Willow Street Cards reign in Midget-Midget

Willow Street Cardinals’ coach Steve Ewing presents the championship trophy to his team.

By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent

Charles Austin can’t hold a High Jump candle to the Willow Street Cardinals.

As the last out was recorded at Kunkle Field and their championship turned from dream to reality with a 5-2 victory over the Warwick Phillies, the new New Era Midget-Midget kingpins did a collective high jump that rivaled Austin’s gold medal effort of Sunday night.

Their vertical exuberance was no doubt fueled by the pent-up emotion and frustration of a year’s wait for an opportunity at redemption.

“Last year we had a little bit of an upset (in the New Era ), so this year we had to come out and win it,” said Cards’ second baseman Mark Wagner. Wagner, one of two holdovers from the ’95 Cards (ace pitcher Ryan Ewing was the other) noted he’d been thinking about this moment since the beginning of the ’95 season and now that it was”It feels great,” he exclaimed. Like he thought it would? “Nah, a little better.”

A sentiment was echoed by Ryan Ewing who declared, after picking up his 17th win of the year, “It was better than I thought it would be.” “It’s definitely a long time coming,” agreed Wagner’s father, Cards’ assistant Mark Wagner. “These kids played hard all year and I guess the record (42-2) pretty much showed it.”

Within those 42 wins were very few games as close as Tuesday night’s. The Cardinals, normally a hitting machine, managed four hits. The Phillies (15-7) just half that with two.

Nursing a 2-1 lead into the fourth inning created a few nervous moments. “We were a little scared when we were only winning 2-1,” young Wagner said. “When we broke through a little bit, we felt a little better.”

Willow Street wove a second-inning rally against starter Mike Berkey on a base hit, two walks, a fielder’s choice and three fortuitous wild pitches.

Adam Devlin got the ball rolling with the first hit of the game,a ground single past the outstretched glove of shortstop Ty Flowers.

It was one of the few balls Flowers did not reach as the youngster put on quite a display of fielding prowess.

Devlin stole second and took third on a wild pitch. Jason Newmoyer walked, stole second and took third on wild pitch number two.

Steve Williams lived on a fielder’s choice as Newmoyer was erased in a rundown between third and home. Williams moved around to third and was ready to pounce when Berkey uncorked another wild one.

Warwick got one back in the bottom of the inning as Nate Jones popped a Texas Leaguer behind third, then stole over to third. He scored on Joey Brenner’s groundout.

The Cards’ 2-1 advantage stood until the fourth when three hits and three errors set the table for the Penn Manor League champs.

Dan Hanecak bunted one run home and Williams scored when pinch-hitter Shane Suter beat out an infield single to third. A throwing error on Nate Geesey’s comebacker allowed Williams to score all the way from second and Willow Streeters everywhere could let out a little of that breath they’d been holding for four innings.

Warwick, however, wasn’t done yet. The Phils manufactured another run as Steve Beard singled, stole second and took third on a wild pitch. After a one-out walk to Nate Jones, Andrew Turner knocked Beard in with a ground out to short.

With a three-run lead, Ryan Ewing took command getting three of his eight strikeouts among the last six outs.

Ryan Ewing (left) and the Willow Street Cardinals celebrate.

Ewing pitches a gemĀ in the clutch

By John Finger
New Era Correspondent

Imagine trying to drink a big, thick milkshake through a tiny straw.

You try and try again to get a big swallow of that sweet stuff, but you can only get a little bit at a time. If any at all.

That’s what it’s like trying to hit a pitch thrown by Ryan Ewing.

Time after time, batters for the Warwick Phillies went to the plate hoping for the big drink against Ewing and came back with next to nothing, if that.

Ewing, a 12-year-old righthanded pitcher heading into the seventh grade at Lampeter-Strasburg, pitched his Willow Street Cardinals to a 5-2 win in the midget-midget championship of the 51st New Era Tournament under the lights at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field Tuesday.

Pitching in the “biggest game of his life,” the righthander with a big curveball and exploding fastball overcame first-inning jitters to dominate Warwick’s lineup.

“Whenever Ryan pitches, I’m relaxed because he so consistent,” Willow Street coach Mark Wagner said. “You can more or less send in the results.”

That’s what Willow Street did most of this season, compiling an impressive 41-2 overall record, and it was no different Tuesday night.

Ewing pitched a complete game giving up just two bloop hits and striking out seven. He buzzed through the Warwick lineup with a curveball that snapped like a tree branch in the wind and a fastball that hissed like a rattlesnake and then exploded into the catcher’s mitt like a pipebomb. The most prevalent sound Tuesday evening was, “Hiss… boom.”

“I was a little nervous in the beginning of the game but I tried to concentrate and block all of that stuff out,” Ewing said. “I just wanted to focus on the hitters and throw strikes.”

That’s it. Simple.

At an age where a lot of posturing and emulating the style and antics of the ballplayers on television goes on, Ewing is calm and efficient. His windup and motion is simple and fluid and he wastes little energy when pitching or between pitches. This sort of tranquility in the middle of orchestrated chaos is nothing but sheer discipline.

If Ewing was nervous, he didn’t show it. He challenged each and every one of the Warwick Phillies with his big pitches and didn’t back down once. That part is called poise.

That’s what separates Ewing and his Willow Street teammates a part from the rest.

“We are a very disciplined team, not just on the field and during games and practices, but away from baseball also,” Wagner said. “If there is a problem, we deal with it right away. We treat everyone – teammates and opponents – with respect. We tell the boys that this is what it is and what it’s all about.”

The Willow Street Cardinals is a team that is organized and run like clock-work. They have a coaching staff that resembles an NFL staff and everyone from the bottom to the top has a role on the team. While filling one of the spots on the 12-boy roster is very competitive, no one is left out. Everyone sees some action in every game. Everyone is involved.

This is a rarity these days. Sure the parents are probably a little over-zealous with shrill screams and razzing for the umpires, but everyone stays focused on the task at hand – letting the kids play.

In a long season of 43 games, Ewing pitched in 19 games and fired three no-hitters. That was his role. Last season the team won 35 and lost four, giving them a two year record of 76-6.

That’s a lot of games, but that’s how Ewing has wanted to spend his past two summers. Sports are for playing. Not watching.

“I like baseball the best of all the sports and I love to play,” said Ewing, who also plays soccer. “I like following the teams – especially the Yankees – and all of the players.”

Ryan Ewing delivers for the Willow Street Cardinals.