The 54th LNP baseball tournament of champions got under way Thursday night with Rheems Gray and the Conestoga Valley Braves notching the first victories of the tournament .
The two teams advanced to the Junior-Midget quarterfinals as CV stopped Hempfield White 16-9 and Rheems bludgeoned the Reinholds Lions, 23-3.
It was a banner night for the Susquehanna League champion, as Gray (14-7) banged out 19 hits in the opener at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
Winning pitcher Tyler Hostetter led the parade going 3-for-4 with 4 runs scored and 4 RBIs. His 2-run homer highlighted a 7-run, third-inning outburst that ended any of the game’s suspense.
Gray was potent up and down the lineup as all nine batters got at least one hit and each scored at least once.
Centerfielder Ryne Christian (3-for-5, 4 RBIs) smashed a 2-run homer in a 5-run fourth and Neil Myer turned the lineup over nicely from the 9-hole, singling twice, walking twice and scoring four times while driving in three.
Hostetter held the Lions (18-4) – champions of the Cocalico League – to one earned run on four hits, two by leftfielder Brian Bollinger.
Ryan Crouse singled and eventually stole home to put Reinholds on the board in the second inning and Rodney Fox singled and scored ahead of Bollinger in the third.
While the Rheems-Reinholds match was a trip into uncharted waters for both teams, CV and Hempfield were very familiar to each other, having met once already in the Penn Manor League’s Section 2 wars.
The Braves (14-5-2) – White Division winners – took that meeting 13-2, but Hempfield went to school on that one and was ready for the rematch.
How ready was still in question, however, as CV threw up a five-spot in the top of the first inning.
Justin Buckwalter jolted a 2-run homer to open the scoring. Kris Miller (3-for-5, 3 runs scored) drove in two with a double and John Moyer (3-for-5, 4 RBIs) singled in the fifth run of the inning.
CV tacked on five more in the second, roughing plucky Drew Rodgers, Hempfield’s starter, for nine of the 14 hits he would surrender over the first two innings.
But at the end of two, instead of a rout, CV was clinging to a 10-8 lead. Buckwalter, the Braves starter, threw hard, but wild and White’s hitters were patient.
White (13-11) pushed across two runs without a hit in the first inning, and added six more in the second on just two hits. Buckwalter walked six before yielding to Jeremy Stoltzfus with one out in the second, and all six scored.
In all, CV pitching issued nine free passes. Seven of those scored.
Sean Genetti (3-for-4), greeted Stoltzfus by ripping his first pitch for a 2-run single, but Stoltzfus took command the rest of the way.
The second-year junior-midget gave up only three more hits, and one run, in 5 2/3 innings of releif, walking three while striking out 11 to pick up the win.
“I was just trying to keep them from scoring,” said the 14-year-old.
“At first I was a little off but then I got to warm up when we were batting (in the third), so I got better then.”
Stoltzfus helped his cause going 3-for-5 at the plate, scoring twice and knocking in a run on a groundout.
Miller stroked a 2-run homer to straightaway center in the seventh inning to cap the scoring and give Stoltzfus an added cushion.
With Stoltzfus mowing them down – and Buckwalter whiffing four in his walk on the wild side – there was little opportunity for Braves’ fielders to close their gloves around many outs.
Centerfielder Lee Strayer had half his team’s six non-strikeout putouts. Cris Brossman snared a fly ball in right and Miller squeezed two throws from Stoltzfus on grounders.