New Era Correspondent
Prior to Tuesday night’s New Era Tournament midget-midget title game, Strasburg/Willow Street had faced Manheim VFW three times — and lost all three.
Tuesday night was the Cardinals’ time to shine.
Paced by an oustanding effort from pitcher Brett Brooks and a clutch go-ahead double by Jared Horn, Strasburg/Willow Street triumphed 6-4 and captured the crown.
Brooks allowed four runs — two earned — on six hits. He issued three walks, but struck out 13 — including the last six batters he faced.
“He’s been a horse,” SWS coach Dale Hershey said. “He’s been our ace all year. When he gets that adrenaline going in his blood he becomes … “
At that point Hershey’s train of thought was interrupted by a chilly encounter with the water bucket.
Manheim coach Jeff Knosp, who cut short a vacation in Cancun, Mexico to come back and be a part of this game, picks up the thread.
“When you have speed,” he said, “and then you throw an off-speed every once in a while, our kids were having a hard time catching up to the fastball. He was hitting spots where he needed to be.”
Early on, Brooks was hitting Manheim’s spots, giving up a triple to Ben Bomberger to lead off the game and, one out later, Kyle Winters’ RBI double.
Winters scored on an error and Manheim (32-4 overall) added another run in the third on back-to-back walks, an error and a wild pitch.
VFW increased its advantage to 4-0 with two outs in the visitors fourth when Hunter Pearson doubled in Bomberger, who had singled.
But Pearson was thrown out at home to end the inning, trying to score on Winters’ second hit of the game.
“That first inning didn’t concern me, the fact that we were down two runs,” said Hershey, attributing that to nerves.
“My biggest concern was four runs … it starts getting a little different.”
It was about to get different, all right.
Manheim, a team that lived by the big inning on Monday night, was about to die by the big inning.
Brooks worked a walk to lead off what would eventually become a 12-man bat-around and six-run rally in the bottom of the fourth.
“It always comes back to bite you,” Knosp said of the walk.
“They hit the ball hard when they had to.”
With shortstop Blake Reiff covering the bag on the steal, Josh Wright singled through the vacated position, sending Brooks to third.
A fielding error on Kyle Horner’s bunt scored Brooks and, one batter later, Cox, the No. 9 hitter in the order, ripped a two-run single over the head of second baseman J.J. Sanchez.
It was Cox’s second two-run hit in as many nights.
In fact, if there was one stark difference between the teams, it was the production of the bottom of their respective lineups.
For Manheim, hitters 6-through-9 were 0-for-11 with 10 strikeouts. SWS (28-7 overall) was 2-for-9 with two runs scored and Cox’s two RBI’s.
“Earlier in the year the top half of the lineup carried us,” Hershey said. “But as we got later in the year the bottom of the order started kicking in.”
After a forceout and a walk, Horn crushed a ball through short that rolled all the way to the fence, scoring two runs.
“I was a little nervous,” Horn admitted, “but everybody else was getting hits, so it was just time for someone else to.”
“We are a team that feeds off of each other,” Hershey said. “We get one or two big hits and these guys start to believe in themselves.”
Michael Warfel closed out the scoring with an RBI single and Brooks mowed down the last six hitters after Colin Fry’s fifth-inning single.
The win was a sweet turnaround for the Cards, who counted an 18-1 setback among their losses to Manheim this season.
“We struggled and, for one reason or another, they got in our head,” said Hershey, who used that to motivate his club.
“They felt they owed Manheim. They felt they needed to make a statement, to come out and validate themselves.”
Brooks battles through early woes to win
By Jeff Reinhart
New Era Sports Writer
Brett Brooks was as cool as a cucumber.
Despite a four-run deficit, Strasburg/Willow Street’s starting pitcher was as loose as a goose in the Cardinals’ dugout between innings Tuesday night in the Midget-Midget championship game of the 63rd New Era Tournament at Kunkle Field in Mount Joy.
With his warm-up jacket on to keep his right arm warm, Brooks plopped himself down on an old baseball bucket, all smiles and not a worry in the world — not even about Manheim VFW, which led 4-0 when Brooks walked off the mound in the top of the fourth.
“I was thinking positive thoughts because I knew we were going to start getting some hits,” Brooks said.
SWS exploded for four hits — and drew four walks and had one batter reach on an error — in a six-run fourth-inning uprising on the way to a 6-4 win over Manheim VFW, as the Cardinals did exactly what Brooks said they’d do: put a ridiculously crooked number on the scoreboard.
“We’re a comeback team,” Brooks said. “I know we’re going to produce runs after a while.
The guys always seem to pick me up if I’m not pitching very well.”
Brooks allowed four runs on five hits over the first four frames before SWS’s offense clicked.
Stymied by Manheim VFW starter Colin Fry, who allowed just two hits over the first three innings, the Cardinals finally spread their wings and did some serious chirping in the fourth.
Brooks walked, Josh Wright singled and Sam Meck reached on an error. Brandon Cox — the nine-hole hitter — singled home Wright and Meck and SWS was in business.
Regan Hershey reached on a fielder’s choice before Matt Wright walked, and Jared Horn gave SWS a 5-4 lead when he laced a double to left, scoring Hershey and Wright.
Michael Warfel’s RBI single scored Horn, capping the onslaught — and giving Brooks a tidy two-run cushion to work with.
“After we got one hit, it just kept on building and we got a nice rally going,” said Hershey, who stole second and third in the fourth inning — two of the Cardinals’ five steals in the frame and 10 in the game.
“We started scoring runs,” Hershey said, “and they just kept coming in.”
Like a tidal wave.
“We got hits at the right time,” Brooks noted. “Everybody picked it up at the same time. We were all hot at the same time.”
Scorching hot. And all Manheim VFW could do was watch. Coach Jeff Knosp even made a pitching change, but that didn’t help.
“When we make stuff happen — getting guys on base, bunting, stealing — we feed off that stuff,” said SWS coach Dale Hershey, who got a celebratory ice water bath after the game.
“We had to make something happen,” the coach said, “because when you get runners on base, something is bound to happen.”
SWS sent 12 batters to the plate in the fourth. And plenty of good things happened for the Cardinals.
Feeling fine after his team put a six-spot on the board for him in the bottom of the fourth, Brooks had a hop in his step and a little extra heat on his fastball in the fifth and the sixth, when he struck out the side in both innings.
Fry, who absorbed the loss after such a fine start, opened the fifth with a single and stole second for Manheim VFW.
But Brooks dug in from there, striking out the next six hitters in a row, and the Cardinals were the champs.
Brooks scattered six hits, walked three and struck out 13.
“When you get Brett the lead, he can kick it into another gear,” Dale Hershey said. “And in the last two innings, he found that gear. He was running on adrenaline, but he was on.”
All because he hung in there when the going got tough. And when the going got tough, SWS did what Brooks predicted: got some hits and produced some runs.
And Brooks, forever the optimist, took it from there.