Keith Dowell used a different grip on the baseball and the Mountville Indians put a familiar grip on the Midget-Midget championship trophy of the 52nd LNP Tournament.
The Indians (26-13) used a big first inning to defeat the Safe Harbor Cubs 7-4 Tuesday night at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
The victory was the third Midget-Midget title in the ’90’s for Mountville and head coach Bob Souders, and its second in three years.
“They all feel so different,” Souders answered when asked to single out the best championship. “The first one, Mountville hadn’t won for 20-some years. The ’95 team was just…
“I think a lot of people expected us to play .500 ball this season,” Souders added. “They were like raw talent, they needed to be brought together. Just to see how this team has matured, playing baseball, that’s a special feeling.”
Souders and the Indians must have been feeling especially fortunate when the Penn Manor League drew its divisions at the beginning of the year.
While Safe Harbor, Willow Street, Lancaster Township and Manheim Township banged heads in one division, the Indians found themselves in the other.
And found that with hard work, they became a pretty good ball club.
“It was just a constant improvement,” Souders said. “Every once in a while we’d have a bad game. We’d slip.”
The improvement was forged in the crucibles of many tournaments and several losses. More than one to Safe Harbor.
The Cubs (34-6) swept Mountville in the regular season, but Mountville got in a lick in the Manheim tournament .
When Harbor edged Mountville in the Penn Manor League championship game 4-3, Souders knew he had something.
“They wanted to come right back and play Harbor again,” he said. “That told us something right there.”
The Tribe was ready Tuesday night. Dowell, a first year “A” player who saw increased mound action after Scott Fultineer developed arm trouble, mowed the Cubs down 1-2-3 on nine pitches in the first.
“That set the stage,” lamented Cubs’ coach Carl Caruthers.
By the time Dowell took the mound for the second inning, the Indians had swept the stage and led 5-0.
As he had in his semifinal victory over Mount Joy, starter Corey Caruthers got a little too much of the plate in the first inning and the Indians reached him for three straight hits, six in the inning.
Jason Smith lined up the middle and Fultineer nubbed a single into short left. Dan Nice singled Smith home and both runners moved up on a double steal. They then scored on successive wild pitches to Brent Wile.
Wile eventually singled, stole a pair of bases and scored on Brent Mitzell’s triple to right center.
Matt Johnson beat out a beauty of a safety squeeze bunt as Mitzell crossed the plate and Harbor was on its heels.
“We struggled coming out in the bottom of the first,” coach Caruthers said. “All year long the first inning has been our problem.
“Our hitting usually brought us back in it,” he said. “We just didn’t have it tonight.”
Because Dowell and his defense took it from the Cubs.
Dowell gave up five hits, three in Harbor’s big inning, and three earned runs, walking two while striking out seven.
With Caruthers restoring order, Harbor got back into the game with a three-run third. Alan Smith flared a double into left and Andrew Johnson walked.
Jarred Texter lined hard to center, but Nice was there to put the ball away, nicely, nearly doubling Smith off second in the process. Caruthers singled home Smith and big Josh Smith singled in a pair as Caruthers steamed home from first.
But that was it for Harbor as Dowell subdued them, surrendering an unearned run in the seventh on Johnson’s throwing error.
It was the only time the Indians’ defense leaked, as Dowell got seven ground balls, two pop-ups and two fly balls in addition to Nice’s catch.
“Where we’re really playing better is defense,” said Souders, who noted the Indians could always hit (they were 26-for-53 in the tournament ). “We had no errors in the league championship game and no errors against Rheems Gray (in the Era semis),” he said.
While Harbor was threatening to make a game of it, Mountville responded with a two-out rally in its half of the third. Dowell walked, stole second and then scored on Mitzel’s second hit of the day.
“I was a little nervous I might strike out,” said Mitzel, who ripped a fastball down the middle. “I think he (Caruthers) thought the inning was “made’ for him and he let his guard down.”
A pair of walks loaded the bases for Mountville and ended Caruthers’ mound duties, but Texter came on to end the inning.
Texter took command over the next 2 1/3 innings, striking out seven, but Mountville nicked him for an unearned run in the fifth.
The Indians gave that run back in the sixth, but Dowell got Andrew Smith on strikes to wrap up the win.
It was a win that Dowell never doubted. At least after the first inning.
“I pretty much knew we had that game,” he said. “My curveball was working. My fastball was running tight (thanks in part to that different grip). The defense was working and everything.”
Indians’ win carries on a Wile family tradition
By Donald Wagner
Last night, as the Mountville Indians hoisted the LNP Midget-Midget Championship trophy, another chapter was written in the Wile family book of baseball history.
As Cody and Brent Wile celebrated with their teammates, their father, Dale, and older brother, Ryan, looked on proudly. Dale, an assistant coach on this year’s team, had been a member of the Mountville Indians team that won the Midget-Midget title in 1962. Ryan had been a member of the Mountville team that won the same title in 1995.
Winning championships is something that the men of the Wile family pass to each other as easily as some families pass the salt.
“It’s kind of hard to imagine that it would have ever ended up like this with me, and then Ryan, and now Cody and Brent winning titles,” Dale said.
Wile said that the LNP Tournament is pretty much the same as when he played for the title 25 years ago. But he did say there were one, or two, things that had changed.
“Nowadays there are so many more good pitchers,” he said. “The pitching is so much stronger now.”
Of course, the elder Wile’s perspective has changed, too, now that he’s a coach. Last night, he spent much of the game nervously perched on a bucket watching his sons play in the same outfield that he had played in a quarter-century ago.
“Quite honestly, I was more nervous as a coach than as player,” he said.
Cody and Brent didn’t look nervous at all as they circled the infield with their teammates in a victory lap. In fact, the twins maintained their poise throughout the championship game, following the advice of their father, who spoke from experience.
“He just told us it’s another game and to play as well as we can,” Brent said.
Just like their father, older brother Ryan was beaming after Mountville’s victory. Cody and Brent said Ryan had been pulling for them since the tournament began, adding that he said he thought it would be “cool” if they won a title just like he and their father had.
Mountville’s victory carried on a Wile family tradition on the field, and Cody and Brent planned to carry on another family tradition after the game, too. After Ryan’s team won the title two years ago, the Wile house had been taken over for a celebratory sleepover.
“When we won in 1995, we had 25 kids running around the house, so I don’t know what will happen tonight,” Dale said. “I’m afraid to ask.”
His fears were well-founded. Even as Wile spoke, his twin sons already were extending invitations.
“He may not like it, but are having a sleepover,” Brent said.