Winners of 13 of their last 15 games, the St. Leo Lions are hotter than the current July heat wave.
The Lions scorched their way to the finals of the 68th Lancaster Newspapers New Era Tournament Thursday night, defeating the Penn Manor Comets 10-2 in the second game of a doubleheader at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
Garden Spot Gray (18-4) eliminated Lititz VFW (24-15) 10-1 in the first game Thursday, setting up a win-or-go-home meeting with the Comets tonight at 7 p.m. at Kunkle.
St. Leo (22-5) awaits the winner, with the championship game set for Monday at 7 p.m. If needed, a second title game will be held Tuesday at 7.
On a night when five pitchers struck out 26 batters, none were bigger than the final three of the night, courtesy of Brandon Knarr’s left arm. “He’s a horse,” said Lions coach Charlie Corbett, “and he just keeps coming after you.” Knarr, who pitched four innings of one-hit relief behind starter Mitch Eck, walked three and struck out nine, but faced deep danger in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Down 10-2, the No. 1-seeded Comets (28-5), loaded the bases, sandwiching a pair of walks around Austin Roberts’ third hit of the night — the first hit off Knarr. Coach Charlie Corbett trotted to the mound with an encouraging word, spoke his peace and left.
“I wish I could say I said something wise out there,” said Corbett, who nonetheless, bought some valuable time for his lefty.
“I was tired and I wasn’t hitting my spots at all,” Knarr said. “I just kind of pulled it together when the bases got loaded.”
Bringing the heat, in the heat, Knarr struck out Grant Gale — looking — on four pitches, K’ed Ryan Wilson on three and, after working a 2-2 count on Dalton Landis, punched him out on a foul tip, secured by catcher Tyler Peters.
“I wasn’t really zoning anything out,” said Knarr. “All I really wanted to do was, basically, throw it right by them, right down the middle, fastball.”
“Those last three batters, he was humming,” said Corbett.
The Lions broke on top with a three-run first as Knarr walked with the bases loaded, Zac Glinsky delivered an RBI ground out and Dylan Atkinson singled in the third run.
The Comets nicked Eck for an unearned run in the first as Jeremy Burkholder score on an error, but St. Leo increased its advantage as Dillon Marsh poled a two-run, opposite-field homer in the second.
They made it 7-2 on Eck’s two-run blast in the fourth and, by that time, Knarr was on the hill, and in command.
He struck out the side in the fifth and, with a run in — on another error (the Lions overcame 5 miscues) — struck out Drew Greenawalt looking with two on in the sixth.
Garden Spot utilized a 16-hit attack to remain in the title hunt.
Spot broke out the long ball on back-to-back home runs by Brock Kauffman (2 for 3, 2 runs, 3 RBI) — a two-run shot — and Seth Thomas (3 for 4, 3 runs, 2 RBI) and lashed out 14 singles.
Austin Wanner (3 for 4) knocked in a pair with a third-inning hit, part of a bat around plus-one that increased Gray’s advantage from 2-0 to 7-0.
Zach Skinner (3 for 4, 2 RBI) singled in a run to open the salvo, followed by Freddie Urena’s RBI infield hit. Kauffman’s bases-loaded walk capped the uprising.
Spot got the early nod on started on Thomas’ first-inning RBI single and Skinner’s bad-hop infield hit.
Gray flirted with the 10-run mercy rule in the fifth inning as Kauffman and Thomas went yard, but, prior to the artillery show, had a runner thrown out at second trying stretch a single.
Starter Ryan Smith held Lititz to just four hits, losing the shutout on Zach Peters’ fourth-inning home run. Smith finished with two walks and seven strikeouts.
Nate Hess went 2 for 3 for VFW.