Odd Fellows Clip Hempfield for New Era gold
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
If Lititz Odd Fellows coach Bill Weismandel has said it once to his team this summer, he’s probably said it a thousand times.
Keep your composure.
Never was that lesson more constructive than it was last Thursday night.
Playing Hempfield Black in the New Era Midget Tournament’s championship game last Thursday night at Clipper Magazine Stadium, the Odd Fellows’ defense had its back to the wall on multiple occasions.
Three times, Hempfield had the bases loaded with only one out.
But thanks to some tremendous defensive plays, the Odd Fellows survived unscathed.
"We preach to our pitchers," Weismandel said, "’Pitch to contact. We’ve got guys behind you who will make plays,’ and tonight was a perfect example of that."
By turning three double plays in the game, the Odd Fellows were able to keep it scoreless through five innings. Then in the top of the sixth, Luke Hackman scored when Hempfield first baseman Andrew Corso dropped Grant Zimmerman’s pop up behind first place, and that was the difference in Lititz bringing home the crown with a 1-0 victory in Lancaster.
It was the Odd Fellows’ third one-run win in three NET games. They also beat Manheim Township Black 3-2 in the quarter-finals and Bears Blue 2-1 in the semi-finals.
"We had our share of them this year, and it’s true (that good teams win close games)," Weismandel said, "because they know how to compose themselves, they know how to close it out, they know how to handle that pressure."
Lititz (17-4-1) was feeling some pressure in the bottom of the third – the first of three straight innings that Hempfield loaded the bases. Starting pitcher Chase Gilbert got out of it when first baseman Evan Havemann snagged Michael Hernandez’s line drive and fired across the diamond to third baseman Luke Mariano to double off base runner Tim Gailor.
Havemann again stepped up with a key play in the fourth, fielding Grant Oberholtzer’s squeeze bunt and throwing to catcher Justin Smith for a force out at the plate. Reliever Tim Griest then struck out Gailor looking to end the inning. Overall, Hempfield left 11 runners on base while managing just five hits in the game.
"Tim did an amazing job tonight," Zimmerman said. "He would walk some guys and then he’d just fight back. He would never give up."
"My defense did a great job behind me," Griest said. "They wouldn’t let anything get through the whole time."
Griest, while picking up the win in relief, tallied four K’s in four innings. But he also combined with Gilbert to issue eight walks. Three of those came in the sixth, as Griest lost command of the zone with one out. With no margin for error, Griest then coaxed Corso to hit a fly ball to right. Outfielder Luke Hackman settled under it, recorded the out and fired a strike to Smith, who put the tag on Derek Manning trying to score from third.
"I sorta had one eye on the ball and one eye on the runner," Hackman said. "And I just kinda let it fly. Bill (Weismandel) has always put the pressure on me to make a good throw and he always talks about having a game clock in your head. I knew I had (Manning) because he didn’t really get that good of a jump off of third."
Weismandel added, "Two things (were going through my mind). The first thing was, ‘I hope they send him because (Luke)’s got the best arm on the team.’ And the second thing was, ‘Luke, don’t throw the ball 20 feet over Justin’s head. Keep the ball down.’"
"Hack’s throw was absolutely perfect," Griest said. "He couldn’t have put it in a better spot. He had him by a bunch too."
With new life, the Odd Fellows brought their 9-1-2 hitters to the plate in the top of the sixth. Lititz mustered just six hits off of Hempfield lefty Jon Peterson – two of those by seven-hole hitter Matt Cover (2-for-3). But Hackman beat out an infield single up the middle with one out and pirated second base, even after Peterson appeared to have picked him off.
"Bill told me to go on first movement," Hackman said, "and as soon as I got going and I saw (shortstop) Timmy Gailor set up on the inside of the bag toward third base, I was just looking to slide outside."
"Once you’re picked," Weismandel said, "it doesn’t do any good at this level (to get in a rundown). You don’t survive a lot of pickels. You just go hard and hope you beat it."
After taking third base on a ground out, Hackman was 90 feet away when Zimmerman dug in against Peterson, Zimmerman, who delivered a key RBI double in Lititz’s semi-final win over Bears Blue, hit a pop up toward Corso. But Hempfield’s first baseman wasn’t able to handle it and Hackman crossed the plate with the go-ahead run.
"I thought there was no chance of it getting down," Zimmerman recalled. "But you’ve got to run it out all the time and with the lights sometimes, they can lose it, so just run it out and see what happens."
"I was crossing my fingers (Corso) would drop the ball," Hackman said. "And as soon as his glove went down and I saw the ball fall, I had a huge sigh of relief."
Hempfield had the potential tying run on base in the bottom of the seventh as Manning worked a one-out walk. But Griest got cleanup hitter Hernandez to pop out to shortstop Chase Martin, and then he whiffed catcher Jon Beck to end the game.
For many on the Odd Fellows’ roster, this marked their second New Era Tournament championship, having also won it with the 12U Warwick Phillies in 2009. That year, however, Hackman could only watch from the dugout while recovering from ACL surgery. Last Thursday, he was savoring every minute of the Odd Fellows’ championship win.
"It’s the best experience in the world," he said. "Nothing like it. Seeing the last pitch and having Tim come off the mound and us running in from the outfield is just a great scene to watch."
"It’s a pretty surreal feeling," Zimmerman said. "We play so well together and we truly earned this one."
Weismandel was among the last of the Odd Fellows to leave the Clipper Magazine Stadium field, and he tried to put the win into perspective.
"I just felt so happy for all the boys," he said. "For about half of them, this their second one. They got one at 12U, now they got one here at Midgets. Other guys got their first. I’m so happy for them and proud of them. It’s just a great accomplishment. Our whole travel organization and the coaches all put a lot of time in, and it just feels good for them to have the success."
Last Thursday, Michael Perezous’ two-out RBI single to left field in the bottom of the eighth drove in Matt Cover, boosting the Odd Fellows to a dramatic 2-1 win over Bears Blue in the semi-finals.
That made a winner of pitcher Thomas Elliot, who tossed a complete-game gem, allowing just one run on four hits while striking out four. Bears Blue hurler Tyler Rosepink suffered the tough-luck loss, yielding only two runs on four hits in 7 2/3 innings.
Lititz, in fact, had reached him for just one hit through six innings, but they scored the tying run in the bottom of the seventh. Hackman singled with one out, stole second and scored on Zimmerman’s RBI double.
It remained a 1-1 game going to the bottom of the eighth, when Cover led off with an infield single, went to second on Chase Martin’s sacrifice and scored the game-winning run on Perezous’ base hit.
More ODD FELLOWS, page B-3