New Era Correspondent
Two years ago they were known as the Cardiac Cardinals and their late-inning, come-from-behind victory in the Midget-Midget championship game of the New Era Tournament put an exclamation point on a breathtaking season.
This year, their second as junior-midgets, the Strasburg/Willow Street White Sox have been demolition experts, blending lightning and lumber for 36 victories. Few of the games were close.
Monday night, at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field, the Sox revisited those madcap, midget-midget days in their J-M title game. They survived a seventh-inning nailbiter to defeat Hempfield Black 2-1 and claim the division crown.
“I looked over to my coaches and said I didn’t know if there could be another Cardiac Cardinals,” said Dan Herr with a laugh after finishing his fourth year as their manager.
“It was very exciting to have a one-run game. We played them twice before and ten-runned them two games. I think the fans enjoyed (this) a lot more.”
If there was an MVP award given in this division, it would’ve gone home with Sheldon Witmer. He dominated with both his pitching and his hitting.
On the mound he worked 18 innings, allowing eight hits and four earned runs. His walk total (12) might’ve been a little high, but he struck out 27.
At the plate he had six hits in ten tournament at-bats. Four of the six hits were home runs — he had 12 this season — and he scored six runs and drove in five.
The Sox (37-5) hit seven homers in the tournament , and Witmer put SWS on the board Monday night with a first-inning dinger. And yet, on a team of sluggers and bangers, the penultimate blow was struck by a neophyte, a stranger to the art of going yard.
Mark Zubrick’s fifth-inning homer proved the difference in the game.
“It’s my first one I ever hit,” he said proudly. “I just thought I was helping the team out with a nice hit. It ended up that it was the game-winner.”
Looking for a fastball, Zurbrick got one out and away and put the bat on it. The ball sliced toward the rightfield corner and as Zurbrick ran toward first he was happy to see the ball clear the fence at the foul line.
“I was hoping it would go over,” he said. “The last game I hit one off the top of the fence for a double), at about the same spot. It felt good to actually get it over this time. All my hard work had finally paid off.”
It was the second of two pitches, out of 98, that Hempfield righthander Phil Harnick probably wishes he could have back. Witmer slammed the other — a 2-1 offering that was away, but up — over the fence in left field.
“It was a hanging curveball,” Witmer said. “I just kind of went with it and took it the other way.”
“Those were not mistakes, because Phil threw them where he wanted to throw them,” said Harnick’s coach, Bryan Dornes. “The second one was high and outside and (Zurbrick) kind of tomahawked it a little bit.
“If Phil’s not throwing 75-80 miles and hour, that ball doesn’t go out,” Dornes said. “My hat’s off to them. They hit the ball and they cleared the fences when they had to.”
Harnick pitched well enough to win. In fact, his efforts slightly overshadowed Witmer’s in the tournament . He yielded only three earned runs in 18 innings on eight hits and seven walks, and he struck out 39 batters.
But the best he could do Monday was keep Black (26-6) close as Witmer stymied Hempfield at nearly every turn. Black stranded two runners in the first on an error and a walk and lost a golden opportunity in the second inning.
Zach Morgan walked to lead off the inning but was doubled off first when Jeff Bianchi caught Keith Unton’s liner at his shoetops. Patrick Blair followed with a hit to right and took second on an error on Doug Fisher’s grounder.
Before Geoff Dornes could take a swing at a pitch, Blair drifted far off second base. Bianchi slipped in behind him, Witmer turned and fired, and Blair was picked off to end the inning.
Witmer settled in over the next four innings, allowing three baserunners — Dornes on a walk and Kyle Enoch on a single and a walk. Unton walked to lead off the seventh and pulled into third when pinch-hitter J.T. King ripped a one-out double to the fence in left-center.
Unton scored on a groundout to first by Dornes, sending pinch-runner Alex Puskar to third. It fell to Drew Kise to keep the game going.
Kise had hit the ball hard three times — flying to center, lining to short and grounding to second. He fell behind 0-2, then fouled off a nasty inside pitch from Witmer, before taking a ball.
“I knew I had that guy on third, but you just have to bear down and deal with what you’ve got,” Witmer said. “When you’re worrying about the guy on third, you’re not throwing strikes, and the next thing you know the bases are loaded.”
Witmer had been getting outs all night on a curveball that broke late and low and, despite the threat of a wild pitch/passed ball, he wasn’t afraid to throw the curve.
“(Chris) Shehan’s a great catcher,” said Witmer. “He’s the best out there and there aren’t too many balls that get by him. I can trust him. I throw what I throw, and he deals with it back there.”
Kise swung through the bender then lit out for first as Shehan, momentarily handcuffed, dropped the ball. He quickly recovered and threw to Ryan Visneski at first, triggering a celebration.
For Bianchi, along with Shehan and Dominic Lombardo, it was a sweet turnabout after losing last year’s J-M championship game.
“After a 2-1 loss last year, a 2-1 win this year makes it so much better,” Bianchi said.
Witmer was also the workhorse of the ’99 M-M championship team, but he allowed that this year, “Feels better. I like this group of guys. This is the year to do it.”
That’s largely because this was Witmer’s last year to play in the SWS program. He lives on the Penn Manor side of Willow Street and will play his baseball for the Comets from here out.
“I’m gone,” he said. “This is a great group of guys. But, I’ll enjoy it over there.”