BY DAVE BYRNE
For a while, it appeared Strasburg/Willow Street wouldn’t have to worry about its record in LNP Tournament Midget finals. They were in danger of not getting out of the first round.
Meanwhile, Garden Spot stated its case for championship consideration.
SWS (13-2) scored six times in the fifth inning to overcome a game Lancaster effort, 8-3, in the first game of a NET quarterfinal doubleheader, Wednesday night at Clipper Magazine Stadium.
In the nightcap, Garden Spot’s Kyle Ebersole took a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning and finished with a 6-1 victory, advancing the Spot (12-3) to Friday’s semifinal, back at the Clip. SWS and Spot will square off at 5:15 p.m. in the first game of a doubleheader with the winners of tonight’s quarterfinals meeting in the nightcap.
Ebersole, who pitched Lancaster County Christian School to the District Three Class A championship just seven weeks ago, finished with a four-hitter, walking two and striking out six.
He got a boost from a pitcher’s best friend, the double play, as his defense turned three behind him. “Those are nice,” he said, “very nice.”
“Turning three of them, in one game,” observed Spot coach Bob McKinley, “that takes momentum out of what the other team’s doing. I know we’ve had it turned on us many times. It seems like you’re rolling, and boom.”
The final twin-killing came in the seventh just after the Oddfellows’ first two hitters reached on hits. Pinchrunner Jake Weachter spoiled the shutout, scoring on the twin erasure.
Garden Spot took the early advantage as Matt Brubaker, who walked twice and scored twice, came home on Logan Eby’s first-inning single. Anthony Torreulla (2 for 3, 2 RBI) knocked Eby in for a 2-0 lead.
“He’s been on a tear, ripping the ball,” Ebersole said of Torreulla. “And Matt Brubaker, it seems like he’s on base every single at bat.”
“Matt’s been our key all year,” McKinley said. “I can’t say enough about the summer he’s having.”
The lead that expanded to 6-0 in the third when Brock Kauffmann singled in Brubaker, Torreulla singled in Kauffman and Logan Eby, who had walked, scored on a delayed steal of home as Torreulla stole second.
Nick Lehman singled in Torreulla to cap the scoring as Matt Cover came on to pitch three innings of no-hit relief for Lititz (10-5). “Fundamental baseball,” said McKinley. “You take what they give. And don’t give them any extra outs.”
In the opener, had the Clip been the Fulton Theater, one might say Lancaster had stage fright. SWS took advantage, scoring twice in the first as Bear Shank walked and Jake Howells doubled, both scoring on a pair of errors on Austin Pletcher’s fly to center.
Whatever ailed Lancaster (8-8) was cured by the second inning as pitcher Robert Rodriguez settled in, retiring nine of the next ten batter he faced. His teammates got him a 3-2 lead in the third inning on Jeffrey Acevedo’s two-run double, Acevedo scoring on an error on Cristian Viera’s sacrifice bunt.
Live by the bunt, die by the bunt and the simple execution of the sacrifice became a huge piece of the SWS’s comeback.
Andrew Hay led off the fifth doubling to the right field corner. Winning pitcher Colin Eckman sacrificed him to third, bringing Connor Brown to the plate.
He looked down to third base coach Scott Eckman and got the sign.
“I was excited (to see it),” he said. “I didn’t do so well, (he’d struck out looking in his first at bat), I was kind of frustrated and I thought, ‘Just lay it down.’ ”
He dropped it between the mound and the first base line, Rodriguez fielded it but his throw home was too late to get Hay. And too late to save his victory as the floodgates opened.
Shank singled into left field and Rodriguez hit Howells, loading the bases. Pletcher singled in Brown with the go-ahead run and Devon Weiant walked to force in Shank. Rodriguez got Ben Rhoades on a foul out, but Dan Eshleman doubled to deep center, clearing the bases and giving SWS an 8-3 lead.
It was all Eckman, who came on in the fourth in relief of starter Garrett Groshong, and closer Brandon Nickle needed to nail down the victory.
“From the first inning on he (Rodriguez) settled down and started rolling a little bit,” SWS coach Steve Shank said. “I thought, ‘We have seven innings.’ We battled (and) Eshleman had a huge hit. That gave us some breathing room, and helped me relax.”