Willow Street, Hempfield reach quarterfinals

Shawn Wettig

By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent

After a rough initial foray into the New Era Tournament, Lanco League teams have had their way in the midget division over the last three seasons.

That held true Tuesday night at Manheim Township High School as the Midgets kicked off the 50th New Era Tournament.

Willow Street, last year’s runnerup, and Hempfield, half of the four-team Lanco League contingent, advanced to Saturday’s quarterfinals with 12-4 victories.

Those victories came at the expense of Metro League champions West End and the Lancaster Township Orioles respectively.

Brian Bowen (2-for-3, 2 RBI), Seth Rife (3-for-3, 3 RBI) and Scott Harsh (2-for-2, 3 RBI) paced Willow Street (17-6-1) in the opener and Harsh picked up the win in relief of starter Curt Miller.

A reliever got the decision in the nightcap for Hempfield (26-6-1) as Trevor Seachrist came on for injured starter Shawn Wettig.

Seachrist, who gave up four hits an one earned run in eight outs of work, made it a perfect evening going 2-for-2 at the plate with two RBI and two runs scored to pace a balanced attack.

Willow Street hit the ball hard in the early going as Bowen smoked RBI triples to the fence in both left center and right center and Fred Ruiz drilled an RBI triple to left.

But what ultimately undid West End (22-4) was a confounding series of bloops, chinks and bleeders in a pair of four-run innings.

Ruiz’s third-inning triple turned out to be the game-winning hit, giving Willow Street a 3-2 lead, and Harsh followed with an RBI single past third.

West End starter Andy Zook almost saw his way out of the inning with back-to-back strikeouts, but Rife flared a two-run single behind second base.

It was more lightning-and-love tap in the fourth as Bowen hit his second RBI triple, then Harsh squibbed the ball past the drawn in infield at third.

Nick Leidy bat-handled a base hit behind second to extend the inning and J.P. Bachman poked a hit past third followed by Rife who blooped a hit to shallow center field.

“Some of those hits were…. a hit’s a hit. We all hit,” shrugged Bowen, who sparked Lampeter-Strasburg during the high school season as the Pioneer’s lead-off hitter.

When asked about the “cheap” hits West End coach Jim Zander said, “They probably couldn’t have thrown it out there any better than they did. (But) they hit some shots too.”

In all Willow Street had 12 hits leading coach Don Frank to note it was, “About the best hitting game we’ve had in a long time. I’ve been on the receiving end of that (bloop hits) in a couple of games. I’m appreciative of getting them.”

Until their sticks gave them breathing room, Willow Street was in a game. Taking advantage of Miller’s wildness, West End had pulled even at two a piece, but Harsh came on with one out in the third, a run in a two on and slammed the door.

He struck out the side to avoid further damage and went on to strike out 10. His only trouble was in the sixth when he surrendered his only walk of the night – to Eli Cox – and Barry Eves followed by launching an 0-2 inside fastball over the left field fence.

It was the first time in the New Era for the Orioles (14-4) and it showed. LT played give-and-take with Hempfield. The more LT gave, the more Hempfield took.

“Errors, errors upon errors,” lamented O’s coach Harry Urban. “It’s the first time these guys have been here, they were a little excited and I think it just ran off with them.”

LT out-hit Hempfield 10 to 9, paced by Chaz Chambers’s 3-for-4 night, but Hempfield took advantage of five physical errors and eight walks.

The closest LT came was 4-2 after a 2-run third, and even then running into two outs cost the Orioles a chance to take the lead.

Hempfield answered with a three-spot and kept the pressure on in what coach Ken Gerber called, “A good, all-around effort. Nobody was “The Man’, ” he noted. “Everybody chipped in.”

Gerber managed to get all 18 of his players in the game and 12 contributed to the offense.
“Overall I’m glad we got work for everybody, especially our young pitchers,” he said.
Hempfield got to the Midget semis last year in its first appearance, losing to eventual champion Mountville. Gerber only has four players back from that squad, and he notes, “We’re young and we have to be patient with them.”

He’ll get another opportunity Saturday when Hempfield faces the lone Metro League team left in the tournament , 8th Ward. Meanwhile Willow Street will be paired with Reamstown, making its third straight New Era appearance.

Scott Harsh