New Era Correspondent
Hard to believe.
With all the top-shelf talent and all the great teams privileged to wear the black tee-shirts of Hempfield Youth Baseball’s No. 1 team, the Hempfield Black has never won the New Era Tournament’s midget-midget title.
Shaun Corso singled in the winning run, Matt Dombek doubled in two and Camden Hess pitched a complete-game two-hitter as Black defeated Mount Joy Blue 4-2, Tuesday night at Kunkle Field.
The victory ended a long finals jinx for the Black, which finished as the runner-up in 2003 and 2005.
“Hempfield had never won before, everyone was aware of it,” said first baseman Nick Yarnall.
“We were just really happy to make history.”
Both teams rode their pitching staffs to the championship game; Mount Joy’s staff held opponents to a .128 batting average, while teams were hitting just .190 against Hempfield.
But when it came to hitting, the difference was stark.
Mount Joy had a team tournament batting average of .263 entering the title game. Hempfield’s was a lusty .426.
Leading the way was Yarnall, who was 5-for-7 in the first two games of the tournament with 2 RBI and 5 runs scored.
Right with him was shortstop Shaun Corso (4-for-6, 4 runs, 6 RBI), center fielder Patrick Kenney (4-for-7, 2 runs, 3 RBI), and second baseman Anthony Dornes (3-for-4, 3 runs, 4 RBI).
But it was the less productive bottom half of Black’s lineup that struck the initial spark Tuesday night.
Hess reached base for the first time in the tournament, leading off the second inning with a walk. He stole second, was wild-pitched to third and was still there when, after an out, Cory Gantz walked and stole second.
Matt Dombek knocked in Hess and Gantz with his first hit of the tournament, doubling over rightfielder Austin Mellinger’s head.
When Blue starter Eric Ebersole walked Nolen Myers – Ebersole’s fourth free pass in ten batters – Blue coach Ron Wagner replaced Ebersole with shortstop Michael Houseal.
Houseal, who no-hit Warwick on Friday night, picked up where he left off, retiring six batters in a row and seven of the next eight.
Mount Joy (29-8) scratched back with single runs in the third and fourth innings to tie the game.
Blue loaded the bases in the third on an error, a walk and its first hit of the game – Jerel Sensenig’s bunt single on a sacrifice attempt.
Dylan Houseal plated Dalton Garrett with a sacrifice fly to center, but Tommy Hatt was gunned down trying to tag over to third for the third out.
The next inning, Michael Houseal reached on an error, stole second and took third as Justin Prescott grounded out on an impressive play by Corso, who ranged to his right and fired from his knees to get Prescott by a step.
“The biggest play of the game,” said Wagner. “If we got a hit there, that could’ve led to some more runs.”
Instead, Blue got just one, as Houseal scored on Ebersole’s grounder to third to tie the game.
But that was all the Blue could get against Hess, who retired seven of the next eight.
“I went out there and tried to throw strikes,” he said. “My defense helped me aaand, that’s pretty much how we won the game.”
Along with the hitting.
Ebersole’s second fielding error of the game allowed Myers to reach leading off the bottom of the fifth inning.
Dornes beat out a sacrifice bunt and promptly stole second, forcing Wagner to intentionally walk Yarnall to load the bases and set up a force.
But Corso foiled the plan, singling to center to drive in Myers and move the runners up.
Houseal struck out Hess and could see his way clear when Kenney missed a squeeze bunt, leaving
Dornes a dead duck at home.
But Kenney walked to keep the inning alive and Yarnall came home on a first-pitch wild pitch to Gantz to wrap the scoring.
“We just got the key hit at the right time,” said Bob Gantz. “We got a good break at the end of the game, got a good hit and it gave us the opportunity.”
The opportunity to experience that sweetest of feelings: victory.
“It feels great ’cause this is my first year in Lancaster,” said Hess, whose family moved here from Pittsburgh. “It’s cool that the year I come, they win the midget-midget tournament.”
Aggressive attitude ‘steals’ a championship
By Jeff Reinhart
New Era Sports Writer
Hempfield Black didn’t win the New Era Midget-Midget Tournament.
They stole it.
Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Hempfield swiped 27 bases in three games, including seven steals in Tuesday night’s clincher, a 4-2 win over Mount Joy Blue at Kunkel Field in Mount Joy.
Hempfield stole 11 bases in its 12-3 quarterfinal victory over Penn Manor last Friday, and then followed that up with nine steals in its 12-1 semifinal win over Rheems Gray on Monday.
Tuesday, Hempfield was up to its old tricks, running the bases with abandon before rallying in the bottom of the fifth to overtake Mount Joy.
The go-ahead and game-icing runs were set up by – what else? – stolen bases.
And the two runs Hempfield scored in the bottom of the second to grab an early lead? Yup, three steals in the frame.
Hempfield is all about being aggressive – in a fundamental sort of way.
It’s not everyday you see a team of 12-year-olds playing perfect fundamental baseball. But Hempfield spent the summer getting runners on base, getting those runners over, and, most importantly, getting them in.
Nobody did that better in the midget-midget NET than Hempfield, and as a result, Black’s players left Kunkel Field Tuesday night with the first New Era midget-midget championship trophy in the history of the storied organization – which has produced countless future stars at Hempfield High School.
“A lot of kids forget about that fundamental stuff, and a lot of coaches will focus on missing this or not doing that,” Hempfield coach Bob Gantz said. “For us, it’s important to get runners on and get them in scoring position. We like to do that by stealing bases.
“That’s been our scheme the whole season. Some teams will bunt to get kids over. We try and move people over using their legs.”
Especially the last three games, when Hempfield’s players wore out a path between first and second base – and sometimes second and third.
“We always try and be aggressive,” said Hempfield right fielder Matthew Dombeck, who swiped a pair of bases in the title game Tuesday. “That’s always in our minds – getting on base and getting into scoring position and getting the runner home.”
Hempfield outscored its opponents 28-6 in its three-game run to the title, and a lot of it had to do with the Black’s baserunning prowess.
Several times in the tournament, Hempfield had a player steal second or third before the pitcher even started into his windup. That comes back to being aggressive and forcing the issue.
“It’s all about putting pressure on the other team,” Gantz said. “You can steal off a pitcher and you can steal off a catcher, and there are a lot of other things that can happen. We try and force things and make things happen.”
“They’re pretty good at (stealing),” Mount Joy Blue coach Ron Wagner said. “That’s what they do.”
An incredible 27 times in three games to be exact, helping Hempfield steal – er, win – the crown.