LNP’s Midget finals will be a Blue affair

Comet Blue pitcher Andre Kraybill delivers during his team’s win over Lititz.

By Dave Byrne
LNP Correspondent

The same teams that are locked in a best-of-three fight for the Lancaster County Midget League championship will play for the midget division championship of the LNP Tournament.

Somebody somewhere got this figured out right.

Comet Blue and Bears Blue will meet next Thursday evening at the Baron Complex in Manheim to decide the NET title. This will come three days after the two teams play the third, and deciding, game of their league series on Monday.

“It’s going to be a tough week,” said Bears’ coach Jim Raffensberger. “We’ve already played each other three times, so we know each other. Nobody is going to fool anybody.”

There was no fooling Thursday at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field as the Blues took care of their NET semifinal business.

Comet Blue (21-8) jumped to a 7-0 lead on the Lititz Oddfellows and last week’s hero, J.J. Palomarez, then held on to win, 7-5.

Bears Blue (17-8) took advantage of Adam Devlin’s early location troubles and stopped West Lampeter Pioneers Blue, 5-2.

Palomarez threw a one-hitter and dominated in Lititz’s tournament opener last Thursday and that was on Comet Blue coach Jack Texter’s pre-game thoughts yesterday.

“I was a little apprenhesive when we came here,” he said. “I really thought he’d give us some trouble.”

Not all of Texter’s players shared his concerns.

“It doesn’t matter what he does,” allowed Josh Smith, Texter’s catcher. “You can hit any pitcher, any day.”

Comet Blue came out swinging on Palomarez who, truth be told, didn’t get a lot of help. Blue took advantage of two errors and four catchable balls to the outfield that fell in, to take a 5-0 lead after two innings, chasing Palomarez two batters into the second inning.

“He didn’t have his best stuff, and you could see it right away,” said Lititz coach Frank Camera. And Blue made him throw a lot of pitches, 33 in the first inning, typified by Shane Rineer’s 9-pitch at bat before walking.

Dan Bond got it all started, living on a one-out error. Eric Bonds doubled to right on a catchable ball that got lost in the sun and Rineer walked. Josh Smith doubled through short, scoring two runs and Rineer came home on a wild pitch.

Charles Johnson lived on a error to start the second inning and Corey Caruthers, Bond and Bonds all hit sun balls, Caruthers driving in a run and Bond, two runs.

Rineer added an RBI single in the fourth and Nick Swartz singled in a run in the fifth as the Comets went up 7-0. “Today we got some big hits Texter said. “That was key for us.”

The beneficiary of this timely output was Andre Kraybill who, belieing his catcher’s observation that any pitcher, any day, is hittable, kept Lititz off balance and off the board through four innings.

Through four he allowed just an infield single to Joey Brenner, in the fourth, whom he then promptly picked off. “He’s deceiving, he’s got a good pitch repetoire,” Camera said. “We’ve seen him twice and my guys are coming back shaking their heads like, “Why aren’t we doing anything?’

“I don’t think he has a tremendously overpowering fastball, but the way he keeps the batters off balance with the curve and the change, he’s doing something right,” Camera added.     Smith felt Kraybill had better stuff than he did in Saturday’s quarterfinal victory over Hempfield Black, but Lititz (14-10) got through to him in the fifth.

What Palomarez didn’t get done with his arm he did with his bat. He was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBI, both coming on a homerun in the sixth inning.

He singled to start the fifth and scored on Tim Hart’s ground out. Nate Jones walked and eventually came home on a passed ball.

Brenner reaached on an error in the sixth and scored ahead of Palomarez, who jerked a 1-0 pitch just over the fence in left. In the seventh, Hart singled and scored on Ty Flowers’ 2-out single through short, but Kraybill got Brenner on an infield pop to close out the victory.

The nightcap was bittersweet for Steve Ewing and his Pioneers’ staff. The loss marked only the second time in six NET appearances, and the first since 1995, that his kids did not make the Division championship game.

Back in ’95 it was current Hempfield High ace David Bechtold that denied the then Willow Street Cardinals in the Midget-Midget quarterfinals. This time it was Elizabethtown ace-to-be Justin Garber who sent them home.

Garber allowed seven hits, two through the first four innings when this game was decided, walked none and struck out nine. Contrast that with his mound opponent, Devlin, who had an uncharacteristically difficult time.

Devlin walked six batters, hit one and threw two wild pitches. The Bears struck for a pair of runs in the second after he hit Tyler Hostsetter on the wrist and walked Mitch Hummer.

Joe Herr hit a fielder’s choice to first as Tim Bianchi elected to erase Hummer at second. The ball was dropped however and Hostetter rolled home with the first run of the game.

Ryan Kiscaden then ground into a double play that nearly became a triple play. Hummer just beat Bianchi’s throw home, somehow sliding through Geesey’s block of home plate.

In the third, Ryne Christian beat out an infield single and eventually scored on a wild pitch. Garber, who reached base four times on two singles, a triple and a walk, poked a hit to right and scored on Jimmy Kreider’s ground out.

That was the first of eight batters retired in a row for Devlin, who took command through the middle innings. “He seemed to settle down, find his location,” said Steve Ewing.

“He wasn’t as sharp as he can be the first couple of innings,” agreed Raffensberger, “but he settled in pretty nice and picked the pace up.”

With two outs in the fifth, the Bears loaded the bases on Garber’s triple and a pair of walks, but Devlin retired Hostetter on a liner to center, on a great diving catch by Mark Wagner.

It was the second time Hostetter hit the ball hard with runner’s in scoring position and had nothing to show. But he finally won the battle in the seventh with a ground single to center, adding a crucial insurance run.

Crucial because the Pioneers (25-4), always a ticking bomb waiting to go off on offense, found the answer to Garber. Or at least three of them did as Bianchi scored both Pioneer runs, Ryan Ewing knocked both in and Wagner kept each rally going with doubles.

Bianchi reached in the fifth when Garber threw away his bunt attempt and Wagner hit the first of his two doubles. Ewing delivered Bianchi with a ground out to short to make it a 4-1 game.

In the seventh, with the Bears now up 5-1, Bianchi hit a 1-out single and, one out later, Wagner doubled him to third. Ewing singled Bianchi home, moving Wagner to third, bringing Devlin, the potential tying run, to the plate.

Was Garber nervous?

“Not really,” he later allowed. “I knew he was the tying run, but I knew the last at bat I got him to ground out. I knew what pitches to throw.”

Just to make sure, Raffensberger called time and discussed pitch selection. “I told him to keep the ball away from him,” Raffensberger said. “Stay outside and we’ll take our chances.”

Garber did stay mostly outside — he threw an 0-1 wild pitch that moved Ewing to second — but did have a moment on 2-and-1 where Devlin took a mighty hack — and missed — at a fastball just a little too inside.

Chastened, Garber got Devlin to ground to short to end the game, and end the Pioneers’ lengthy run.

While the end of other NETs have proved emotional for Ewing and his staff, this one had a stoic flavor of resignation. And one of pride. “You could just see them getting better from the early years up on through,” Ewing said. “They’ve got a bright future.”

Bears Blues’s Mitch Hummer is safe at home as Nate Geesey takes the throw.