New Era Sports Writer
All Safe Harbor coach Jamie Roak could do at this point was watch.
He’d taken his chance. Either the best-case or worst-case scenario was going to unfold. There was no in-between.
Safe Harbor’s once-comfortable lead had been whittled to one run and the upset-minded Ephrata Phillies had the bases loaded with two outs in the sixth inning. Roak needed his ace, Bobby Adams, to escape the jam.
Adams answered the call.
The hard-throwing right-hander coaxed Reid Martin into grounding back to the mound to end the threat. Safe Harbor added some insurance runs in the seventh and posted a 12-7 victory in the New Era Tournament Junior Midget quarterfinals at Kunkle Field Friday.
Safe Harbor will face Elizabethtown Blue in the semifinals at Kunkle Monday at 8 p.m. Elizabethtown held off the Strasburg/Willow Street White Sox 5-3 Friday night.
Even though momentum had slipped away from Safe Harbor in the late innings, Roak remained cautiously confident his kids could pull out a win.
“When you’re the visiting team you’re always concerned something strange might happen,” he said. “But I thought Bobby was going to strike that guy out. If not, I thought we were going to get more runs.”
Adams didn’t get the strikeout, but he got his coach off the hook.
Roak showed he wasn’t afraid to roll the dice with his pitchers. After Safe Harbor built a 4-0 lead through two innings, he removed Adams and brought in Zac Martin.
Why? Each pitcher is allowed to throw only 14 innings in the tournament. If Roak could get through the quarters without burning out his ace, he would have an edge in the following rounds.
The decision looked less risky after Safe Harbor extended its lead to 7-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth, but things were only beginning to get interesting.
Ephrata mounted an unexpected comeback. After failing to get a baserunner in the first three innings the Phillies struck for five runs in the fourth to make it 7-5. Adam Stahl’s two-run double and Alex Weaver’s RBI single highlighted the rally.
In the sixth, Ephrata scored two more runs against Martin and trailed 8-7. With the tying run at third, Roak decided he could no longer hold back his best pitcher.
Adams was put in a tough spot. Four innings and a one-hour rain delay had passed since he last threw a pitch. Adams was pushed back into the fire with the game on the line after only a handful of warmup tosses.
He fell behind in the count 3-1, nearly walking home the tying run, before Reid Martin grounded out.
“Bobby’s tough, physically and mentally,” Roak said. “He’s come a long way. Not a lot bothers him.”
Roak ended up with his best-case scenario — barely. Adams threw 2 perfect innings which leaves him available to pitch extensively in both the semifinals and finals — should Safe Harbor advance that far.
The offense is the primary reason Safe Harbor’s hopes are still alive. Adams, Martin and Tyler Charles each had two hits and two RBIs and D.J. Rineer belted a two-run homer to lead a 12-hit barrage.
There wasn’t as much drama in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader. Elizabethtown pitcher Erick Baker made sure of it.
Elizabethtown, sponsored by Moose Lodge 596, fell behind 3-0 in the first inning. Coach John Fosnot wasn’t concerned. E-town has made a habit of starting slowly. It has also made a habit of winning when Baker is pitching.
Baker allowed the first four hitters to reach safely on three singles and a walk. The right-hander dominated from there. He allowed two hits after the first and struck out 15.
“When he’s on the mound, we think we’re going to win,” Fosnot said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Baker’s 80 mph fastball and knee-buckling curve inspire such confidence. He threw both for strikes, which left SWS helpless.
“He’s one of the top three 13-year-old pitchers that I’ve ever seen in this county,” said Fosnot, who has been coaching for more than 30 years.
E-town’s bats, and some defensive lapses by SWS, helped Baker improve his record to 14-0.
The White Sox committed four errors in the first two innings, leading to five unearned runs off hard-luck losing pitcher Brian Slagle. E-town turned a 3-0 deficit into a 5-3 lead and held on from there.
“We’ve been solid all year defensively, but we played a little tight,” SWS coach Keith Lynch said. “We didn’t make the plays we normally make.”
The stage is set for E-town to play Safe Harbor in a matchup of two of the tournament favorites.
Since Baker threw seven innings Friday, Fosnot won’t be able to lean as heavily on his ace for the rest of the tournament.
Roak doesn’t face that dilemma. When asked to name Safe Harbor’s starter for the next game, he wouldn’t tip his hand. Roak knows Adams is available if needed.
“It doesn’t bother me who starts,” he said. “You’re probably going to see both of them.”
If the quarterfinals are any indication, that seems a safe bet.