New Era Correspondent
One of the hottest local kid-baseball rivalries of recent years will be renewed Monday at 6:15 p.m. at Mount Joy when Safe Harbor and Manheim vie for the Junior-Midget championship of the 51st New Era Tournament.
Both teams earned their appointments with destiny somewhat easily Tuesday night in a semifinal doubleheader at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
The Safe Harbor Lions (27-4-1) endured a few tense seventh-inning moments – and a six-run inning by the Mountville Angels – before closing out a 13-10 victory in the opener.
The Manheim Lions (29-7) scored 11 runs in the last two innings to run away from Denver, 19-4, in the nightcap.
The win was the 22nd in the last 24 games for Manheim, including a victory over Safe Harbor. But Safe Harbor holds a 2-1 advantage this year.
One more victory for Manheim will ensure a 30-win season. More importantly, it will mean a “three-peat” for the two-time defending New Era J-M champions.
“It’s hard to get a team where you want them,” said Lions coach Jeff Mummau. “I was wondering if we’d ever get there, but we got there two weeks ago.”
Making its first J-M title appearance in coach Bruce Perry’s seven-year tenure, Safe Harbor will be trying to overturn years of New Era Tournament and Manheim misfortune.
Manheim knocked Safe Harbor out in the semis of last year’s tournament , and the core of these two teams participated in Manheim’s stunning 3-2 victory in the ’93 Midget-Midget championship game.
Last night, Safe Harbor took advantage of the wildness of Angels’ starter Josh Albright to open a 7-0 first-inning lead.
Homers by Jake Shellenberger, Aaron Zeamer and Corey Wright pulled Mountville (20-6) to 7-4 after two innings, but Lions’ pitcher Chris Stark wouldn’t give up another hit until the seventh inning.
By then it was 13-4 as Jimmy Fritsch’s two-run single and Zeth Leaman’s two-run homer highlighted a five-run third inning.
“We’re not a home run team,” Perry said, “but we’re an aggressive-hitter team. Kunkle Field, you’ve got to play tough.”
An error opened the door in the seventh and the Angels walked through with Shellenberger’s RBI double, a two-run double by Albright and Jason Weaver’s three-run homer.
“These kids have played like that all year. They never gave up,” said Angels’ coach Tom Sullivan. “If we’re going to lose, I’m glad to see us go out in style on a positive note. They kept hacking away, fighting back and didn’t drop their heads.”
Stark settled in, however, and got a pop-up in shallow left to end the game.
“When I did throw the ball over the plate, they hit it,” said Stark, who went from his curveball to a circle change with impressive results midway through the game.
“Once he started throwing his off-speed stuff, that made a big difference,” Perry said. “It’s much easier to pitch to a guy when you’re ahead in the count.”
Manheim spotted Denver (17-3) a 1-0 edge, then built an 8-2 lead over starter Tim Wolfe on the hitting of Tanner Strickler (2-for-5, 3 RBI) and Mike Kernisky (3-for-5, 4 RBI), each of whom hit a two-run homer.
Tanner you might’ve expected. But Kernisky?
“This has probably been my best game all year,” he said.”I started in the first position (leadoff), but I wasn’t producing.
“He (coach Mummau) moved me to the second spot, and I wasn’t producing there either,” Kernisky continued, “so I moved to seventh and I’ve had on and off games ever since.”
Count this game as a definite “on.” Also on was Lions’ ace John Lentz, who gave up seven of Denver’s eight hits in the first and last innings, but little in between.
“Johnny’s really developed over the last month,” Mummau said. “Early in the year he was missing here and there. His curveball’s working nice now and his fastball is really alive.”
Left for dead, Denver put a couple runs up in the last of the seventh on an RBI double by Ryan Martin and Jason Good’s RBI double off the bench.
But that was just for bragging rights. Lentz struck out the side to finish with 12 Ks and no walks, and send the Northern Lancaster County champs home bloodied but unbowed.
“We’re finding ways to win now,” said Mummau. “We have guts now. The begining of the year we didn’t have guts, we were hanging on the fence, “I think I can.’ Now they know they can.”
Despite the final, Denver proved it could too.
“We lost it rather early,” said coach Dennis Sharp. “We knew coming in we’d have to play fundamental defense. It just didn’t happen.
“We won two games (here). We’re not happy to lose but… We certainly didn’t want to get embarrassed tonight, but we’re not going to hang our heads. Hopefully, Denver will have earned a little respect.”