By Dave Byrne
New Era Correspondent
It’s a story as old as sport itself. The veteran against the rookie, winner take all.
In their first New Era Tournament Midget-Midget appearance since 1992 the Warwick Phillies will play the Willow Street Cardinals for the M-M championship next Tuesday in Mount Joy at 6:15 p.m.
Timely hitting and baserunning spurred the Phillies (15-6) past Susquehanna League rival Mount Joy Blue, 3-2, in the opener of a semifinal doubleheader at Kunkle Field. It was Warwick’s first win over Blue this year in three tries.
In the nightcap, for the fifth time this season the Cardinals (40-2) defeated the Manheim Township Royals, this time 13-3.
Over the past two years the Cardinals have been the standard against which other midget-midget baseball teams are measured in Lancaster County.
Go 75-6 over two seasons, as coach Steve Ewing’s team has done, and you gain the respect, grudging and genuine, of your peers.
However, a quarterfinal flameout last year denied the Cardinals that which would certify their place in history, a New Era tournament championship.
They’ve pursued that goal with renewed vigor this year and with that five-letter word: F-O-C-U-S.
“We felt we had the team to do it last year and we came in not quite focused on the first game, “Ewing said, remembering a 5-3 first-round loss to Hempfield Black. “This year we came to play it one inning and one game at a time.”
There’s a visible sense of purpose to this team, but Ewing says it’s not coach-imposed. “These kids have worked as hard as any team I’ve ever coached. They realize that there is one more game to go.
“I think it’s more important (winning the New Era Tournament ) to the kids than it is to the coaches. We’re trying to keep it in perspective.” Which would explain why starter Adam Devlin was yanked after two innings while holding a 7-3 lead.
Okay, in fairness Devlin had given back three runs of a 7-0 lead on two hits and three walks in the second inning and his releif, Ryan Ewing, the other half of the Cards’ pitching hammer, gave up one hit over four shutout innings, walking two and striking out seven.
“We have two great pitchers and Manheim Township is a quality team,” Ewing explained. “One thing we decided early is that regardless of who started, if he struggled we were not going to hesitate to go to the other guy.”
While Devlin’s mound time may have been short, his bat time was long… and profitable.
The son of L-S baseball coach Hank Devlin, Adam ripped a bases-loaded triple over the outstretched glove of Royals’ second baseman Chad Sweigart in the Cards’ seven-run second inning.
With two on in the fourth inning he once again tripled in front of a diving Donnie Henry in center field, giving him five RBIs for the evening and the Cards an 11-3 lead.
“He’s been a leader, everything you could ask for in a cleanup hitter,” said Ewing of the youngster who played in Strasburg last year. “He’s been around baseball his whole life and he transcends that to the rest of the team.”
In other outings against Willow Street the Royals (15-11) lost by the 10-run rule, gave one away and lost a nail-biter. The last thing they wanted to do was let Willow Street get the jump.
“We hoped to give them a run for the money,” Royals’ coach Jeff Sweigart said, “but seven runs took us out of it. You try to come back from there, but the odds are against you.”
The odds may have seemed against Warwick in the nightcap. After all, Blue (26-6) owned 7-1 and 8-1 verdicts over the Phillies. Not that it bothered Phils’ coach Mike Brenner.
“We thought if we got three chances at a team in one year we had a good shot at winning at least one,” Brenner said. “And that’s the way it worked out.”
But it was never easy. Blue broke on top in the third as Ryan Storm worked a two-out walk from winning pitcher Mike Berkey, was balked to second and stole third and home.
Trailing 3-1, Storm worked another two-out walk in the fifth, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Chris Heisey, who got both of Blue’s hits.
Down a run and taking their last bats, Blue got life when Dan Myers reached on a one-out error and took second on a wild pitch.
He stole third and with a 3-2 count on Jon Felix, burst for home as coach Jerry Hess put on the suicide squeeze.
Berkey ran the pitch away from Felix who struck out trying to bunt and catcher Steve Beard put the tag on Myers setting off pandemonium in the Warwick dugout.
“Jonny’s one of our best bunters,” Hess said. “You have to go with your players, you know.”
“They (Blue) are a great baserunning team and they’ve stolen runs all year,” Brenner said with admiration. “This time it just didn’t work.”
After a flirtation with bad luck, things worked for the Phils. Justin Reese made a great shoestring catch on Berkey’s two-on, two-out liner to right to keep Warwick off the board.
Fortune did a 180 for the Phils the next inning as Nate Jones led off the fourth with a bad hop single and Andrew Turner popped a single to left.
Joey Brenner’s hit to right plated Jones with Turner taking third. Brenner stole second and both runners advanced, Turner scoring, on a wild pitch. Brenner then came in with the third run on a passed ball.
“It was a good way to get started,” coach Brenner said. “To be successful we need to put the ball in play and take the extra base when we get a chance.”
They’ll need to do that and then some next Tuesday if they plan to make some history of their own rather than be someone else’s footnote.