New Era Correspondent
Coronation ceremonies for the champs of the Junior-Midget Division of the New Era tournament will be held next Monday night at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
That is when the West Lampeter Pioneers probably will receive their long-awaited recognition as the Big Dog of the 13-14-year-old age group.
There is the minor formality of playing the championship game. But since their opponent, Hempfield Black, represents four of the 27 notches in the Pioneers’ gunbelt, it seems like a done deal.
“We’ve played them very ugly and we’ve played them tough,” observed Hempfield Black coach Skip Walters. “They’re the favorites going in.”
These two Penn Manor League rivals earned the right to play for the J-M title with victories Monday night.
With another of its trademark big-inning explosions, Black (20-8) broke open a tight game and defeated Mount Joy Blue, 11-1, in the second game of a semifinal twinbill.
In the opener, West Lampeter’s Matt Plaza led off the eighth inning with a home run to give the Pioneers a 3-2 victory over Lititz VFW.
Plaza’s dinger ended a wonderful game that crackled with intensity. It also made a winner of Rob Duvall, who pitched the final 1 2/3 innings.
“Wooo!” exclaimed winning coach Steve Ewing. “We’re back in the championship game.”
Duvall got the party started for the Pioneers (27-1), hitting a big fly over the rightfield fence in the second inning.
Lititz VFW (35-2) got that back in the fourth inning. With Mike Berkey on second, Jonathon Palomarez singled to right field. Berkey scored when the ball was bobbled in right.
The Pioneers edged ahead again as Jason Newmoyer lived on a wild pitch third strike, then advanced all the way around the bases on wild pitches from Lititz starter Nate Jones.
Pioneers’ starter Ryan Ewing pitched a strong ballgame, striking out 12 and scattering seven hits. However, Lititz put three of those hits together in the sixth to tie the game.
Jones singled and, with one out, tried to score on Berkey’s hit to center. He took a bad turn at third and, as if to equalize, Mark Wagner’s throw died well short of the plate and rolled in. But catcher Nate Geesey blocked the plate, and Jones’ slide fell one hand-length short of its goal.
“If Nathan slides to the inside of the plate, he’s in scott free,” claimed his father and coach, Steve Jones. “He slid right into the catcher and never reached the plate.”
Berkey moved up on the throw and when Palomarez smacked his second hit of the game, Berkey slid across the plate with the tying run as Ewing cut Wagner’s throw.
That’s where things stood until Plaza stepped to the plate in the eighth.
“I was looking for a fastball,” the freshman-to-be at McCaskey East said. “It was about waist high. I saw it the whole way in.”
And the whole way out too, he noted. It was Plaza’s second homer of the tournament and a nice moment for a player who missed last year with a broken ankle and, despite playing for Ewing since midget-midgets, has struggled to find a niche this year.
“He had some ground to make up and he’s fought his way back,” Ewing said. “He wants back in the starting lineup and if he plays like that, it’s going to be hard to keep him out.”
Stellar defense kept the game tied. Duvall made a great backhand pick at shortstop to retire Andrew Turner leading off the seventh.
When Ewing issued his only walk of the game to the next batter, Ty Flowers, his day was done and he traded places with Duvall. VFW had enjoyed some success stealing bases – going 5-for-5 – but quickly found there was a new sheriff in town.
Sliding over to take Nate Geesey’s throws on the first-base side of the bag, Ewing tagged out Flowers and in the eighth erased Jones on another steal attempt.
The Pioneers didn’t have the exclusive franchise on defense. VFW made the plays too, none bigger than the one Patrick Link made in the fifth inning.
With the bases loaded and one out, Ewing went to his bench and called on Plaza as Andrew Turner replaced Nate Jones on the mound.
Plaza sent Turner’s first pitch on a line to right field, but Link leaped and snared the ball, stepping on first to double off Duvall.
In the next inning Steve Williams tried to score on a wild pitch from Berkey, now on the mound, but catcher Chad Gallagher pounced on the errant throw and zipped it to the waiting Berkey for the out.
It only delayed what must seem inevitable. These teams have met three times under the banner of the New Era Tournament . Each time the result has been the same.
Playing as the Willow Street Cardinals, this group topped the then Warwick Phillies for the Midget-Midget title in ’96. Last year, as the Willow Street Yankees, they bounced VFW in the junior-midget preliminaries.
“It’s a shame we had to match up in the semifinals,” said Jones.
In the second game Hempfield held a 2-1 lead going into the sixth inning as Jason Enoch out-dueled Dan Myers. That lead was courtesy of shortstop Josh Jones.
Jones (3-for-3, 6 RBI) was responsible for both Black runs with a sac fly and a single. And he turned aside a potential rally by Blue (19-9) in the fifth, ranging to his right to glove Rodney Garber’s gapper to left with Matt Nissley on third.
Jones led off the Hempfield sixth and deposited Myer’s first pitch, a hanging curveball, beyond the fence in centerfield.
Justin Tearney (3-for-4) followed and homered to right field, David Cornwall singled, Kevin Zutell walked, Trever Wetzel hit an RBI single and suddenly the wheels were falling off.
Justin Reese replaced Myers after Wetzel’s hit and Hempfield kept coming. Nick Vosnock walked to load the bases and Enoch walked to force a run in.
Drew Unton’s RBI groundout brought Jones to the plate again and he drove another curveball into the hazy evening.
Andy Grumbrecht, who came back from Stone Harbor to play in this game, made his parents’ journey worthwhile when he slammed a solo shot to center in the seventh to close out the scoring.
Enoch gave up two hits and walked none while striking out 15 in his route-going performance.