Solanco, Hempfield reach midget division title game

Greg Aument delivers against Manheim Township.

By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent

The New Era Tournament Midget championship baseball game, which will be played one week from today at Lampeter-Strasburg’s varsity field, should be a real classic.

On one hand there is defending champion Solanco (20-5), making its third straight New Era midget championship appearance, with six starters back from last year’s team.

On the other there is Hempfield Black, undefeated in 32 games and considered by many to be the best midget team in the county.

Those two giants of the diamond assured themselves of a place in the finals by 10-running their respective opponents, Manheim Township and Manheim VFW on a glorious morning and afternoon this past Saturday.

Solanco bounced Township 12-2 in the morning game and Hempfield blitzed Manheim 19-5 in the afternoon.

It was a beautiful Saturday, nothing but clear azure as far as the eye could see. The sky was high and never prettier.

Or uglier, if you happened to be an outfielder.

It’s hard to single out three lost fly balls in a pair of 10-run losses as keys, but they were an important part of both victories.

Township (14-11) leftfielder Andy Miles had the most frustrating time. He was unable to find easy fly balls by Kevin Cole and Brent Grumbling in the second and fourth innings, and they fell in for hits that sparked five-run and six-run Solanco rallies.

“It’s just one of those things,” lamented Township coach John Dochterman. “I told Andy, “You can’t catch what you don’t see.’ Hopefully, he doesn’t feel too bad about it.”

While the dropped balls were a factor, something else was up in this game. The pitches thrown by Township.

“Our pitchers kept the ball up,” Dochterman said. “Everything was high.”

And Solanco’s batters hit everything they saw, or so it seemed.

Threes were wild for Cole, who had three hits in three tries, scored three runs and drove in three. Not a bad day for the Solanco junior-to-be, whose only baseball experience in the last 15 months has been fall ball last fall. An experience that didn’t whet his appetite for the high school season.

“Some of the teams didn’t even show up when we came to play,” he said. “I got tired of fall ball.”

But how about this summer?

“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “We’ve got a great team.”

A team that has blended in a newcomer like Grumbling, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI single, with veterans like Greg Aument.

Aument went 2-for-4 with a two doubles, one a two-run shot in the second. Aument also pitched, giving up one earned run on three hits.

And there was Jeff Argue, who saved Aument big trouble in the second inning. With a run in and two runners on, Argue, shading Township leadoff hitter John Snyder to pull, ran down Snyder’s opposite-field fly to right center to end the inning.

Snyder did get an RBI in the fourth, singling home Miles, who scored both Township runs with a walk and a double.

But by then the RBI was a footnote because Solanco had the game wrapped up.

“We’ll take them any way we can get them,” said Dave Aument, who has coached these boys for four years. “It’s been more of a struggle this year than I thought it would be. I thought this year would be a walk in the park.”

Instead, he’s watched as the team played its way out of the malaise that enshrouded its high school season.

Aument, who spoke of a perplexing regression in fielding habits, added, “We have not hit well all year. So they are doing a nice job that way (now). If we can continue to do the little things, we’ll win.”

Little things were on the mind of Manheim coach Barry Lewis in the aftermath of his team’s 15-run meltdown.

“What can I say? We got killed,” he admitted afterward. “We talked before the game, if you make the routine plays the big plays will take care of themselves. We had three routine plays to make and we didn’t make the plays. The second inining was key.”

He was disappointed in a blown bunt coverage on a sacrifice bunt and a blown force at home on a bouncer back to the pitcher that opened the door to a seven-run inning for Hempfield.

What must have truly exasperated him was 16 walks surrendered by four Manheim pitchers. Eleven of those walks scored. Seven of Hempfield’s 17 RBIs came on bases-loaded walks.

That’s one of the keys to this Hempfield team. Patience and discipline at the plate.

“They took the walks they got,” said Black coach Don Gunzenhauser. “And when they threw strikes, we hit the ball.”

Few hit the ball on this day better than Chad Gunzenhauser, Don’s son and leftfielder. Young Gunz was 3-for-5 with seven RBIs, including a solo home run, a three-run double and a two-run single.

Gunzenhauser, a righthanded hitter, stroked the homer and double to right field.

“You just have to take it the other way when they pitch you outside,” he said. “If you try to pull the ball on the outer half of the plate, you’re just going to pop up, make an out.

“I was just seeing the ball well,” he added. “It looked huge. Like a basketball.”

Manheim pitching might have caught more of the plate if they had thrown a basketball. Most time the pitches were high and/or outside.

Chad Gunzenhauser’s homer was the first blow. It would be like that all day. A big blow breaking the steady drip, drip, drip of bases on balls.

Doug Bechtold (3) and Aaron Herr (2) had five of the seven bases-loaded RBI walks between them and each added an RBI hit, Bechtold on a single and Herr on a double to the fence in left center as Hempfield added six more runs in the third, two in the fourth and five in the fifth, when the sky fell.

Actually, a double by Josh Enoch fell untouched into center as Casey Bires, who otherwise had a good defensive day, never saw the ball.

All these runs supported a decent effort by Jeff Eastman who gave up one earned run on five hits, walking five and striking out five.

Mark Bell’s two-run double and Jeff Smoker’s 2-for-3 day, with a solo home run and RBI single, gave the Manheim faithful something to cheer about.

Now they just have to find a way to fill the three weeks before football practice starts.

Steve Roberts scores for Hempfield as the ball squirts away from Shane Eckenrode.