New Era Correspondent
Mark Blevins and Todd Danforth were uncomfortable Wednesday night, and it wasn’t just because of the hot, humid weather.
Despite being on the good side of the scoreboard, the managers of Safe Harbor and Lancaster Red couldn’t breathe sighs of relief until the final outs had been squeezed in their New Era Tournament victories.
Safe Harbor (24-8) pounded out a 9-6 win over Elizabethtown Blue in the opening game of a Junior-Midget Division doubleheader at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field. In the nightcap, Lancaster Red (20-9) flirted with the 10-run rule before subduing East Lampeter, 19-10.
Last night’s winners will face each other in the J-M semifinals next Wednesday, back at Kunkle.
After Safe Harbor’s victory, Blevins noted, “We never really felt comfortable that we had control of the game.”
Maybe that had someting to do with watching winning pitcher Ben Rowe wiggle into and out of trouble as Elizabethtown loaded the bases in four different innings.
Blue (13-10) failed to take advantage however, scoring just one run in those four situations. In all, Elizabethtown stranded 14 baserunners and left the bases loaded in the first, fourth and seventh innings.
“You’ve got to take advantage of those situations and we didn’t,” said Blue manager John Fosnot. “That’s the name of the game. You have to produce in bases-loaded situations, especially with less than two out.”
E-town outhit Safe Harbor 13-7, but Blue’s production was centered around four hitters, as Justin Umberger and Nate Martin went 4-for-5, Andrew Weller was 3-for-4 and Justin Enck 2-for-3.
Meanwhile, Harbor was spreading the wealth with six batters collecting hits. They also took advantage of the inability of Enck, Blue’s starter, to find home plate in the first inning. Enck walked four batters and hit another, and Harbor used two singles and a sacrifice fly to post a 4-1 lead.
“That was a big key, getting an early lead,” Blevins said. “But sometimes when we get a big lead, we let off.”
This time Harbor stayed on the gas as Keith Rutt knocked in a second-inning run with an RBI ground out and stroked a solo home run in the sixth inning.
Michael Thomas added a solo shot of his own in the fifth and Curran Blevins followed with a run-scoring single that inning.
“(Tonight) We didn’t just sit tight,” Mark Blevins said. “We pecked away.”
Enck, who took the loss, put E-town on the board, homering in the first and adding an RBI single in the seventh, but Blue could never get closer than 5-3.
“We were a little sloppy,” lamented Fosnot. “We weren’t outplayed, we were out-executed.”
If Lancaster Red is involved in a one-run, two-run ballgame, it usually is a 12-11, 14-12 score. Hence Danforth’s apprehension Wednesday night, despite holding leads as big as 14-6 and 18-8.
After Harrison Anderson gobbled Jamie Yoder’s grounder and stepped on first to end the game, Danforth allowed.
“We had just enough. The game was closer than the score. It didn’t seem like a nine-run game,” he said. “I know I didn’t feel comfortable.”
Winning pitcher D.J. Schoffstall didn’t seem comfortable with Kunkle’s mound and often forsook his fastball, despite overmatching the East Lampeter hitters with it, when he could keep it down.
He frequently went to his curveball, a nasty pitch in its own right, and after throwing over 140 pitches, finished the night with 12 strikeouts and five walks, allowing seven earned runs on 11 hits.
His batterymate, catcher Skip Walton, gave Lancaster command of the game with a grand slam home run in the second inning. Walton, who was 3-for-4, knocked in six runs with his slam and a two-run, first-inning double.
“I was looking for my pitch, looking for something down the middle,” said Walton of his second-inning slam. “He threw me a fastball right down the pike and I hit it dead center.”
“Skip’s grand slam was what broke it open,” Danforth said. “That pumped us up and knocked them down.”
The hit tilted the game decidely in Red’s favor. After East Lampeter (17-9) broke on top with a four-run first, Lancaster came back with six in the bottom of the inning off starter Jose Smucker.
EL tied the game in the second on Mitch Hershey’s two-run homer, but Walton’s blast was part of an eight-run answer in the bottom of the second and Red widened its lead to 17-8 after three on Nate Lozano’s three-run homer.
Anderson’s safety squeeze bunt in the fourth put Red 10-run posibile, but Adam Glick’s fifth-inning solo shot and John Vanderzell’s RBI single kept the game alive for East Lampeter.
In all, there were six homeruns in the game, including Tyler Gansner’s three-run blast for East Lampeter and Schoffstall’s sixth-inning solo shot. The teams combined for 30 hits, 19 by Lancaster.
“We’ve not scaring anybody,” Danforth said. “Believe it or not, we have a team batting average under .300. But our defense and pitching’s been good, and tonight our bats came through.”