.
LNP TOURNAMENT HONORS: Oddly enough, despite the success of SWS programs at the M-M and J-M levels, and despite four finals appearances, a LNP Midget title has never been secured. Comet Blue’s Manor Ridge predecessors won three titles in the ’80s.
RETURNING PLAYERS: All-Star catcher Brandon Bowers (.440, 4 HR, 20 RBI) leads the Comets who also return Cody Straub, Joe Witmer, Matt Duvall, Willie Welsh, Frankie Herr, and Austin Richwine. Of note, newcomer Zach Burke hit .380 with 20 RBI. Pete Darrenkamp (.395, 3-2 w/2.80 ERA), Ray Lopez (.480, 5-1 2.00), Kohner Morgan (3-0, 1.20), Matt McCruden (.324), Dan Neff (.327) and Nate Shank (.435) return for SWS.
Manheim VFW (10-5) vs. Solanco Gray (11-6-1), 20 minutes after completion of first game.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Manheim finished second in the School League’s North Division, a game behind Donegal. Solanco tied for second with Hempfield in the South Division. Gray knocked out Donegal in the semifinals of the league playoffs, but was swept by Hempfield, 15-0, 9-8, in the league finals.
LNP TOURNAMENT HONORS: Manheim has three NET titles, the most recent in 1998. Solanco won in 1992 and ’96.
RETURNING PLAYERS: Ryan Wilson (.342, 4-0 w/2.34 ERA), Jason Reiff (.512, 15 RBI), Mitch Burkholder (.400, 10 RBI), Jeremie Patrick (.393, 11 RBI), Derik Fahnestock (.455) and Trey Eberly (.360) return for Manheim. Mark Kreider (5-1, 2.31), Matt Murray (3-1, 2.43), Kyle Eby (.488, 11 RBI), Adam Planamento (.472, 19 RBI), Zach Bechtold (.448), Joe Welk (.444, 12 RBI), Cole Martin (16 RBI), Luke Emling, Hans Herr, Dustin McVey and Jarid Tanguy all return from Solanco’s 2009 semifinalist side.
St. Leo (9-7) vs. Donegal (12-4), 5:15 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: St. Leo finished tied for fourth with Comet Blue in the South and went 1-1 in the league playoffs. Winning the School North title earned Donegal the No. 2 seed in the NET.
LNP TOURNAMENT HONORS: St Leo has never won a LNP Midget title but did finish second twice, in 2007 and ’08.
RETURNING PLAYERS: Ian Bentley (.455, 3-1 w/2.60 ERA) leads a returning crew for St. Leo that includes Joe Yourgal (.300), Andrew Geraghty (1-1, 1.13), Sean Gibbons (0-1, 3.60), Logan Bleistine, Michael Flick, Jake Ryder, Jose Rodriguez, Matthew Schreder and Charles Sweigart. Among the newcomers for the Saints are Bryan Haberstroh (.389) and Ben Gingrich (.333). Adam Frey (6-1), Matthew Kolp (.436, 11 RBI), Eddie Lazowski (.419, 11 RBI), Alex Lichtenberger (.371, 10 RBI), Michael Robinson (.390) and Nick Turfalo return for Donegal, which got an infusion of talent from the Mount Joy Blue teams that won a M-M title in 2005 and was the J-M runnerup in ’07.
Ephrata Pride (8-7) vs. Hempfield Black (13-4-1), 20 minutes after completion of first game
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Ephrata placed third in the School North, but made an early exit in the league playoffs. Hempfield leveraged its playoff position to four straight victories and the title, scoring 47 runs in the march.
LNP TOURNAMENT HONORS: The Pride is the defending Midget champion and Ephrata teams have won six NET titles overall. Hempfield Black has won five, the last in 2005.
RETURNING PLAYERS: Tim Murray, whose .480 average leads the team, is one of five returnees for the Bandits’ title team, along with Andre Hoover, parke Martin, Jayson Frymyer and Evan Weaver. Ryan Brubaker, Jeremy Ranck, Shane Cochran and Evan Young (the Pride’s team leader in wins with 3), moved up from last year’s Community League champion Ephrata Bandits. Hempfield Black has two returning players: John Wilt (.410) and Derek Totaro (.500, 4-1 w/3.00 ERA). But Black also is deep with players from the 2007 M-M champion team, which made back-to-back appearances in the J-M finals, winning in 2009.