SWS defeats E-town for J-M crown, 8-2
By Dave Byrne
This year’s change in the format of the New Era Junior-Midget tournament happened just in time for the Strasburg/Willow Street White Sox.
Going from single elimination to double elimination in the championship series proved fortuitous for the Sox (30-6) who lost their tournament opener, then reeled off four straight victories.
The fourth and final victory came Tuesday night as SWS downed Elizabethtown Navy 8-2 to claim the J-M title.
It was the second NET championship in three years for this group, which also won the 2010 Midget-Midget championship.
“After we lost (to Penn Manor) I said what’s going to define us is not whether we win or lose,” coach Steve Shank recalled, “but how we respond to the loss.”
They responded with knockout wins over Lititz VFW and Penn Manor, then swept the two-game, two-night series with E-town (17-8).
“We played four games in four days against good teams and won,” said Shank. “They responded and that’s why we’re the champs.”
Simple enough. Taking a deeper look, one finds pitching. Lots of pitching.
Colin Eckman backed up his five innings of two-hit ball against VFW on Saturday with a four inning, four-hit effort Tuesday. He did not allow a run.
“His stuff was way better tonight,” said his catcher, Devon Weiant. “He was on his game, and he knew he had to be on it.”
“I wouldn’t agree,” Eckman demurred. “I thought it was better against Lititz. But it was working.”
Eckman mixed his curve and splitter, and got a helping hand from his defense.
Dillon Marsh doubled with two out in the top of the first and Jeremy Newswanger followed with a single to right.
Respecting Dan Eshleman’s arm in right, Marsh held at third. He was still there when the inning ended.
Eshleman’s arm came into play again in the fourth after Cole Epler singled and Logan Yohn doubled with none out.
Newswanger hit a fly ball to right, Epler went back to tag at third and stayed put as Eshleman delivered a laser to Weiant.
“It’s a lot like pitching,” Eshleman said. “You want to get your release point the same, definitely want to get a good grip on the ball and you just throw. It seems to work.”
After that, Weiant pounced on Jeremy Sabathne’s bunt up the first-base line, not really a squeeze bunt, throwing him out.
Epler tried to come home on a delay as first baseman Chase Nelle tossed the ball to shortstop Bear Shank.
Shank came home, Epler retreated, and Weiant threw to Andrew Hay at third. Hay chased Epler down for the third out.
“We made some baserunning mistakes,” acknowledged Navy coach Greg Stoner, whose side left 16 on base in the final two games.
When Eckman tired, walking the first two batters of the fifth inning, Eshleman came in and slammed the door.
E-town did dent the plate in the sixth inning on Joey Lonardi’s two-run single. By then it was too little, too late.
“We didn’t play our best baseball, which is unfortunate,” Stoner said. “That’s baseball. We just picked the wrong time to do that.”
Shank’s leadoff home run to dead center gave SWS a powerful start.
“It was a fastball, middle in,” he said. “I just got my hands to the ball and followed through.”
SWS followed through, taking advantage of three errors to add two more runs in the third off losing pitcher Santino Buonamici.
Which made it still a tight game when Eshleman relieved Eckman.
It got loose in a hurry.
Shank singled to lead off the fifth, stole second and took third on a wild pitch.
Ben Rhoades singled Shank home, then scored ahead of Devon Weiant’s home run over the batting cage in right.
It was Weiant’s second homer of the series. “It was right in my zone,” said Weiant.
Then Eshleman sent the next pitch past the scoreboard for back-to-back jacks. “We look for ones to drive,” Eshleman said, “and when we see them we don’t let them go. We both got good pitches and drove them as far as we could.”
“We’re really a small ball team,” said Steve Shank. “I was surprised we hit so many homeruns. But hey, as a coach, you’ll always take home runs.”
And take the title.