New Era Correspondent
Michael Houseal approached perfection while Ian Bentley approached exhaustion.
In the end, both embraced victory on the first night of the 62nd New Era Midget Baseball Tournament.
Houseal threw a no-hitter, losing his perfect game on a one-out walk in the fifth inning, as Mount Joy Blue edged the Warwick Phillies, 1-0 in the first game of a midget-midget quarterfinal doubleheader at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
In the nightcap, Bentley’s grit allowed the Mountville Indians to outlast Manheim VFW, 4-2 in nine innings.
The two teams will meet Monday night in the first game of a semifinal doubleheader at Kunkle. Game time is set for 6 p.m.
Houseal had to push perfection. He was pushed by his mound opponent, the Phillies’ Christopher Wentzel.
Wentzel allowed just four hits, and the game’s only run, that coming in the fifth inning, Blue’s last regulation at bat.
“He pitched a great game,” said Phils’ coach Randy Ross. “You can’t win if you can’t score. We just couldn’t get a run for him.
“We’ve been unable to score runs all year,” continued Ross, whose team finished the season 12-21. “It’s been our Achilles heel. I think this is ninth one-run ballgame we’ve lost this year.”
With one out in the fifth, Blue’s Jonathon Sauder beat out an infield single to deep shortstop on a bang-bang play at first.
It was the only time Mount Joy (28-7) beat Phils’ shortstop Tyler Morris who, otherwise, made two sterling plays behind Wentzel.
After his single, Sauder stole second, but got a late jump on Chris Robsinson’s double to the fence in right and had to hold at third.
That brought up Dalton Garrett, who laid down a perfect bunt to bring in Sauder with the winning run on a suicide squeeze play.
“He missed one earlier this year,” said Mount Joy coach Ron Wagner of Garrett. “That’s life and death. When that guy’s coming down the line, you’ve got to protect him.”
With the lead, Houseal got three quick outs in the top of the sixth, including his fifth strikeout of the game, to bring the errorless game to an end in exactly one hour.
Houseal’s only slip was a four-pitch walk to Braidy Weiler with one out in the fifth.
“I got really mad when I walked that one guy,” said Houseal, who quickly bore down and closed out the gem.
He was in command all night, keeping the ball down and working the outside corners for nine groundball outs, a couple fly balls and two standout plays by rightfielder Austin Mellinger.
First, Mellinger took two strides to his right to track down Wentzel’s liner for the third out of the fourth inning.
Then he made a diving, tumbling catch of Morris’ fly ball for the final out of the game.
While the first game was crisp and quick, the second game was its polar opposite.
Mountville (41-12-1) committed three of the game’s four errors and needed three extra frames before it could finally pull out the win.
The Indians were able to hang on thanks to Bentley, who threw 116 pitches.
Compare that to Houseal and Wentzel, who threw a combined 113 in the opener.
Bentley wasn’t the game’s only ironman. His opponent, Manheim’s Ryan Wilson, threw 126.
“That was a battle,” said Indians’ coach Bob Sauders. “I feel very fortunate to come away with the win.”
The Indians scored first on a pair of third-inning runs that were right out of the Mountville textbook.
Zach Burke dropped a hit behind third base to lead off and promptly stole two bases to move to third.
Wilson appeared poised to get out of the inning when he struck out the next two batters, but Bentley came to the plate and dropped a perfect bunt, scoring Burke ahead of Wilson’s throw home.
Bentley then stole second and set his sights for third. When he attempted to pilfer the base, catcher John Sanchez threw high into left, allowing Bentley to score.
“Those (runs) were like going back to the old days,” Sauders said with a twinkle in his eye. “That felt good.”
Manheim (18-12) got one back in the fourth after loading the bases on two walks and an error.
Kyle Winters, who led off the inning with a walk, scored on an 0-2 wild pitch to Hunter Pearson, but Bentley struck out Pearson on a nasty, down-and-in slurve to end the threat.
Bentley was two outs away from the win in the sixth inning when Wilson jacked a monster homer over the left field fence to tie the game.
“Man! Did he hit that ball!” Sauders exclaimed.
It was the last pitch Wilson saw. When he came to the plate with two out in the eighth, and nobody on base, Sauders waved him to first with an intentional walk.
“I wasn’t going to pitch to him again,” Sauders said. “No way.”
The teams matched zeroes the next two frames, although Mountville lost a run on batter’s interference call in the top of the eighth.
Then Adam Law worked a leadoff walk to start the ninth – Wilson’s only walk of the game – to trigger Mountville’s winning rally.
After Law stole second, Willie Welsh singled up the middle, scoring Law. Then, Joe Yourgal followed with a solid double to the fence in left to bringh in Welsh.
Bentley gave up a leadoff single by Chris Good in the bottom of the ninth, only Manheim’s second hit of the night, but got a double play ball and strikeout to end the game.
“It was a tough ballgame to lose,” said Manheim coach Jeff Knosp. “I’m proud of my boys, they kept nibbling away.
“You wish it could end in a tie, but unfortunately that’s not the way baseball’s played.”