By Dave Bryne
The clash of New Era Tournament titans takes place as the Junior Midget division begins play Thursday evening. The defending champion Manheim Lions, the SWS White Sox and Hempfield Black can all stake a legitimate claim to the title 2011 NET Champions.
And the remainder of the eight-team field loaded with rematches of rematches is none too shabby either.
If these U-14s can deliver a tournament even half as entertaining as their U-12 brothers did in the just completed Midget-Midget division, we will be enriched.
Hempfield Black (26-3) vs. Rheems Royals (8-15-1), 6 p.m. at Kunkle Field
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Hempfield, the No. 1 seed, was the LCYBL’s Section 1 American Division champion and also won the prestigious Penryn (defeating Manheim) and Mt. Joy tournaments. Rheems shaded Solanco Gold 4-3 in a play-in to earn the eighth and final seed.
NEW ERA HISTORY — Hempfield has won three NET titles, the last in 2009. Additionally, Landisville won a pair of J-M titles in the late ’60s. Still searching for its first New Era crown, Rheems got to the semifinals in 2008 and ’09.
LOOK FOR — With six players back from last year, Hempfield has yielded an average of 2.1 runs per game thus far. That number was no doubt even lower before Manheim piled up 11 runs in the LCYBL semifinals. As one might surmise from the record, the Royals are very young with only two players returning from last year: catcher Brady Lefever and pitcher Sam Epps.
SWS White Sox (24-12-1) vs. Lititz VFW (24-12), 20 minutes after first game
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Based on the regular season, the White Sox pulled the No. 4 seed. SWS reached the finals of the LCYBL playoffs before falling to Manheim, won its tournament and was second to Hempfield in the Mt. Joy tourney. Fifth-seeded VFW won the Donegal Springs tournament and placed second in its tournament.
NEW ERA HISTORY — The Sox have won seven titles, the last coming in 2008. VFW, the returning runner-up, has won two titles.
LOOK FOR –This is a rematch of last year’s J-M semifinal, won by SWS, 1-0. While Sox coach Dan Herr returns no one from last year’s semifinalist squad, but seven players from the 2010 NET M-M champion Cardinals are on board, lead by Collin “Bear” Shank. The Sox are hitting .334 as a team. Like the Sox, VFW returns no one from last year, but is infused by veterans from the 2009 M-M title-winning Warwick Phillies.
Manheim Twp. Black (17-6) vs. Donegal (9-8-1), 6 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Black, the LCYBL Section 1 National Division champion, also won the Lititz VFW tournament and is the No.2 seed. After advancing to the LCYBL playoff semis, Donegal, the No. 7 seed, routed the Mountville Angels 13-3 to qualify for the NET.
NEW ERA HISTORY –Township teams have won five titles. Like Rheems, Donegal has an empty spot on the shelf for its first NET championship trophy.
LOOK FOR — Despite a clean slate, New Era Tournament-wise, Township is refreshed with six players up from last year’s J-M Section 2 ranks. Players who, it just so happens, competed in the NET as Midget-Midgets. Donegal is peaking at the right time, having knocked Black out of the LCYBL playoffs, which makes this another rematch.
Manheim Lions (18-11-1) vs. Penn Manor Comets (10-8), 20 minutes after first game.
HOW THEY GOT HERE –The Lions ran in place over the first 10 games of the regular season, then caught fire, finishing on a 9-1-1 sprint that carried over to the league playoffs, which they swept. The Comets earned the No. 6 seed out of the LCYBL.
NEW ERA HISTORY — Got an hour? The Lions won the first-ever J-M championship in 1961 and have won six overall. There was a moment in the mid-’90s when this division was the Manheim Lions J-M Invitational. Penn Manor has yet to claim the NET Trophy, but two predecessor organizations, Safe Harbor in 2000 and Manor Ridge in 1982, each have a title to their credit.
LOOK FOR — Hitting, and lots of it from the Lions, who topped Hampfield 11-9 in the LCYBL semis, then scored six last-at-bat runs to overturn SWS, 11-9, in the championship game. It seems Manheim and SWS are carrying over last year’s rivalry, not surprising as the Lions have six players from the M-M runners-up to go with Blake Reiff and Dan Weiderrecht, carryovers from the ’10 titlists. Penn Manor welcomed back five players from last year’s Section 1 Comets.