Safe Harbor wins Era crown, outslugs Manheim Lions for Junior Midget title

Ben Rowe delivers a pitch for Safe Harbor.

By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent

Safe Harbor put the shoe on the other foot and booted the Manheim Lions in the 57th New Era Tournament’s Junior-Midget championship game.

The Lions (33-5), a team notorious this year for scoring in one big inning, got a taste of their own medicine as Safe Harbor used an 8-run third inning to tame Manheim 11-9 Tuesday night at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.

It was also a reversal of form of sorts for the newly-crowned J-M champions. For most of this championship season Safe Harbor (26-8) has engineered victory through late-inning comebacks.

Michael Thomas’ grand slam home run in the third ensured that any coming from behind on this night would have to be done by Manheim.

Winning pitcher Ben Rowe’s gritty, 146-pitch effort for Safe Harbor ensured that there would be no coming from behind. Period.

And it gained sweet revenge for a 3-1 loss to many of these same Manheim players in the tourney’s 2000 Midget-Midget championship game.

“There are probably eight or ten kids on this team who were on that team two years ago,” said Safe Harbor manager Mark Blevins. “A lot of the kids were really looking forward to this game.

“Manheim’s a great team, and we’ve been hearing about them all year. We were heading for that showdown, and this time we came out on top.”

“This was the same kind of game,” said Rowe, “with a lot more runs.”

A lot more home runs, to be sure. Manheim hit four homers, two by Jarod Karns. Safe Harbor hit three. But Safe Harbor’s came with men on. Lots of men.

Manheim starter Nate Mast, coming off a dominating performance in the semifinals, sailed into the third inning carrying a 4-1 lead. He struck out Thomas to open the third and got Rowe swinging at a wild pitch.

But Rowe beat the throw to first, unsettling Mast, who walked Dan Reist on four pitches. And Mast appeared to be in bigger trouble after he hit Curran Blevins on the leg with a pitch.

However, Rowe was gunned down trying to score on a stolenbase overthrow at third, as left fielder Mike Leitzel returned Tom Kenneff’s errant throw on the money.

Mast then watched Dan Velcheck hit his first pitch way out for a 3-run homer, tying the game at 4. Keith Rutt kept the rally alive, patiently fouling off two tough 1-2 pitches before beating out an infield single to short.

Mast walked Zac Martin and was relieved by Jarod Karns, who proceeded to walk Tyler Charles, loading the bases. Matt Herr drove in a run with a single, bringing Thomas to the plate for the second time in the inning.

Thomas swung and missed twice then embraced destiny, drilling a ball 60 feet up the lightpole in left center.

“It was a bad at-bat,” Thomas said, “until I hit the ball. When I hit it and saw it going… that’s the hardest I’ve hit a ball all year.”

Just as suddenly as he was handed the lead, Rowe became a different pitcher.

“He struggled a little bit,” Blevins said. “But once we had our big rally, he got rejuvenated, and he got stronger as he went.”

“I was a little shaky there,” Rowe admitted, “but I got it all back. I was just trying to hit my spots.”

“He didn’t walk a lot of hitters,” said Blevins, “and once you get a lead like that, you don’t want to put a couple guys on free. They come back to haunt you. Especially here.”

It was a bitter reality Lions’ manager Bill Karns understood all too well.

“Too many walks,” he said, lamenting ten free passes that led to five runs. “You can’t win a ballgame with ten walks.”

Manheim wrested the early lead from Harbor on solo homers by Mast and Kenneff, who also singled in a run, and an RBI single by Derek Althouse.

Trailing 9-4, and with Rowe firing pills, Manheim chipped away on Karns’ 2-run moonshot in the fourth and Mast’s RBI hit in the sixth. Karns then scored Mast with a line drive over the fence in the sixth.

“Three of their four home runs came off the inside part of their bats,” Rowe said. “But that ball was crushed!.”

“It was a little different for us tonight. This time we got the big lead and had to hold on,” said Blevins, appreciating the irony of what had transpired. “We’re not usually in that role.”

Safe Harbor got additional boosts from Herr’s RBI hit in the sixth and Reist’s solo blast leading off the seventh inning.

“We just trickled a few (runs) in here at the end,” said Blevins. “Reist’s home run was key in the top of the seventh. He gave us a little more of a comfort level.”

And he kept Rowe in the game. Trailing by two, Manheim put its leadoff batter on when Dan Witmer singled to open the bottom of the seventh. Rather than staggering to the finish line, Rowe humped it up and struck out the side.

“Give him credit. All he did was throw strikes,” said Bill Karns. “And we didn’t swing at them.”

“I knew I just had to throw fastballs and they weren’t going to catch (up to) them,” Rowe said.

Ben Rowe delivers pitch for Safe Harbor.

Rowe’s perseverance key to his team’s victory

By Jeff Rice
New Era Staff Writer

Ben Rowe was just trying to end the game.

Safe Harbor’s crafty right-hander was trying to protect a two-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning of Tuesday’s New Era Tournament Junior-Midget championship game. The Manheim Lions had already blasted him for nine runs, including four homers, and he’d already thrown so many pitches that he “”couldn’t feel my arm.”

But Rowe, whose ability to throw strikes was the difference in the game, struck out the side to cap a seesaw 11-9 victory at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.

While Rowe was nibbling at the corners and effectively mixing curves with sneaky fastballs, Manheim’s pitchers couldn’t find the plate.

“You can’t win with 10 walks,” said Manheim manager Bill Karns.

“We just weren’t up to the task tonight.”

Actually, it was 11 walks and one hit batsman. And it was Manheim’s wildness that opened the door for Safe Harbor’s eight-run third inning.

Nate Mast, who struck out 17 Mount Joy Blue hitters in Thursday’s New Era semifinal, brought smoke for the Lions (32-4) early on, allowing just one hit over the first two innings as Manheim built a 4-1 lead.

Mast, who also homered and scored three runs, struck out the first two batters in the third, but catcher Tom Kenneff mishandled the third strike against Rowe, who hustled safely to first.

Safe Harbor then tied it at 4, thanks to to a walk, a hit batsman, and a three-run blast by catcher Dan Velchek.

Jarod Karns replaced Mast and, after allowing an RBI single to designated hitter Matt Herr, he gave up a grand slam to unlikely hero Mike Thomas, the No. 9 hitter. All eight runs came with two out.

Safe Harbor (26-9) added what would prove to be the winning run in the sixth when shortstop Keith Rutt led off with _ surprise _ a walk and scored on a seeing-eye single by Herr.

Ironically, it was Rowe who was visibly frustrated when a few early ball//strike calls didn’t go his way, but he remained patient and allowed just one walk during the last six innings.

“You just have to keep your head on,” he said. “Later, (the umpire) started giving me more pitches.”

Rowe, who threw 146 pitches, also benefited from the big third-inning cushion supplied by Thomas and Company.

“Give him credit _ when they got that lead, he said “I’m gonna throw strikes,’ and he did,” Bill Karns said. “He struck out the side in what, two different innings?”

One of those innings was the seventh, when Rowe surrendered a leadoff single by Dan Witmer but whiffed Andy Wilson, Donoven Rodriguez and Derek Althouse to end the game.

Rowe said he was trying to “”keep the ball down” in the final inning so Manheim couldn’t hit any more balls out, but he got his last three hitters swinging _ all on high fastballs.

Then all he had to worry about was getting away from his giddy teammates, who chased him down at third base, tackled him and piled on, wildly celebrating a wild win.

Safe Harbor’s Dan Velcheck watches one fly.

Safe Harbor’s Zac Martin is tagged out at home by Manheim’s Tom Kenneff.

Manheim catcher Tom Kenneff attempts the tag on Safe Harbor’s Ben Rowe.

Teammates mob Michael Thomas after his grand slam homer for Safe Harbor.