No. 7 seed surges past SWS, 11-6
By Dave Byrne
There can be little argument that the Lititz Oddfellows and Strasburg/Willow Street Blue were seeded seventh and eighth in the New Era tournament on merit.
There is also no argument that these two programs are among the most successful, if not the most successful midget baseball programs in the last 15 years.
So, despite their lowly bracket status as the midget division of the New Era opened, it is no surprise they faced each other with the tournament title on line.
Lititz batted around in the first and sixth innings and defeated SWS 11-6 Wednesday night to win the midget title of the 66th New Era.
It was the Oddfellows’ third New Era Tournament title in six years.
For the third consecutive year and sixth time in sixth tries, SWS watched an opponent raise the championship trophy.
Throwing four innings of effective relief behind starter Caleb Metzler, Zach Hurst got the win with Braidy Weiler going the final two innings for the save.
Lititz (10-6-2) put up six runs in the first inning, with Weiler stroking a two-run triple and Cody Kimmel ripping a two-run double, and nailed down the title with a four-run sixth.
Again it was Weiler, with a two-run single, and RBI hits from Hurst and Kimmel that paced the outburst.
This title seemed so unlikely just four weeks ago as the Oddfellows languished in the middle of the Lanco School League pack.
Then things turned.
“We won four of our last five,” said Hurst. “We just played our hearts out.
“We had a drive and Frank’s a big part of that,” he said tipping his cap to long-time Lititz coach Frank Camera.
“Honestly,” Hurst continued, “I believe everyone was like, ‘Maybe we’ll make it as the eighth seed and then just get crushed in the first-round game.’ The spirits were low, but Frank … he carried this team and everyone wanted to rally around him.”
“People knew we were a quality team,” said Camera, “and it was something we knew.
“By the time we got to the middle part of the season we started developing that dirt-dog personality. These guys became brothers and picked their brothers up and supported them.”
They carried that caring for each other into the tournament, carrying them into the championship game.
“We just kept fighting,” said Ian Hart, “and we never gave up.”
Nor did SWS (10-8), which traveled a more perilous path to the tournament, surviving a play-in to make the field of eight, then knocking out two higher-seeded opponents to get back to the championship.
Once there, they struck for three first-inning runs on Collin Miller’s 2-run double and Regan Hershey’s single.
When Lititz knocked out starter Samuel Meck in the first inning, Kohner Morgan came on and shut the door over the next four innings, allowing just Robert Gerofsky’s RBI double.
Meanwhile, Blue chopped into the Lititz advantage. Hershey plated a run on a groundout in the fourth and SWS turned the heat up on Hurst in the fifth.
With a run in as Andrew Wright singled in John Gote, Wright scored on Jason Lindsley’s grounder to third.
Third baseman Alec Rhoads bobbled the ball as Collin Miller, who reached on an infield single, pulled into third and Lindsley crossed first.
Clinging to a 7-6 lead, Lititz was about to get a lift.
Anthony Witteman lifted a fly ball into the drizzle and mist and into right field, where Gerofsky settled under it.
Miller tagged. Gerofsky uncorked a powerful throw to catcher Ian Hart. Hart took it four feet up the third base line, erasing Miller for a double play.
“That may have been the biggest throw of my life, so far,” said Gerofsky. “I knew right away. I knew there was no way he was making that.”
“They made a mistake running on him,” said Hart. “It changed everything, all the momentum.”
Hurst called the play “Unbelievable.”
Hart and Gerofsky called it “Huge.”
Scoring four runs in the home sixth did little to erase its significance.
But it did ease the path to the finish line.
Camera observed, “We went with the mantra: It wasn’t who won the first game (of the year), it was all about tonight, who won the last game.”