By Dave Bryne
Play in the Midget Division of the 64th LNP Tournament of Champions gets under way this afternoon at Clipper Magazine Stadium.
In order to fit the tournament into a road trip by the Clip’s tenant, the Lancaster Barnstormers, the midgets will play four straight days — tonight through Wednesday — instead of the usual four games in seven days.
Not a problem for teams that have pitching depth, like Solanco Gray. A real hindrance for those that do not.
With some of the midget teams (Penn Manor, Manheim Township) sharing players with their American Legion counterparts, and with some players opting to participate in showcase tournaments this week, competition will be fierce.
And, with defending champion Lititz Oddfellows missing a berth in this year’s tournament, look for a wide-open, anything-goes affair.
Ephrata Pride (14-2) vs. Ephrata Bandits (14-4)
HOW THEY GOT HERE — After staggering through a horrendous Summer of 2008 when it couldn’t field a full team, the Pride restored its pride winning the School League championship. The Bandits, champions of the Community League, defeated Cocalico in a play-in game to earn a spot in the Elite Eight.
LNP TOURNAMENT HONORS — More than in-town bragging rights at stake here. Teams from the Ephrata School District have won five LNP Tournament titles, the last being Akron, in 1980.
RETURNING PLAYERS — The Pride are largely Ephrata High’s ’09 varsity, led by Mark Lowrie (.473), Branden Rutt (.441) and Chris Fassnacht (.486). Shawn Rutt (.490), Shane Cochran (.404) and Ryan Brubaker (.395) lead the way for the Bandits.
Bears Blue (13-3) vs. Comet Blue (11-5)
HOW THEY GOT HERE — The Bears are the fourth seed from the School League, the Comets the fifth seed.
LNP TOURNAMENT HONORS — E-town midget teams have won two LNP championships, the last in 2000. Teams from the PM District have won three titles, the last being Manor Ridge in 1988.
RETURNING PLAYERS — Kirby Turner (.529), Andrew Good (.519), Brett Vuxta (.439), Andy Breault (5-1) and Tyler Clark (4-0) lead Bears Blue. Tyler Beckley (.415), Tanner Kennedy (.372) and Taylor Groff (.370), Brian Hess (.333; 3-3, 1.94 ERA) and James McElroy (3-0, 2 saves, 3.50 ERA) return for the Comets who are led by first-year freshman Austin Richwine (.456).
Solanco Gray (17-3-1) vs. Manheim Township Black (10-8)
HOW THEY GOT HERE — The second seed from the School League, Solanco went 13-2 in the recent L-L JV season. Township comes in as the School League seventh seed.
LNP TOURNAMENT HONORS — Solanco has won three LNP Midget title, the last in 1996. As a program, Township teams have won seven titles, the last in 2007.
RETURNING PLAYERS — Many of Solanco’s players were on the ’08 LNP J-M runnersup, with Ross Kauffman, Michael Murray, Ben Thomas and Daniel Wimer the retuirning veterans. Township has been completely made over with just Jonathon Rieker (.526), Darren Yoder (.427), Adam Yuninger (.375; 3-1, 1.82 ERA) and Alex Manacher (.350; 4-0, 0.36 ERA) returning.
Hempfield Black (16-5) vs. SWS Blue (10-6)
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Hempfield is the third seed from the School League. SWS is the sixth seed.
LNP TOURNAMENT HONORS — Hempfield squads have won six LNPs, including four of five from 2001 through 2005. Prior to the merger of the Strasburg and Willow Street programs, Strasburg teams won two LNPs, the last in 1976.
RETURNING PLAYERS — Luke Gatti (.515), John Wilt (.368), Brandon Hickey (.377) and Jordan Neff (1.52 ERA, 61 Ks) return for Hempfield. Nick Carson, Matt Carta, Mitch Denlinger, Alex Ferretti, Nate Mentzer, John Pugliese and Matt Feiler return for SWS, bulwarked by a large contingent of the 2008 J-M champion SWS White Sox.