New Era Correspondent
Sometimes, Goliath ducks and David’s stone whizzes harmlessly by.
That was the case Thursday night, when the Norlanco Redbirds dodged a determined upset bid from Hempfield Black, prevailing 8-6 in eight innings to reach the Midget-Midget semifinals of the 61st New Era Tournament at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
The Redbirds (24-4) will take on Manheim VFW Maroon in the first game of a semifinal doubleheader Monday night at 6 p.m. at Kunkle.
Manheim came from behind to edge the Strasburg/Willow Street Cardinals, 2-1, in Thursday’s other quarterfinal matchup.
Hempfield Black (10-12-1) had been beaten handily by Norlanco in three previous meetings this season, but immediately served notice that the fourth time would be different by jumping out to a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first.
Cory Gantz and Nick Yarnell both drew walks and advanced on a wild pitch. Gantz scored when Ryo Kojitani chopped a single out in front of home plate and Yarnell steamed home behind him as pitcher Jake Rutt threw away the ball at first.
Norlanco had broken on top as Tim Murray (2-for-4, 3 runs scored) walked, stole second and third and came home on Andre Hoover’s sac fly to center.
Hempfield starter Chris Mattison allowed just one hit in five innings of work, but he still managed to get himself into trouble at times with three walks and two hit batters.
“They kept us off balance,” said Norlanco manager Mike Lowrie.
Norlanco knotted the game in the third on an unearned run as Evan Weaver scored in a botched rundown.
The Penn Manor League champions moved ahead in the fifth, 3-2, as Murray finally got to Mattison for a double into the corner in left. He then stole third and scored on Keegan Rosenberry’s sacrifice bunt.
Hempfield had a chance to break the game open in the fourth, opening the inning with back-to-back singles from Nate Kulp and Anthony Dornes off reliever John Armbrust, who had retired five in a row after taking over for starter Jake Rutt in the second.
Kulp and Dornes stood on second and third with no one out, but they were still standing there when the inning ended as Armbrust struck out the side.
Norlanco grabbed the lead in its next at-bat.
“Those things make a difference in a ballgame,” said Hempfield manager Bob Gantz. “When you have the opportunities, you’ve got to try to take advantage of it. We’ve faced John before and we’ve had a tough time hitting him.”
Down to their last three outs, Kulp led off the Hempfield sixth with a walk, stole second and took third on a throwing error.
Armbrust got Dornes to pop to second, then struck out Mattison. However, his 1-0 pitch to Nate Booth was wild and Kulp crossed home with the tying run.
Nick Yarnell replaced Mattison in the sixth inning and the teams traded goose eggs in the seventh.
But Norlanco broke out its “small ball” offense in the eighth, opening an 8-3 lead with a five-run inning.
“It was clear our guys weren’t ripping the ball like they normally do,” said Lowrie, “so we had to manufacture runs tonight.”
Parke Martin drew a one-out walk to start the rally and stole second and third. Jair Saenz followed with a sacrifice bunt and beat it out when Yarnell’s throw to first was wide, allowing Martin to score on the play.
Ryan Brubaker and Weaver both bunted their way on to load the bases, and Murray singled a run home.
After Rosenberry was hit by a pitch – scoring another run – Hoover ripped a two-out single to cap Norlanco’s scoring.
Hempfield mounted a three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth on Kojitani’s two-run double to right and Booth’s two-out single to make things interesting, but Brian Neff coaxed a grounder to short from Ben Weikel to end the game.