Andrew Johnson and Alan Smith hit run-scoring singles and Phil Texter turned in another mound masterpiece Monday night as the Safe Harbor Lions defeated the Strasburg/Willow Street Pioneers 2-1 at Kunkle Field in Mount Joy.
The victory delivered the junior-midget title of the 55th LNP Tournament to the Lions (39-1), and put an exclamation point on what has been a season for the ages.
“I’ve been a junior-midget coach for 10 years,” Lions’ coach Bruce Perry exclaimed, “and I haven’t seen a team as dominant as this.”
This was the fourth time these league rivals met. Harbor won every time. “They beat us 6-4, 4-0, 8-5,” said Fred Maguire, coach of the Pioneers (19-9). “They were all good games. This was as close as we came.”
The Lions handily won the Penn Manor League regular season and postseason tournament . In fact, they won every tournament they entered, save one. Solanco dealt Harbor its only loss of the year in the championship game of the Mountville Tournament , way back in the beginning of the summer.
Success isn’t a stranger to this group. Six of Monday’s starting 10 — Johnson, Smith, Dan Kauffman, Tyler Duschel, Kyle Caruthers and Zac Charles — were in the lineup two years ago, playing as the Safe Harbor Cubs, when they blitzed Mountville for the NET midget-midget title.
A seventh, pitcher/designated hitter Jarred Texter, had to miss the title celebration this time around. He was competing in the U.S. Junior Amateur golf championship in Oregon.
But the wild card in this bunch, one of his three “ringers,” as Perry called them, was Phil Texter, who left Penn Manor Little League last year and, with a year’s seasoning under his belt, came into his own in 2000.
Texter locked horns with the Pioneers’ Nick Brubaker in a classic, pitch-for-pitch duel. Brubaker allowed five hits, walked three and struck out nine.
Texter simply was better, allowing three hits, walking one and striking out 10, the last four in a row. “He was outstanding,” Perry gushed. “He was the difference in the game.”
Jeff Bianchi, who was 2-for-7 with four runs scored coming into the final, accounted for two of the Pioneers’ three hits. He turned on a 1-0 Texter fastball in the first inning and sent a trolley wire out of the yard to left.
He also doubled to lead off the fourth inning and stole third base, but Texter, protecting his 2-1 lead, struck out the side. Bianchi was one of two baserunners Texter left dying on the vine, 75-feet from from tying the game.
Geoff LaSala, who coaxed Texter’s only walk with one out in the fifth, was sacrificed to second and stole third. But Texter froze Todd Coyle, who had the Pioneers’ other hit, on a fastball on the inside corner — belt high — to end the threat.
Bianchi’s homer gave Strasburg/Willow Street the early advantage, but Harbor quickly took it back. Duschel led off the second with a walk, stole second and took third on a ground out.
With two outs, Nick Spisak walked to turn the lineup over and Johnson bounced the first pitch he saw up the middle and into center field, scoring Duschel.
Smith, who singled in the first inning, fell behind 0-and-2, then lined Brubaker’s outside fastball past third base and into left field, scoring Spisak.
“I had to shorten up,” said Smith. “I was sort of surprised it got out there so fast.”
It was, in Smith’s estimation, his first game-winning hit of the year. Like shortstops of the pre-Nomar, pre-A-Rod, pre-Jeter era , Smith’s forte is his glove work.
“My defense is stronger than my hitting,” he said, adding, modestly, “I just had a good hitting night.”
Actually, he had a good hitting tournament , as he went 5-for-10 with three runs and four RBIs. He was part of a Lions’ offense that came into the championship game hitting .400 and finished at .345.
The Pioneers had put up some gaudy offensive numbers coming in, too, hitting .363 as a team. Chris Shehan, David Nicklaus and Brubaker were a combined 10-for-21 with 10 runs and 10 RBIs in the Pioneers’ first two game of the tournament .
Against Texter on Monday they were 0-for-9 with five strikeouts. “(Texter) looked confident out there,” Maguire said. “He threw a very nice game.”
So did Brubaker, who stranded a runner at third in each of Harbor’s last four at-bats.
“He didn’t give up one hit,” Maguire said. “Nicky kept coming at ’em and he threw a real nice game.”
On this night, Phil Texter’s was nicer.
NOTES: The Harbor kids weren’t the only ones in this game with NET experience. Four Pioneers — LaSala, Nicklaus, Maguire and Dallas Eberly — played for the SWS Pioneer White team that bowed out of the tournament in the 1999 J-M preliminaries.
“Last year, we really were a “B’ team, playing as an “A’ team,” Fred Maguire said. “They worked hard to get to this point and they’ve gotten so much better.”
Brubaker finished the tournament with six walks and 31 strikeouts in 18 innings. He allowed seven hits and surrendered two earned runs, a 0.77 ERA …. In one less start, Texter allowed five walks and struck out 24 in 13 innings. He allowed just the three hits and one earned run, for an ERA of 0.54.
Whether you call it a “collision rule” or a “must-slide rule,” the tournament has a rule, the intent of which is, to protect both baserunner and catcher (or any other fielder) from the effects of unesscessary contact. In the third inning, at the tail end of a fielder’s choice/run down play, Dan Kauffman played Pete Rose to Nick Maguire’s Ray Fosse as Kauffman tried to score.
Knocked flat on his back, Maguire held on to the ball and Kauffman was out, and out, ejected from the game. The collision was more heat-of-the-moment than intentional, and Perry tried to intervene on behalf of his slugging firstbaseman. But Kauffman watched the rest of the game from the dugout.
Lions were destined for Junior-Midget title
By Jeffrey Reinhart
LNP Sports Writer
Are the Safe Harbor Lions a team of destiny?
After Monday night’s performance in the LNP Tournament junior-midget championship game at Kunkle Field in Mount Joy, the answer is a resounding yes.
The Lions lugged an unbelievable 38-1 record into the title game against the upset-minded Strasburg/Willow Street Pioneers.
They were riding an eight-game winning streak — after a rip-roaring 29-game winning tear to open the season — and hadn’t lost since the third week of June.
They were without ace pitcher Jarred Texter, who is in Oregon playing in the U.S. Junior Amateur golf championship.
And they played the final four innings Monday without slugger Dan Kauffman, who was ejected in the third after plowing over SWS catcher Nick Maguire. The umpire evoked the collision rule for rough play on Kauffman.
The play touched off a war of words between both coaches and the umpires. One assistant coach got the heave-ho. After cooler heads prevailed — and Kauffman sauntered to the dug out for the rest of the evening — Safe Harbor went back to work, and the Lions didn’t finish until they reached their ultimate goal:
Winning the NET.
“We’ve been wishing for this since our first game this season,” said winning pitcher Phil Texter, who allowed just four baserunners and fanned 10. “I think this proves that we’re a pretty dominant team.”
You won’t get any arguments from here. Or from Safe Harbor coach Bruce Perry.
“I’ve been coaching junior-midgets for 10 years now,” he said, “and I’ve never seen a team this dominant in all those years.”
So what kind of ingredients make up a 39-1 team?
For starters, togetherness.
“This is real nice because we’re all friends and we all hang out and we get pumped up for every game,” catcher Dan Ott said. “And we all pull for each other and we’re all here for each other.”
Even when your top pitcher is 3,000 miles away chasing a golf ball, or when Kauffman — who missed two weeks earlier this summer with a neck injury — had to watch the festivities from the bench.
And don’t forget about camaraderie. These guys are so close, they all dyed their hair blond — a la the Garden Spot boys’ basketball team two years ago — in a sign of solidarity and commitment to winning.
“They did that after they clinched a spot in the LNP,” Perry said. “They decided to be blondies like all that Garden Spot stuff. But it wasn’t about that. It was about talent. And I think this proves what kind of talent we have, and just how good this team really is.”
The last ingredient is sticking to a common goal, and the Lions, who lost to Solanco 4-1 in the Mountville Tournament championship game in mid-June, stuck to that like glue.
“We knew we wanted to win the LNP right from the start of the season,” said shortstop Alan Smith, who went 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and a stolen base in the finale. “And everybody chipped in and everybody did their part.”
Texter certainly did his part last night. He allowed three hits and just one walk. He struck out 10, including Nick Brubaker, Dallas Eberly and Nick Maguire in succession to end the game, putting an exclamation point on the Lions’ superb season.
SWS hit one ball hard the whole night, that by Jeff Bianchi with one out in the top of the first. Bianchi turned on a Texter fastball and lined a homer to left to give the Pioneers a short-lived 1-0 lead.
How hard did Bianchi smack that pitch?
He hit it so hard, it left a dent on the side of my car in the parking lot.
Texter was in little trouble after that, allowing a third-inning single to Todd Coyle and a fourth-inning gap double to Bianchi, who didn’t inflict any further damage to my car this time. Texter — more focused and throwing harder as the game went on — fanned David Nicklaus, Brubaker and Eberly in order to get out of the inning.
In the fifth, Maguire walked and later stole third with one out. But Texter retired Dominic Lombardo then froze Coyle with a backdoor curve that painted the corner for strike three.
“When Phil gets mad, he gets better,” Ott said. “And after that whole show went on after Dan got ejected, I knew he was gonna get real mad.
“My hand was really hurting after that.”
Keeping his emotions in check, Texter retired eight straight to end the game, including a clutch called third strike on Nicklaus to end the sixth. He put the icing on the cake in the seventh by whiffing the side.
And just like that, Safe Harbor had come full circle. It captured the tournament it was destined to win.
While Texter was the man in the finale, it’s pretty hard to single out one guy on a team that went 38-1 and destroyed basically everyone in its path. That said, a gold star goes out to the whole gang; a gang that played together, sweated together and never lost sight of the ultimate goal.
So here’s to Andrew Johnson, Alan Smith, Dan Kauffman, Phil Texter, Dan Ott, Tyler Duschel, Kyle Caruthers, Darren Brunner, Nick Spisak, Zac Charles, Matt Haverstick, Jarod Kline and Jarred Texter.
Take a bow, fellas. Job well done.