Safe Harbor, Strasburg/Willow St. ride pitching into LNP’s junior-midget finals

Phil Texter tossed a no-hitter.

By Dave Byrne
LNP Correspondent

The Safe Harbor Lions and the Strasburg/Willow Street Pioneers will meet next Monday night at Kunkle Field in Mt. Joy to decide the championship of the LNP Tournament ‘s Junior-Midget division.

The Penn Manor League rivals earned their respective berths with a pair of well-pitched victories Monday night. Nick Brubaker tossed a two-hitter and out-dueled Chad Moyer of the Manheim Lions as the Pioneers (19-8) prevailed 2-0 in the opening game of a semifinal doubleheader at Kunkle.

In the nightcap, Phil Texter pitched a no-hitter and Safe Harbor (37-1) utilized a nine-run sixth inning to subdue the Warwick White Sox 11-0.

The White Sox (26-5), champions of the Conestoga League, a “B” league, had the best showing yet of any of the “B” teams that have reached the J-M semis. For better than five innings they gave Safe Harbor all it could handle.

The Lions, pre-tournament favorites by virtue of their 35-1 record coming in, were kept off-balance by the Sox Tyler Garner, who scattered six hits. Unfortunately for Garner, two of those hits were scattered beyond the Kunkle confines by Lions’ firstbaseman Dan Kauffman.

Kauffman hit prodigious blasts in the first and fourth innings, chrushing a 2-1 pitch halfway to the pavilion in dead center in the first and pulling a 2-2 offering out of the park — literally — in the fourth when he deposited it well up the hill and beyond the border of the playground/park that makes up the Kunkle complex.

“I was so confident tonight it was unbelievable,” Kauffman said. “I was on.”

In the sixth, Phil Texter rattled an RBI single off the centerfield fence and Jarred Texter, who looked awful striking out in two previous at bats, got all of a first-pitch fastball from Garner, sending it beyond the fence in the left-field gap for a 3-run dinger.

Garner yielded the mound to Chris Ciccarone, who got an out, but then surrendered five hits and a walk. Tyler Duschl scored on a delayed steal of home, while Kyle Caruthers was out stealing second and Alan Smith hit an RBI single to left.

With two on, Kauffman came to the plate again. Ciccarone tried to bust him inside with the first pitch, but instead watched it sail out over left-center.

“He jammed me, but I muscled it out,” Kauffman said. “I haven’t seen a lefty hit like him since (Matt) Watson,” said Safe Harbor coach Bruce Perry, referring to the former McCaskey standout and current Montreal Expos farmhand.

The big inning gave the Lions enough to trigger the 10-run rule, provided Texter didn’t falter in the bottom of the sixth. He didn’t.

Texter walked four and struck out 14, including the side in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings, and eight in a row over that period. His only weakness was being wild with his fastball and curve in the early going, before settling down.

“In the beginning, I was a little bit too pumped up,” he said.

“It seems like if you don’t get him early, you don’t get him much,” Perry noted, “unless he has a mental lapse.”

It was a mental lapse, leading to a physical one, that proved the difference in Monday’s opener.

The Pioneers opened the game with hits through shortstop by Chris Shehan and Jeff Bianchi. When David Nicklaus hit a ball to D.J. Royal at short, Royal appeared to take his eye off the ball as Shehan ran in front of him and all hands were safe, loading the bases.

Brubaker popped to short for the first out, but Dallas Eberly plated Shehan with a fielder’s choice to second. Eberly then took off for second and catcher Ryan Dennes had a great shot at him, but threw the ball to the first base side of second, and into center field.

Bianchi trotted home with the second run, however the Pioneers would get no more as Chad Moyer settled in and spread out five hits.

But the two runs Brubaker’s mates got him were more than enough as he throttled Manheim (18-6). He limited the Susquehanna League champions to singles by Matt Sutter in the first and Royal in the fourth and a walk to Sutter in the fourth.

“We knew going into the game it was going to be a pitcher’s duel,” said Lions’ coach Chris Thompson. “We hoped our bats would prevail in the end, but it didn’t happen. We didn’t hit the ball well enough to win. They did. They made a lot of great plays in the field, too.”

The best of which was a diving stop by shortstop Bianchi behind second base in the sixth inning. Dennes reached to start the inning, hitting a shot off Dominic Lombardo’s glove at third, then stole second.

Sutter worked a 2-2 count, then hit a hard bouncer up the middle. Bianchi got his glove on it, looked Dennes back to second, then threw from his knees to get Sutter at first.

“That was fantastic,” said Pioneers’ coach Fred Maguire. “Absolutely a highlight.”

And a lifesaver. If the ball goes through, it’s first-and-third for Manheim with nobody out and the heart of the order coming up. Instead, Brubaker proceeded to get his eighth and ninth strikeouts -he would finish with 10 – to get out of the inning.

He would close out the game with an infield pop, a strikeout and a groundball that Lombardo took deep behind third before throwing Jarryd Moyer out to send the Pioneers into the title game.

“We’re looking forward to Harbor,” Maguire said. “We’ve played them three times this year and all three games have been real good, close ones.”

All three have also been Safe Harbor wins.

Nick Brubaker fired a two-hitter.

Safe Harbor’s Dan Kauffman (44) gets mobbed by his teammates after his first-inning homer.