Mountville edges Hempfield Black to earn the crown
By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent
Time will ultimately tell whether the 2003 New Era Tournament Midget-Midget championship game truly was the classic it seemed Tuesday night.
The Mountville Indians took the full measure of Hempfield Black at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field and stole the title in extra innings, 4-3, when Eric Macik came home on an overthrow at third base.
Monday night, with the memory of two lopsided losses to Mountville (40-0) this year fresh in his mind, Black’s coach Gary Stepanchick expressed the hope that his team could play a competitive game against the defending M-M champions.
His team was more than competitive.
Black’s Brett Houseal matched the Indians’ D.J. Ream pitch-for-pitch. Ream’s stats were one walk, three hit batsmen, 13 strikeouts, three runs (two earned) and five hits. Houseal’s final line read one walk, 15 strikeouts, four runs (three earned) and 10 hits, six of which never left the infield.
Four of those infield hits came in the Indians’ 3-run fourth inning, when it seemed the baseball gods had turned their back on Black.
Through three scoreless innings Houseal allowed three hits, but two of those baserunners were gunned down at second by catcher Andrew Kulp.
With one out, Nate Beck initiated the fourth-inning damage, bouncing a high chopper over the mound. Ream plopped a ball off the end of his bat. The ball landed in front of second base, sending Beck to third.
Brandon Kline laid down a safety squeeze bunt toward third. Jarod Horning fielded it just in front of the bag, lost his footing and fell on the seat of his pants as Beck scored.
Patrick Welsh loaded the bases on a bad-hop single to short and Nic Lonkowske chased home two runs, rolling a single past the drawn-in infield and into right field.
“I’ll tell you what, we have not had to play “small ball’ this year,” Mountville coach Bob Sauders said. “I wasn’t sure we could still do it.”
Down 3-0, Black (35-6) battled back with single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. In the fourth, Jordan Stepanchick was hit in the foot by one of Ream’s curveballs. He stole second and was wild-pitched to third.
With two outs, Horning made amends by singling sharply to left, driving in Stepanchick. Mark Enoch reached on an infield single with one out in the fifth and scored on Nick Grasso’s triple to left.
Grasso was stranded at third as secondbaseman Drew Schanz made a diving catch behind the mound on Stepanchick’s short pop. After walking Brendan McCandless, Ream struck out Kulp.
Undeterred, Black attacked anew in the sixth as Horning led off with a single to center and took third on a two-base error in the outfield. Ream put Brandon Hinkle in an 0-2 hole on curveballs, then wasted a fastball away. Hinkle went with the pitch and grounded to Schanz, scoring pinchrunner Kevin Lee.
“At 3-0 we could’ve quit,” observed Gary Stepanchick. “We came back, one at a time, and we had our chances.”
With one out in the top of the seventh inning, Mountville’s Nick DeLaleu ripped a hanging curve to the outfield. Rounding second, DeLaleu lost his footing as the relay from leftfielder McCandless came to Lee at short.
Lee fired to Horning, who tagged DeLaleu on the way back to second for the second out, but Houseal’s deliverance was short lived. Macik reached base on an infield single to second and was balked to second base.
“I was worried because he (Houseal) had a good move to first,” Macik said. “But I knew I could get a good lead off second, so I was excited when he balked and I got second.”
Sauders gave Macik the “must steal” sign and Macik jumped for third. Kulp came up firing, but the ball rose on him and sailed over Horning. Macik hit the landing at third, heard Sauders shouting, “Go, go, go” and rolled home with the tiebreaker.
All that was left was for Ream to subdue Black one last time. He got the first two outs on strikes, hit Stepanchick for the second time and wild-pitched him to second before retiring McCandless on a grounder back to the mound to set off the celebration.
“That had to be heartbreaking for Black,” said Sauders. “They were pumped. They wanted us, and I thought they were going to win there for a while.”
“I told the kids, in my heart they won,” Stepanchick said.
“Hopefully every fan that was here enjoyed the game because it was a phenomenal baseball game. I’m proud of both teams.”
NOTES: The personnel of both sides could well form the nucleus of Hempfield High’s baseball team five, six years down the road, which could explain the decorum and respect extended by both the players and their supporters.
One thing is for sure, if they keep progressing as pitchers, Ream, Houseal and Brandon Hinkle, Black’s lefty ace, will give the Knights a solid starting staff down the road.
Sauders is happy the ghost chase is finally finished in the clutch
By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent
They are back-to-back New Era Midget-Midget champions. They have won five titles since 1990 and have been to the finals twice more in the interim, the last three years in a row.
But don’t say the “D” word around Mountville Indians’ coach Bob Sauders. He’ll hear no talk of dynasties.
Nor will he entertain any idea of personally basking in the spotlight. This despite his presence being the one constant over the past 14 years.
What he would talk about Tuesday night was the chasing, over the last three weeks, of an old ghost.
On the opening night of this year’s tournament, considering Mountville’s then 37-0 record, the question was asked, “Have any other teams come into the New Era unbeaten?”
How quickly we forget.
Perhaps the finest Midget-Midget team ever, the 1989 squad from New Providence, led by Greg Schaub, capped a 39-0 season by winning the New Era Tournament.
“I’ve been around for a while,” said Sauders, “and there have always been these comments made about the ’89 New Providence team. (Passing them) was something we talked about, about three weeks ago.
“I figured out how many games we’d be playing in tournaments and said, “Hey, guys, we’ll have 40 games.’ When we were at 31 games, all we had to do was win nine more. That kept us more focused, and every game became important at that point.
“Obviously, winning the New Era was a goal from the beginning of the season, we really felt we had a chance to repeat (as champions), but setting the 40-0 goal helped keep us on track. We just wanted to set that record and go ahead of New Providence.”
Sauders likened the late stages of the quest to doing chin-ups. “Those last couple, you’re kicking, pulling and grunting.”
And so they kicked, pulled and grunted. And now they’re here, 40-0.
Over the last three years the Indians are 122-28. They are 93-4 over the past two years. They have become an even tighter staff since Jerry Bradley, who took Sauders’ ’90 M-M champions and won the ’94 Midget title, joined the staff after an eight-year hiatus spent watching his son, Jason, play at Hempfield and Millersville.
Bradley handles everything involving pitching and Sauders delegates other duties to his staff of assistants: Jeff Ream and his brother, Steve, both former Hempfield standouts, and Tom Beck. It’s a successful mix.
The New Era Tournament is not the end of this year’s line. The Indians have been invited to return next week to the Cooperstown, New York, to participate in the Hall of Fame Tournament.
They’ll do this area proud.