Over the course of the season, Hempfield Black and the Strasburg/Willow Street White Sox had played three times with each game decided by one run.
So, it will come as no surprise that the fourth meeting between these LCYBL rivals was also decided by one run.
Nate Shank’s mad, bottom-of-the-seventh-inning dash for home on a bases-loaded wild pitch by Dylan Manning proved the difference as the White Sox (28-7-2) won the Junior-Midget championship of the 63rd LNP Tournament, 6-5, Friday night at Mt. Joy’s Kunkle Field.
“I just saw it get past the catcher and I was off,” said Shank. “I knew it right away. As soon as he let it go, I was sprintin’.”
Catcher Cory Gantz tracked down the errant offering and fed Manning, but Shank made a Pete Rose-worthy head-first dive to the dish, ending the game.
The score delivered the biggest prize for a team that, despite winning the Lancaster Youth regular season, failed to deliver in the playoffs.
“We didn’t play well in the [playoffs] but we won this,” said Shank. “That’s what we wanted to win all year.”
It also provided a satisfying finish to what had been a frustrating evening for the 14-year old centerfielder.
Shank came into the game batting 4-for-7 with 4 runs scored and 7 RBI for the tournament.
Friday night, Hempfield (20-9-1) walked him four times, once intentionally.
“Shank is very dangerous at the plate,” offered Black coach Bob Gantz. “We were not going to let him hurt us.”
Instead, it was catcher Ethan Moore and designated hitter John Jabour who did the most damage in a 4-run first inning for the Sox.
Moore doubled in two runs in the inning and Jabour plated two more on a two-out, infield single, deep in the hole between first and second.
Jabour then plated SWS’s fifth run in the third inning driving a ball to right field that scored winning pitcher Peter Darrenkamp.
Darrenkamp, who got the win in the first game of the tournament, and picked up the save in the second, cruised into the fifth inning.
He’d thrown 57 pitches through four innings — 41 for strikes — and allowed just four hits and one run, on Ben Ault’s first-inning RBI single.
Hempfield’s Derek Totaro (9-for-14 for the tournament, 4 RBI, 5 runs), took Darrenkamp out of the park to right center in the fifth and Ault unloaded a monster solo blast out of left in the sixth, last seen heading for suburban Stauffertown.
Suddenly, Darrenkamp was laboring, up in the strike zone, and Black put the tying runs on on a double and walk.
“I wasn’t finishing,” Darrenkamp said. “I was getting a little tired.”
Not too tired to catch Ben Weikel looking at strike three to end the inning.
Hempfield came right back in the top of the seventh as Totaro singled and Darrenkamp hit Nick Yarnall.
He got Nate Booth swinging for the second out of the inning and Sox coach Dan Herr took no chances with Ault — 3-for-3 on the evening — sending him to first on an intentional walk.
Cory Gantz lifted the first pitch he saw the other way to left field, with Michael Kreider moving to the ball.
At the last minute, Kreider lost his footing and the ball fell in, scoring two runs.
“I thought we had that,” said Darrenkamp, who took a moment to gather himself.
“I knew I had to shake it off. I didn’t want it to get any worse.”
Despite the tempest swirling around his team, Herr never made a move to lift Darrenkamp.
“I was a little concerned,” he allowed, “but he [Darrenkamp] really wanted it.”
Darrenkamp retired Camden Hess on a come-backer to end the threat, then settled back, knowing — due to tournament pitching regulations — his evening was over.
His teammates ensured him the victory with the seventh-inning rally.
Manning, who had been limited to 31-e innings in the tournament because of a balky back, was in fine form, striking out three in two innings of hitless relief.
But his control deserted him in the seventh as he walked Shank on six fastballs. He then overthrew first trying to pick Shank off, and intentionally walked Moore to reinstate the force.
It was still in force after walking Darrenkamp on four pitches and, with the infield in, Manning went to work on Colton Stoltzfus.
Stoltzfus — 0-for-3 on the night but 4-for-6 with an RBI in the tournament — was never tested as the first pitch he saw sailed over his head and into history.
“It’s [always] a dogfight with these guys,” Herr said.
“We played well, we just fell a run short tonight,” said Gantz. “Someone’s going to be on top. Someone’s going to finish second. That’s baseball.”