Clutch defense boosts Lititz in New Era quarters
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
Chase Martin’s throw from shortstop had to be right on the money.
Justin Smith’s block at the plate had to be perfect.
If either one of them weren’t, then Manheim Township Black would have scored the tying run in the top of the sixth inning.
As it was, both Martin and Smith executed to cut down Township courtesy runner Tyler Russell in a bang-bang play, and the Lititz Odd Fellows held on for a 3-2 win in the New Era Midget Tournament quarter-finals on Tuesday night at Lancaster Clipper Magazine Stadium.
With the victory, the Odd Fellows (12-3-1) advanced to Wednesday’s semi-finals against Bears Blue (10-6), a 5-4 winner over Solanco Gray in eight innings. That game will be the nightcap of a doubleheader, in which Strasburg-Willow Street will face Hempfield in the opener. The semi-final winners will advance to the championship game, which is set for tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. back at Clipper Stadium.
"It’s great (to be going to the semi-finals)," Smith said. "This is the furthest I’ve gotten in the New Era so far, so I’m very excited."
Certainly, Smith’s play at the plate had a lot to do with Lititz getting to this point.
With the Odd Fellows up 3-1 going to the top of the sixth, Township started the inning by loading the bases on Jack Hankin’s single to left, a Lititz fielding error on Matt Shatto’s grounder, and Brett Alaimo’s base hit to left. After Justin Kilpatrick hit an RBI grounder to third, Tommy Smeltz followed with a comebacker. Odd Fellows’ pitcher Drew Keller looked Russell back at third and then threw to first for the putout. On the play, Alaimo strayed off second base, but he beat a throw from Lititz first baseman Tim Griest back to the bag. In the meantime, though, Russell broke for the plate, and Martin responded with a strike to Smith.
"I did have to block him, but I got the ball pretty soon after I blocked him, so it was a good throw," Smith recalled. "It was a perfect throw right where I needed it."
"(Chase) is the one kid you want with the ball when you need a heads-up play, and he made it," Weismandel said. "He threw a strike and J was right there where he needed to be. Sometimes in a close game, you’ve got to have that big play and make less mistakes than the other team."
Smith, in turn, made a perfect throw of his own in the top of the seventh, nailing speedy Ian Eriksson, who was attempting to get into scoring position after a one-out infield single.
"Throwing out Eriksson in the seventh was huge," Lititz skipper Bill Weismandel said. "That kid can fly. You can’t make a better throw than that and that’s what you need to get Eriksson."
One pitch later, Keller got Tyler Angermier on a game-ending flyout to center, putting a bow on his complete-game victory. Keller allowed just two runs on six hits, while striking out five and walking one on 104 pitches.
"I figured if (Drew) could get the first out (in the seventh), I’d stick with him," Weismandel said. "If that first guy would have got on, I probably would have made the switch. But he was doing well. It was his game at that point."
Keller certainly did well to minimize the damage after Manheim Township (9-7) loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning. Kyle Heckman’s RBI fielder’s choice gave MT a 1-0 lead, but that was all they managed off Keller.
"(Drew)’s just a bulldog when he gets in those situations," Weismandel said. "You need that."
Township lefty Aidan Zimmerman, too, was a bulldog through the first two innings, but Lititz finally reached him in the third. Michael Perezous had a one-out single to right-center, Luke Mariano worked a four-pitch walk, and Luke Hackman (2-for-2, walk) delivered an RBI single to left field. Cole Hoffman’s error in left field allowed two Lititz base runners to get into scoring position, but Zimmerman pitched out of it with back-to-back K’s.
He went on to retire five straight Lititz batters before losing command of the strike zone to start the bottom of the fifth inning. Keller and Griest earned leadoff walks and advanced into scoring position on Perezous’ sacrifice. Mariano’s RBI ground out drove in courtesy runner Thomas Elliot with the go-ahead run and then Hackman received an intentional free pass. From there, Tyler Martin and Chase Gilbert walked on 10 pitches to force in Griest with another run before reliever Hoffman finally put out the fire.
Although Lititz managed only four hits in the game, Zimmerman walked six and took the loss with 95 pitches in 4@-E innings.
"About the second or third inning, I just had the sense that it was going to be a 2-1, 3-2 kind of game," Weismandel said, "Sometimes, you’ve just got to take advantage when a pitcher loses a little bit of control. We constantly preach to our guys, ‘Don’t get yourselves out.’ And they did a good job through that inning when we got ahead where they took some walks. Instead of chasing pitches, they let him put us on base and scored a couple of runs."
That turned out to be just enough for Keller. Of course it didn’t hurt getting some help from Martin and Smith in the final two innings.
"It’s the same thing everybody says, ‘Pitching and defense keeps you in games.’ So if you play good defense and you pitch well, you don’t have to score a lot of runs," Weismandel said. "In this tournament, as level as the playing field is, I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of blowouts. So the games should be tight and I think they will be."
More ODD FELLOWS, page B-3