Madison Zimmerman admits he was nervous when he took the mound Tuesday night at Clipper Magazine Stadium.
The Ephrata starter was shaky, at best, for the first two innings but survived, eventually got into a groove and threw a complete game as the Pride posted a 4-2 win over Bears Blue in the first of two New Era Tournament Midget Division semifinal games at the Clip.
In the nightcap, SWS Blue — despite losing track of an early five-run lead — eventually pulled out a 9-5 win over Solanco Gray.
The two winners will meet in the championship game tonight at 6 back at the home of the Barnstormers. It is a rematch of a regular-season game that ended in a 1-0 Ephrata win.
“They’re a good baseball team,” said SWS manager Nick Ferretti. “I’m looking forward to playing them again.”
Dan Neff fueled the SWS attack by going 3-for-4, including a double and a three-run triple that came in the second inning when SWS scored five runs off Solanco starter Adam Planamento. Alex Ferretti added a run-scoring double and Nate Mentzer was hit by a pitch to account for the other runs.
Solanco stormed back in the fifth, sending nine batters to the plate and scoring five runs to knot the game. The big blow in the frame was Dan Wimer’s three-run home run over the picnic canopies in right field. It was one of five straight hits in the inning off SWS pitcher Nate Shaffer, who went six innings and picked up the win.
“After we did get the fast start, we went to sleep and kind of got a little sleep,” said coach Ferretti. “But they had the team spirit to bring it back.”
SWS (12-6) scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth on a wild pitch by losing pitcher Ralph Brown, then added a pair of insurance runs in the sixth, thanks to a pair of Solanco errors.
In the opener, Zimmerman started the game by surrendering a leadoff single and hitting the next batter in the head with the very next pitch.
“Maybe a little bit of nerves,” he said when asked about the rough start. “I just didn’t feel comfortable. I really couldn’t get a strike in there early on. It gradually got better.”
With Zimmerman’s early struggles, Jayson Frymyer warmed up in the bullpen in the first, second and fourth innings.
“I saw him warming up down there,” Zimerman said. “So I figured I better start pitching better.”
A strikeout and fielder’s choice put runners on the corners with two outs but Zimmerman got out of trouble when Blue’s Tyler Good was gunned down at the plate on a failed double steal.
“When we got that guy at home, that was phenomenal,” said Ephrata coach Jason Franks. “Everything was perfect. That was a big momentum shift there because they could have easily gone up three runs to start the game.”
It was just the beginning of Good’s adventurous night on the bases. Serving as a courtesy runner, Good was thrown out at the plate three times. The Bears (14-4) had four runners in all gunned down on the base paths.
“We played that way all year long,” said Bears coach Herb Miller. “We were aggressive on the bases. It just didn’t work today.”
Zimmerman could not repeat the escape act in the second when he walked Brett Vuxta and John Garber to start the inning. Vuxta, who stole second and went to third on a throwing error, came around on a safety squeeze bunt by Christian Becker.
Ephrata manufactured the equalizer in the third by taking advantage of two Bears fielding errors. Brooks Carr and Tim Murray reached on back-to-back miscues and Carr later stole home to tie the game.
The Bears took a 2-1 lead in the fifth via an unearned run. Dalton Adams, who reached on an error, scored on Andy Good’s second double of the game.
Bears starter Andy Breault, who had walked two batters over the first four innings, walked three in the bottom of the fifth and the Pride capitalized. Brok Martin drew a bases-loaded walk, which tied the game, and Mark Lowrie followed with a two-run single that gave Ephrata a 4-2 edge.
It was then up to Zimmerman to hold it.
The righty retired the side in the sixth and allowed a one-out walk in the seventh, but got Breault to ground into a game-ending, 5-4-3 double play on his 113th pitch of the game.
“He struggled early, but found his slider and he was able to get ahead with that,” Franks said of Zimmerman, who allowed four hits while walking three and striking out four. “That allowed him to use his fastball to keep them off balance.”
In the process, he held the Bears to their lowest scoring output of the season.