As the tortoise taught the hare, it’s not how you start, but how you finish.
A lesson revisited Wednesday night in the first game of the Midget semifinals of the 65th New Era Tournament.
A lesson learned within the lesson by Strasburg/Willow Street Blue centerfielder Nate Shank.
Manheim VFW jumped to a 5-0 first-inning lead, four of the runs coming on Ryan Wilson’s grand slam into the lawn seating in left field.
But SWS Blue gathered itself, shook off the early blow and ground out a 13-11 victory, returning to the finals for the second year in a row.
“Our kids have been playing together for five or six years,” said Blue coach Bill McCrudden. “They never give up and I never thought we were out of it.”
Their opponent is yet to be determined as storms rolled into Clipper Magazine Stadium, suspending the second game of the semifinal twinbill. Hempfield Black was batting with an 8-1 lead on St. Leo with two out in the top of the third inning.
The game will be resumed today at 5:15 p.m. The championship game has been moved to Friday at 7 p.m.
In Wednesday’s opener, the teams combined for 23 hits and took 13 walks. Eight errors also played a role in the carnage.
SWS (14-4) started its comeback with a four-spot in the third inning. RBI singles by Ray Lopez and Colton Stoltzfus preceeded a two-run double by John Jabour.
Manheim got one back on Ryan Smith’s RBI hit in the bottom of the third, but Blue answered on Peter Darrenkamp’s bases-loaded walk in the top of the fourth.
Manheim (11-6) chased SWS starter Ray Lopez in the home fourth, scoring three runs on a pair of errors and a wild pitch to go up 9-5.
Kohner Morgan came on for Lopez and re-established order.
“He was throwing strikes, hitting spots,” said Shank, “keeping them off balance.”
“He’s on the younger side,” said McCrudden. “He’s only going into tenth grade and this is his first year of playing midget school ball.”
Over the next three innings Morgan allowed one run on three hits and picked up the win when Blue exploded for eight runs over the next two innings.
With two out in the fifth inning Jabour and Andrew Wright singled, bringing Shank to the plate dragging an 0-for-3.
“I wasn’t being real patient,” said Shank who saw four pitches while grounding out twice and flying out.
Patience wasn’t in the books this time either as he ripped the first pitch to the wall in center field.
Jabour and Wright scored easily, and as the ball rebounded from the wall on a sharp angle, rolling towards left field, Shank circled the bases, crossing home with an inside-the-park homer.
Going back on the attack in the sixth, SWS loaded the bases on three walks. The first, to Matt McCrudden, was charged to Dustin Fair, who was lifted with a 1-0 count on Adam Gross.
Losing pitcher Derik Fahnestock completed the walk, and walked Stoltzfus before Jabour plated McCrudden with a sacrifice fly to center. Wright blooped a two-run single into short center and Blue had come the whole way back.
Not that they were done.
Shank worked a walk and Dan Neff ripped a triple into left, scoring Blue’s 12th and 13th runs.
Down but not out, Manheim’s Jeremie Patrick singled and Jason Reiff doubled to open the sixth. Ryan Wilson was safe on an error, Patrick scoring, but SWS first baseman Peter Darrenkamp drove a stake through the heart of the rally, snaring Josh Good’s liner and doubling Wilson off first, unassisted.
Undeterred, Manheim loaded the bases once more in the seventh as Ryan Smith and Dustin Herbert worked walks off reliever David Pittman, sandwiched around Mitch Burkholder getting hit by a pitch.
When Pittman hit Patrick, forcing in Smith, Manheim was within two runs with Patrick representing the go-ahead run.
In between all of that, however, Pittman retired Travis Fisher on a fly ball and struck out Fahnestock. He went 2-0 on Reiff, who was 3-for-3 with three runs scored, before inducing him to sky to right, ending the game.