Familiarity, it is said, breeds contempt.
There can be no denying the two LNP Tournament Midget finalists are familiar with each other.
The Pequea Valley Braves and West Lampeter Pioneer Blue reached Friday’s final game of the NET with victories Saturday at the Baron Athletic Complex.
The Braves stopped Mount Joy Blue 6-3 in the first game, while the Pioneers beat Hempfield Black 6-2 in the second.
The finalists – both out of the Eastern Lancaster County League – have locked horns five times this year. The rivalry has had its contentious moments.
The Pioneers (24-6) have prevailed once, in the championship game of the Ephrata Tournament .
The Braves (33-2) own four victories over the Pioneers, taking two regular season meetings and a two-game sweep of the league championship series. The emotions that spilled over in that series will likely bubble to the surface again in the NET final.
“These guys are ready for them,” said Steve Ewing, coach and founder of the Pioneers. “It’s who they’d like to beat.”
At this point, the Pioneers would like to beat anybody. Friday’s final will be the fourth straight for this group in LNP Tournament play.
As the Willow Street Cardinals, they won the Midget-Midget title in ’96, but dropped two J-M finals in ’97 and ’98.
“We’re on a losing streak right now.” said Adam Devlin, Saturday’s winning pitcher. “So we want to win one.”
The Pioneers are such a fundamentally sound team that to beat them you have to play solid defense and make them hit their way on base. No free passes.
No one knows that more than Hempfield Black (18-9-1). In one pregame conversation, coach Ken Gerber said his team would have to play a clean game to win.
So when his starter, Brian Harnick, walked three and hit a batter, and the team made three errors behind him, all in fht efirst inning, it was not a good sign.
“That first inning was brutal for us,” he said. “it’s kind of been brutal for us in a couple games this year.”
The Pioneers grabbed the pro-offered 4-0 lead and turned it over to the care of Devlin, a righthander whose mound savvy increases as he grows. Devlin dominated, holding Hempfield to four hits and a pair of runs over five innings.
He yielded an RBI single to Dave Cornwall in the second and Sam Minder’s RBI double in the third as Black tried to climb off the deck.
But Devlin gathered himself and held Hempfield hitless the rest of his term.
“I was just trying to get back into a mindset of pitching well.” he said.
Rob Duvall came on for the last two innings to nail down the save, giving up a single to Minder(2-for-4).
Ryan Ewing’s RBI groundout and Jason Newmoyer’s RBI fielders choice highlighted the 4-run first.
After Hempfield closed the gap. Ewing again traded an out for a run in the fourth, scoring Mark Wagner who had tripled.
Ewing singled in the sixth and scored an insurance run on Tony Baker’s third single in three at-bats.
“Just the last couple of games I’ve been hitting really well.” he said. “I think I’ve fallen into my groove, which took me pretty much all season to find.”
Pequea Valley has been in that groove from Day 1. The Braves are a sort of Frankenstein monster of a baseball team. Players from Garden Spot, Conestoga Valley and Lancaster Mennonite High Schools were cobbled together with a nucleus from PV to create a juggernaut that has terrorized the Eastern County countryside.
Saturday, Mount Joy Blue (22-8) felt PV’s wrath.
In the interest of fairness, it should be quickly noted that the LMH player, Justin Smucker, lives in the PV district and one of the Spot play-ers, Gabe Abreu, has played his entire summer-ball career with teams from the Gap/Salisbury Athletic Association.
And when the Leola/CV Associations failed to field a midget program. Nick Erdman and Dan Russell found a home with the Braves.
“We just all wanted to play baseball.” Erdman said. “We’ve stuck together.”
Erdman (3-for-5, 2 runs scored) got the festivities of to a flying start Saturday morning when he doubled into the leftfield corner to start the game.
He crossed the plate on a two-base error on Eric Sagnor’s grounder to third to put the Braves in front.
PV increased its advantage over the next three innings on a 2-run single by Sagnor in the third and Erdman’s RBI double to center in the fourth.
Right in the middle of all the fun was Erik Yelk (2-for-3) who doubled, singled and scored a pair of runs.
“The high school season was kind of frustrating. This season we re having fun.” Yelk said, his fun no doubt influenced by a .419 summer batting average.
Erdman’s double chased Blue starter Jere Hess, who gave up six hits in 3 2/3 innings. Veteran Blue coach Jere Hess had hoped young Jere could keep the Braves’ clubs off balance with his assortment of off–speed pitches, benders and sneaky fastballs.
His replacement, Justin Bish, pitched out of trouble in the fourth, but got scuffed the next inning.
Derek Ulrich doubled and Carl Langley singled. Both scored unearned runs as Blue committed an error trifecta in the inning.
Langley, the L-L League strikeout king, held Blue at bay until the fourth, despite giving up four hits.
In the fourth, Bish singled with two out, took second on an error in center and later scored when Langley threw away a run down play.
Blue closed the gap to 6-3 in the home fifth as Justin Reese walked and lived on a dropped double play ball at second. John Burns, who had hit the fielder’s choice, was safe at first and both scored on Jon Felix’s infield single, Burns on a wild throw from the infield.
Felix, who took 25 stitches one week earlier, was back behind the plate for Blue. The rugged catcher caught all seven innings and looked none the worse for his unfortunate mishap on a play at the plate last week.
Langley was running on fumes by the sixth inning and gave up back-to-back singles to Wade Groff and Chad Ward to start the inning.
Hess then pinch hit Shawn Beamenderfer for Ryan Corso, hoping for the big inning.
“Beamenderfer’s been hitting the ball real well the last two weeks,” Hess said. “That’s why I went with it.”
Before Beamenderfer could take a swing, Langley picked off Groff, who had been gunned down at third by Ulrich earlier in the game.
Groff strayed off second. Langley stepped off the rubber and ran right at him before throwing to Sagnor at third to get the out.
Able to see his way clear now, Langley emptied his tank and retired Beamenderfer and Reese on grounders to first.
“I was kind of struggling there at the end,” Langley said. “But I hung in there.”
“He told me, ‘I’m about running out, you might want to get somebody else ready to go,” Braves’ coach Randy Gibson sharfed. “Normally he gets stronger as the game goes on.”
Gibson gave the ball to Abreu, who had a Wayne Gomesian seventh, walking a pair before getting a double play ball to nail down the save.
The Braves may not have the overall LNP Tournament experience of the Pioneers – Sagnor and Abreu, have seen action as J-Ms – Gibson is no neophyte in the thirdbase box. He conducted Leola’s sweep to the ’95 Midget title. -Now he’s one game away from another title, as is his Pioneer counterpart, Ewing.
“It should be a great final,” said Hempfield’s Gerber. “I think you’ve got the two best teams in the county.”