New Era Correspondent
The dream of every junior-midget-age boy in Lancaster County — to play in the New Era Tournament championship game — has become a reality for the members of Hempfield Black and the Strasburg/Willow Street White Sox.
Those two teams will meet Monday at 7 p.m. at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field to decide who gets bragging rights.
Last night at Kunkle FIeld, the White Sox stopped the repeat bid of the Safe Harbor Lions, defeating last year’s J-M champions, 8-2, behind the pitching and hitting of Sheldon Witmer.
In the nightcap of the semifinal twinbill, Hempfield threw a lot of leather, and a little lightning, at Lititz VFW, laying claim to a 3-1 victory.
First baseman Kyle Enoch was the busiest boy on the diamond for Hempfield (26-5) as he recorded eight putouts. Half of those were on dropped third-strike strikeouts as Phil Harnick, who finished with 13 Ks, was creatively wild.
The other four putouts came on the receiving end of throws, none bigger than that of rightfielder Keith Unton.
With Black clinging precariously to a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning, Sam Grube worked a walk for Litltz (21-7) to lead off the inning. He was forced by Evan Scheffey, but Patrick Blair’s return throw came much nearer to the fans than to Enoch, and Scheffey went to second.
He took third as Rich Berkey grounded out to Blair, then crossed the plate as Steve Sellner knocked a grounder past Blair and into right field.
Unton charged the ball, scooped and came up firing to first, nailing Sellner for the third out.
“I just thought, “I can get him!’ We’ve worked on it a couple times in practice,” the scrappy rightfielder said. “It came to me and I knew what to do with it.”
“Did you see that?” whooped Black coach Bryan Dornes. “We’ve been telling the kids you have to pay attention. Be ready for the throw. We’ve done that maybe one other time this season.”
With spirits soaring, Black doubled its advantage its next time up. Enoch lived on a two-base error on a dropped ball in centerfield and Hempfield loaded the bases with one out on a hit and a walk.
In the previous inning Black had also loaded the bases, this time with no outs, but Bobby Thompson struck out the side. This time he wouldn’t escape. Zach Morgan worked the count to 2-and-1, then pushed a bunt up the first-base line, scoring Enoch.
Lititz VFW broke through in the sixth inning. Thompson singled and took second when leftfielder Chris Greenawalt kicked the ball. A wild pitch advanced Thompson to third and, after a walk, he scored on Rich Berkey’s fielder’s choice to third.
Third baseman Geoff Dornes made a nice play on the ball, cutting it off and knocking it down before flipping to Blair for the force. It was one of four plays Black turned in the middle of the infield, including a first-inning twin killing that kept another VFW run off the board.
Nobody would dispute that, despite three errors, defense carried the day for Hempfield.
“I think that was the difference,” Dornes said. “Our guys made the plays when they needed to. Unfortunately, (Lititz) couldn’t.”
Lititz commited one less error than Hempfield, but both led to Black’s first two runs. Harnick gave himself a little breathing room when he cranked an 0-2 curveball into the centerfield parking area in the top of the seventh.
Harnick’s ball landed just a few feet to the right of where Sheldon Witmer deposited a dinger four hours earlier.
Witmer’s 2-run shot, part of a 3-run first inning, got the ball rolling for the White Sox (36-5), who clubbed 11 hits. Witmer, Dominic Lombardo and Chris Shehan each banged out two hits and Ryan Visneski drove in three runs with a pair of singles.
Steve Diehl knocked in one with a ground out to first and Mark Zubrick bounced a double off the top of the fence to drive in another run.
Early in the game, very early, it had the looks of a slugfest as Safe Harbor’s Kevin Steinkirchner and Zac Charles splattered center fielder Aidan Stiger off the fence with long, loud, outs in the first inning.
But the Lions (26-10) wouldn’t get swings like that again and Witmer limited them to two runs on three hits, walking four and striking out 12. Ben Rowe, the Lions’ No. 9 hitter, drove in both Harbor runs with a single and an infield out.
“Sheldon’s tough,” observed Lions’ coach Carl Caruthers. “We’ve faced him numerous times, haven’t had a lot of success with him.”
“Sheldon was pumped up,” said Sox coach Dan Herr. “We got the records out and looked them over. He said, “I think I’ve got them figured out.’ ”
It certainly showed in the on-field results.
“I came in with a game plan, stuck with it and it worked,” Witmer said.
This marked the eighth time this year the two teams met, with SWS taking six.
“We lost to them twice, 8-7 and 7-6,” said Herr. “Even though we had the better percentage, we knew we had to go out and play the game.”