SWS Blue outduels Hempfield

SWS’s Sam Nguyen tags out Hempfield’s Matt Hartman.

By Dave Byrne
Sports Staff

It may have been a year late, but better late than never.

Especially given the significance of the better.

Strasburg/Willow Street Blue served up a heaping helping of payback and, in doing so, turned the New Era Tournament’s Midget Division upside down.

In a rematch of the 2010 Midget championship game — won by Hempfield Black 6-3 — SWS rallied for four sixth-inning runs and stunned No. 1 seed Hempfield, 5-3, in the first game of a scheduled quarterfinal doubleheader at Clipper Magazine Stadium.

The victory advances SWS to Tuesday’s semifinal where Blue will face the winner between Solanco Gray and Donegal.

Gray and Donegal got under way Thursday evening, but were quickly shelved by a steady and persistent rain.

The game will be picked up in progress today at 3:30 p.m. — Solanco’s Jake Johnson had drawn a leadoff walk — as the scheduled quarterfinal doubleheader becomes a tripleheader.

And speaking of persistence …

SWS starter Brett Brooks survived a rocky beginning on the mound, as did Anthony Witteman at the plate.

Brooks issued three walks and surrendered a single and a double in a two-run Hempfield first inning, and his two-base throwing error on a pickoff in the third inning allowed Shaun Corso, who had doubled, to post a third run.

Corso also knocked in Anthony Dornes on a ground out for Hempfield’s first run and Austin Young crossed home on a passed ball.

“I tried to throw too hard,” said Brooks. “I’ve walked guys all year, so I’m kind of used to it now.”

Meanwhile, his teammates were having little luck solving Hempfield starter Chris Schroll, who carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning.

Witteman personified that futility, striking out in his first two appearances.

Blue did nick Schroll for a run in the second as Jason Lindsley walked, stole second, took third on Witteman’s first strikeout and scored on Regan Hershey’s infield out.

Collin Miller’s two-out single in the fourth broke the no-hit spell, but SWS could do little more. Then fate turned.

“The kids might’ve been the only ones in the stadium who felt we had a chance to win tonight,” offered coach Shane Miller.

“I knew we could come back and get those (runs) back. We kept them off the board and that was all we needed to do.”

John Gote led off the SWS sixth with a walk and Schroll hit Sam Nguyen with a pitch. Brooks then singled to left, loading the bases as Schroll yielded the mound to Nate Booth.

Booth struck out Miller, before Lindsley plated Gote with a forceout in the middle of the infield. Still, Booth could see his way out as Witteman came to the plate.

“When the new pitcher came in,” Witteman shared, “it gave me a new confidence. I’m thinking, ‘This is a different guy, I can hit him.’ ”

“I kept telling him he had a big one in him for the game,” said Miller, “and he came through for us.”

Witteman sliced the second pitch he saw , way over the head of right fielder Thatcher Danz, knocking in Nguyen and Lindsley with the go-ahead runs.

The inning continued as Hershey’s looping double to left plated Witteman, who had stolen third.

Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy. Brooks, who needed just eight pitches to retire Black in the sixth, yielded an infield single to Conner Diminick leading off the seventh.

He got Jared Pestco on strikes, but walked Danz and Anthony Dornes back-to-back, loading the bases.

Gut check time.

“I don’t honestly remember thinking at all,” Brooks said. “I just took deep breaths, tried not to overthrow and just let my defense do what they can do.”

Brooks got Schroll to pop the first pitch to Nguyen at shortstop, invoking the infield fly rule.

“That felt really good,” said Brooks with little understatement.

He then induced Corso to ground to second, sealing the upset.

SWS’s Sam Nguyen is out at second after the tag by Hempfield’s Conner Diminick.

SWS’s Anthony Witteman steals third base against Hempfield.

SWS’s Brett Brooks pitches a complete game for the win in the rain.

Hempfield’s Nate Booth tries to get to third as SWS’s Sam Nguyen prepares to throw to Josh Wright, 39.