Solanco manager Dave Aument won the coin flip prior to Thursday night’s LNP Midget division championship game and chose visitor.
He looked like a genius when Solanco (26-3) put up a four spot in the top of the first inning.
“I always take visitor,” he said at the time. “You’ve got to field seven innings, may as well bat seven.”
Two hours later, with his team holding a 9-7 lead over Hempfield (24-11) but facing a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the bottom of the seventh inning, even he was having doubts.
“Oh yeah,” he was able to chuckle later, after a 9-8 victory. “No doubt about it!”
Stellar, door-slamming relief by Ryan Bowe was the reason he was chuckling. Bowe surrendered an RBI forceout and struck out two to nail down Solanco’s second Midget championship in five years.
It was a sweet turnaround for the team that lost to Leola 7-3 in the finals last year.
“This is the most important game of the year,” said Greg Aument, who claimed the win with 4 1/3 innings of middle-inning relief. “After coming to the championship last year we just wanted to win it.
“You get the taste of it, you just want to come back and get it,” he said. “It’s like the World Series. It’s a goal every year.”
The desire to win this game ran so deep, both Aument and catcher Matt Wimer agreed that given the choice between winning the LNP Tournament , or the Lanco League title (they were eliminated in the semis there), they’d take the LNP .
“This is what we wanted,” Wimer said.
Aument didn’t just do the job on the mound. He also did it with the bat, driving in five runs with a two-run double and a titanic three-run homer in four at bats.
His double and Chris Dearolf’s two-run homer in the first inning gave Solanco a 4-0 lead after one and Aument’s three-run shot in the third restored that four-run margin.
Hempfield had pulled to within a run on an RBI single by Matt Roberts and a sacrifice fly by Mike Bernhardt in the first inning and Ryan Vitti’s RBI hit in the second.
But Aument struck his blow, and in the next inning a booming RBI double to the fence in right-center by Chad Shirk and Wimer’s Texas-League RBI single to left opened a 9-3 bulge.
As it turned out, that was the game-winner, although Wimer, who found a delightful way to celebrate his 16th birthday, had a little trouble believing that.
“Really? No way,” he said afterwards. “I saw the leftfielder wasn’t breaking on it and I thought I hit it right at him. Then it dropped right in.”
And Hempfield was in desperate danger of dropping out.
Trevor Seachrist’s fifth-inning sac-fly got one back and Hempfield roughed a tiring Aument in the sixth.
With one out Tom Butson and Aaron Herr walked and Butson scampered home when Solanco couldn’t field Vitti’s soft grounder in front of home.
Matt Roberts walked to load the bases and Dave Aument paid his son a visit.
“He actually told me I was wasting a visit unless I was pulling him,” Dave Aument said.
“I said, “I’m not pulling you, just throw the ball. Let your defense do it.’ Sometimes you get in a place where your mind wants to do it, but your body can’t and I think that’s where he was at. He was tired.”
When play resumed Bernhardt lined a single to right, plating Herr and Vitti, but Aument reached back for one last pitch and got Seachrist to pop to second to end the threat.
“We thought we were coasting for a while,” Dave Aument said. “But you can guarantee Hempfield’s not going to lay down.”
And it didn’t, picking up in the seventh where it left off in the sixth. Tim Haverstick was pitching for Solanco now and he hit Justin Unton and gave up a single to Steve Roberts.
When Butson beat out a bunt to load the bases, pitching coach Jeff Swarr called on Ryan Bowe to restore order.
Throwing fastballs, Bowe went ball one to Herr, then got ahead on a foul and a called strike. Then he threw his only curveball of the inning and Herr just got a piece of it.
“I have off-speed pitches, but I just wanted to throw strikes,” Bowe said. “”I didn’t want to throw it again, I was too scared. Everybody was saying, “Just throw the fastball.”‘
So he did. Herr knocked one to second, forcing Butson but scoring pinch-runner Travis Bowman. Then Bowe bore down and struck out Vitti and Braun to signal the celebration.
“I thought we were in good shape at the end,” said Hempfield coach Ken Gerber. “You’re in the last midget game of the year, to the last pitch, I don’t think you can ask for a better ballgame than that.
“They (Solanco) know how we feel right now. Quite frankly I don’t feel as disappointed as he (Aument) did last year,” Gerber said. “These kids gave us everything they had. Nobody can walk away saying shoulda, coulda, woulda. I told them there’s no disgrace, you lost to a great ballclub.”
A ballclub driven not only by the memory of last year’s loss, but possibly by an addition to the coaching staff.
Former Golden Mule great Jeff Swarr, two years beyond the L-L wars, joined Aument and his assistant, Terry Wimer, late last year and this team benefitted from having him all this year.
“We’re good ballplayers, but he makes us into thinking ballplayers,” Matt Wimer said. “He helps me a lot calling the game, with situations and stuff.”
“Jeff has done a super job with the pitchers,” Dave Aument said. “He gets them thinking each pitch is important, location, mixing it up. Every manager ought to have a coach like Jeff.”
And now Aument has what every midget coach shoots for at the start of the year – a LNP title.
And an opportunity for another. Most of this team has another year of eligibility left. It could be Solanco-Hempfield again. But that’s a story for another year.
Aument’s pitching and hitting are keys for Solanco
By John Finger
Solanco’s Greg Aument will be the first to admit his pitching performance wasn’t exactly picture perfect Thursday evening. All he was really trying to do was hold on. And he did.
Aument took the win in the championship game of the midget division of the LNP Tournament in emergency relief for starter Chris Dearolf, going four and one-third innings. While his numbers weren’t too impressive – in fact a couple were downright ugly (four runs, and six walks to go with two hits and three strikeouts) – he deserves high marks for guts and for wielding some heavy lumber … er, titanium.
Just hours before taking the field in Thursday’s championship game against Hempfield, Aument, along with catcher Matt Wimer and third baseman/closer Ryan Bowe, were playing for the Blue Mountain region team in the Keystone Games, where Aument was called on to pitch two innings. So one can see why his left arm was just dangling there on his body at the end of six innings Thursday.
“Ice,” Aument said after the championship-clinching celebration on the pitcher’s mound at Lampeter-Strasburg. “That’s the first thing I’m going to do when I get home. Maybe for an hour or two.”
While Aument held on to an early 9-3 lead only to see it evaporate to 9-8 in the last inning with the winning run on base, he was the catalyst that put Hempfield in an early-inning bind.
Aument started the game at first base and went 2-for-4 with five RBIs and a long home run over the rightfield fence in the third inning to break it open. The lefty’s two-run single in the first capped off a four-run first that had Hempfield back on its heels. His three-run homer almost knocked it out of the game before Hempfield made a valiant comeback.
“We wanted to start off quickly and really jump on them,” Aument said. “The big lead early gave us a lot of confidence and all I was trying to do was hold on. You have to give them credit because they didn’t quit.”
Aument hasn’t this season, either.
Earlier in the season Aument was struggling at the plate. While he wasn’t striking out or missing fat fastballs, he was having a hard time hitting the ball away from the opposing defense. Lately though, the 15-year-old sophomore-to-be at Solanco has carried the hottest club on the team. That’s what his coach thinks, and he should know. He’s the lefty’s dad, too.
“He did struggle early,” a soaking Dave Aument said after having a bucket of ice water dumped on his head by his players. “He was hitting the ball hard but right at people. It was a matter of time before things turned around for him. He probably ended the season with a .380 or .390 batting average, but he has really picked it up later in the season.”
Junior says the turn-around came from a little tinkering with his batting stance.
“I opened my stance a little and started swinging at better pitches and that’s been the big difference,” the slugger said. “With the open stance I can see the ball better and I’ve been hitting it really hard.”
In the semifinals of the tourney, Aument was robbed of a sure homer on a diving catch by West End’s rightfielder. Having hit only one homer all season – and that one came while playing for Solanco High School’s JV team last spring – Aument thought he was never going to get another home run.
“I was wondering about that all season,” Aument said. “I’m just glad I finally did it and doing it in this game makes it even better. It was certainly worth waiting for.”
Saturday, Aument has another game in the Keystone Games and he’s praying that he doesn’t have to pitch. But if called upon, he’ll take the ball.
“I’ll do it, but I may be a little sore,” Aument said. “It will go away.”
Just in time for the fall season, when Aument will probably be pitching again. And maybe he won’t have to wait so long to get another home run.