By Dave Byrne
Now we’re all square.
Bear Shank threw five innings of relief behind starter Dan Eshleman and Eshleman knocked in three runs — two of the insurance variety in a three-run seventh inning Monday night — as the Strasburg-Willow Street White Sox forced a decisive, winner-take-all championship game with a 6-2 victory over Elizabethtown Navy.
It was the first defeat of the tournament for Navy (17-7), while the Sox (29-6) battled the whole way back from a first-round loss.
The two teams return to Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field at 7 tonight to determine the Junior-Midget champion of the 67th New Era Tournament.
SWS managed just five hits — three in the seventh inning — and went 24 plate appearances between base hits, but still found a way to get home. Mostly, they walked.
They walked five straight times, in fact, in a two-run third inning when Navy starter Nick Stoner lost command.
“We didn’t have the best ABs (at-bats),” said Shank. “But we still pulled it out.” Shank led off the game by slicing a double down the left-field line and, after a passed ball, scored on Ben Rhoades’ sacrifice.
Stoner initially fielded the ball and took a long look at Shank. When Stoner committed to first, Shank committed to home, diving head first ahead of Dillon Marsh’s return throw.
E-town got that run back in the bottom of the inning as Jeremy Newswanger’s ground ball plated Santino Buonamici.
Eshleman walked three in two innings and left with a tie courtesy of center fielder Connor Brown, who threw out Cole Epler trying to score on Casey Cooper’s single, then made a circus catch at the fence on Buonamici’s deep fly to center field.
As is often the case in baseball, Brown led off the next inning, and led the volksmarch.
He walked. Shank walked. Rhoades walked. Devon Weiant walked to force in Brown. Eshleman walked to force in Shank.
Stoner then found himself and struck out the side, but the damage was done.
Shank went a little wild himself, walking two in the Navy fourth, and E-town pulled within a run on Cooper’s second hit of the game.
But Shank, nominally the Sox closer, settled in and scattered three hits the rest of the way.
“I’m usually a one- or two-inning guy, but (I had) mental toughness and just pulled it out,” he said.
The Sox touched reliever Epler in the seventh as Brown walked once more and took third on Rhoades’ one-out single.
Eshleman chased both runners home, doubling off Justin Shelly’s glove at the centerfield fence, then scored as right fielder Noah Kready overran Colin Eckman’s single to right.
“We win each inning,” said Shank, “and the last inning is the best win. We did it and pulled it out.”