Midgets are up to bat: Balanced field of competitors seek final crown

By Dave Byrne
Sports Staff

Fifty years from now, in 2063, who will gather to celebrate the golden anniversary of winning the 2013 Lancaster Newspapers New Era Midget baseball championship?

That quest begins tonight at 5:15 p.m. at Clipper Magazine Stadium, when top-seeded Hempfield Black takes on No. 8 seed Donegal.

In a rematch of the 2012 Midget final, Strasburg-Willow Street and defending champion Manheim VFW face off 20 minutes following the conclusion of the first game.

The tournament continues Tuesday with the Lititz Oddfellows and Manheim Township Black meeting at 5:15 p.m., followed by Solanco Gray and Bears Blue.

The semifinals are Wednesday with Monday’s winners playing at 5:15 p.m., followed by Tuesday’s winners meeting around dusk.

The championship is set for 7 p.m. Thursday.

It’s no question that whoever holds the trophy aloft come Thursday night, they will have earned their way through what appears to be a very balanced field of eight competitors.

In the 27 Lanco Midget League games contested among members of the NET field, 10 were decided by one run, four by two runs and there was one tie.

In the games within the games, top-seeded Hempfield went 5-2, losing to Solanco Gray and the Lititz Oddfellows.

Third-seeded Solanco also was 5-2, losing to Donegal and Lititz, while Lititz, 4-2-1 and the No. 2 seed by virtue of its victory over Solanco, lost to Manheim VFW and Manheim Township.

Lititz forged a 4-4 tie with Strasburg-Willow Street, also 4-2-1 in the mini league, which lost to Solanco and, in an 11-10 slugfest, Hempfield.

Whoever prevails, it will not be an unfamiliar feeling for the champions.

Top-seeded Hempfield is also top dog in the hardware stakes, winning six NET Midget titles overall, all since 1997, most recently in 2010.

Manheim Township has also won six midget titles, the last in 2007, while Donegal (2004) and Manheim each have four.

Of the 18 members of Solanco Gray, only Caleb Groff, Damon Kreider and James Rohrer were alive when Solanco won the last of its three program titles, and they were just weeks, even days, old in July of 1996.

After years of runner-up frustration, the Lititz Oddfellows won two titles in three years, from 2006-08, while Bears Blue won the second of their two NETs in 2000.

While Strasburg-Willow Street has never won a NET Midget title, the pre-merger Strasburg program won twice, the last time in 1973.

With seven runner-up finishes, including the last four years in a row, SWS has been to the mountain top. Is this the year they plant their flag at the summit?

Hempfield Black vs. Donegal

HOW THEY GOT HERE — Hempfield (13-2) nailed down the No. 1 seed, winning the regular-season championship of the Lancaster County Midget School League. Donegal (11-7) bested Conestoga Valley 9-1 in a tiebreaker playoff, then topped Columbia, the Community League champion, 9-0 in a NET play-in.

ABOUT DONEGAL — Camren Ney (.378, 12 RBIs; 4-0 0.91 ERA pitching), Sam Lazowski (2-3, 5.38), Adam Kolenda (.455, 14 RBIs) and Ryan Myers return from last year’s NET semifinalists. Chris Beaudoin (.417) and Collin Brown (2-3, 1.85, 36 Ks in 34 innings) move up from the u14s.

ABOUT HEMPFIELD — Segueing from scholastic to summer ball, first-year Knights’ coach Jeremy Morrison did not have a lot of stats on hand from summer 2012. He speaks of just trying to piece things together, what with vacations, kids playing for “tournament” teams, etc. Looks like the pieces have fallen nicely into place.

SWS Blue vs. Manheim VFW

HOW THEY GOT HERE — SWS (10-4-1) placed fourth in the School League, earning the fourth seed. Manheim (9-5-1) took the fifth seed, one point ahead of Bears Blue. This is a rematch of last year’s championship game.

ABOUT MANHEIM — The defending Midget champion, VFW returns seven players: Blake Reiff (.372, 16 RBIs; 3.59 ERA), Brenden Good (.400), Dan Wiederecht (.364), Peter Breit, Josh Flanagan, Skylar Wilson and Chad Zunich. Chad Neely (1.84 ERA) is one of several players moving up from the u14s.

ABOUT SWS — Only two players — Cameron Enck (.500) and Austin Pletcher (.364) — return from last year’s silver medalists. But 10 players move up from the 2012 NET J-M champions, a group that also won the 2010 M-M title. Can this group arrive a year ahead of schedule?

Lititz Oddfellows vs. Manheim Twp. Black

HOW THEY GOT HERE — The second-seeded Oddfellows (14-4-1) dropped two games at the end of the season to finish three points behind Hempfield. Black (9-6) slipped past Donegal and CV in the standings to claim the seventh seed.

ABOUT TOWNSHIP — Shortstop Ian Eriksson (team-leading .545 with 11 runs) and pitcher Tyler Russell (2-2, 3.30 ERA) are the only returnees. Four hitters average better than .350, paced by Mark Kambic’s .400. The pitching staff goes five deep.

ABOUT LITITZ — Nine players are back for another shot, led by Grant Zimmerman (.395, 14 RBIs) and Luke Hackman (.355). Up from the u14s are Justin Smith (.381), Matt Cover (.464) and Chase Gilbert (2-0) who’s joined on the bump by Cole Adams (4-0, 1.11 ERA) and Drew Keller (2-1, 1.52)

Solanco Gray vs. Bears Blue

HOW THEY GOT HERE — Solanco (14-4-1) finished tied for second place with Lititz but fell short on the head-to-head result, 6-5, to take the third seed. Seeded sixth, the Bears (9-6) trailed Manheim by a point int he overall standings.

ABOUT ELIZABETHTOWN — Defeated in a play-in, the Bears missed the ’12 tournament, but return nine players from that squad. They are joined by seven from the J-M runners-up. Hunter Thomas (3-2, 3.34 ERA) and Sam Epps (5-1, 2.42 ERA) front a veteran mound corps. Epps (.265, 11 RBIs), Ryan Caley (.364, 10 RBIs), Nick Sweigart (.370) and Brady Lefever (.279) are joined by rookie Santino Buonamici (.382) atop the hitting leaders.

ABOUT SOLANCO — Damon Kreider (.490, 18 runs), James Rohrer (.420, 16 runs), Caleb Groff (.380, 12 runs) and Phil Probst (.320) are a veteran presence in the lineup, joined by new blood Joe Murry (.380, 14 runs) and Bailey Keys (.330, 16 RBIs). Kreider (6-0, 1.70 ERA) and rookie Brady Thomas (3-1, 2.10) toe the slab.