It was a wild summer for the Bears Blue baseball team, with plenty of ups and downs. However, despite a great effort to get there, the team’s season ended the same way it did in 2017: with a loss to SWS in the quarterfinals of the LNP Tournament.
After being delayed three days by inclement weather, Bears Blue finally faced the Lancaster school team on Thursday, July 26, in the regular season finale for the Lancaster County Midget Baseball League. Both teams were scoreless through the first two innings before Lancaster struck first in the third off the back of Evan Proulx, who singled, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and finally came home on a sacrifice grounder from Noah Raymond.
Bears Blue responded by blitzing Lancaster in the bottom half of the inning, scoring 10 runs and forcing the opposition to use three pitchers. As a whole, Lancaster’s pitchers walked 5 batters and allowed 6 singles. Two of the walks came with the bases loaded to bring home a pair of runs for Bears Blue. Cole Livingston scored twice in the inning as well.
In the bottom of the fourth, Livingston singled in Hunter Stewart and later came home alongside Aidan Masters on a hit from Kyle Welch. Nick Kreider later scored on a wild pitch to put the score at 14-1. Lancaster failed to produce any offense in the top of the fifth, so the game ended early via the mercy rule.
Livingston reached the bases in all four of his atbats, singling three times and walking on the other. He led all players with 3 runs. Nick Kreider did the opposite, walking three times and getting a single. Both he and Aidan Masters scored twice.
The remaining runs were split between Welch, Stewart, Michael Baker, Josh Kreider, Jake Black, Cole Hitz and Zach Malone. Four players had at least 2 RBIs for Bears Blue: Livingston, Welch, Nick Kreider and Josh Kreider. Cole Patrick drew the start at pitcher, lasting all five innings and allowing just 3 hits and a run. He also struck out 5 batters.
Lancaster’s three hits came from Proulx, Dylan Esh and Alex Polito. Alex Dominguez began the game on the mound before exiting in the third. With the win, Bears Blue finished the regular season with a record of 12-6, earning the No. 7 seed for the LNP Tournament.
They would face the Lancaster Tornadoes community team, who earned a spot in the playoffs by beating Penn Manor in the community league finals, in one of the two qualifying games on Friday, July 27, at War Memorial Field in Ephrata. The two teams had to wait until after 9 p.m. to play due to rain delaying the prior qualifying game between Conestoga Valley and the Lancaster school team.
The Tornadoes started the contest off with a bang, as A.J. De Los Santos nailed a triple to the right-centerfield fence. A bunt attempt by Alex Vine saw De Los Santos get tagged out between third and home, however, though Vine took the opportunity to scamper to second. That paid off, as he then advanced to third on a Darrion Ngumo groundout and finally came in on a wild pitch for the game’s first run.
Bears Blue was able to tie the game in the second when Aidan Masters walked with the bases loaded to score Baker. Tyler Masters hit a clutch two-out double in the third to plate Welch and courtesy runner Cael Brandt, later coming home on an infield single from Westin Kolaric. Kolaric then stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and came home on a balk to put the score at 5-1.
In the fourth, Malone came in on a wild pitch for another run. Tyler Masters got another RBI on a sacrifice fly to bring home Welch, who later tripled in the fifth to plate, plating Livingston and Nick Kreider, and scored on another wild pitch, giving Bears Blue a 10-1 lead. The Tornadoes would get a run in the top of the seventh after Elam Santana doubled and came home off an error, but it was too little, too late at that point, as Bears Blue came away with a 10-2 victory.
Welch got on base in each of his four at-bats, getting a walk and 2 hit-by-pitches along with his triple. He had a game-high 3 runs as well. Tyler Masters led all players with 3 RBIs, with Welch right behind him at 2. Kolaric was the lone player in the game with more than one hit. Malone scored twice, with Livingston, Baker, Brandt, Kolaric and Tyler Masters also scoring. Nick Kreider got his fourth start of the season on the mound, getting 5 strikeouts and allowing 5 walks, 2 hits and 2 runs in 6 2/3 innings before exiting in favor of Baker, who got the final out.
De Los Santos started at pitcher for the Tornadoes, turning in an uneven outing in 2 2/3 innings. He struck out 6 Bears Blue batters, but also allowed 6 walks, 3 hits and 5 runs before leaving in favor of Xavian Padilla, who pitched until the fifth when Vine took over. De Los Santos and Santana shared the two hits on offense.
The win allowed the team to move onto the LNP Tournament quarterfinals against SWS of Lampeter-Strasburg at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster on Tuesday, July 31. Bears Blue struck early in the top of the first after Livingston walked and eventually came home on an RBI double from Hunter Murry. The game stayed at 1-0 for the rest of the early portion, with both teams getting out of jams numerous times. Murry notably tagged Derek Eckman of SWS out at home plate following a steal of third and the ball ricocheting into foul territory on the throw.
SWS finally came to life in the bottom of the fourth. Nevin Book led off with a single and immediately came in on a double from Joseph Meck, who later was caught between third and home on a fielder’s choice. However, Taso Kovak was able to get to second on the play, and pinch runner Ethan Hackman eventually scored on an RBI single from Aaron Snyder, who then was hit home on a double from Dylan Byler, giving SWS a 3-1 lead.
Bears Blue fought back, tying the game in the sixth off an RBI double from Jake Black that scored Brandt, as well as a two-out single from Aidan Masters to bring home Tyler Souders. The game stayed tied at 3 all heading into the final inning after Baker, who came on as a relief pitcher for Nick Kreider, escaped a bases-loaded scenario with no outs by throwing a strikeout and forcing a double play.
“Obviously that’s not our game plan, but we’ve been talking a lot this summer, especially with a younger team, about just not losing your head,” head coach Bill Templin said. “You’ve got to play it cool. We’ve been in these situations before. Now it’s just a matter of executing, and that comes with experience. I thought we did a really good job tonight.”
Murry nailed another double with two outs in the top of the seventh, but Bears Blue could not bring him home. Kovak then led off the bottom frame with a single, and with one out and the bases loaded, scored the game-winning run off a sacrifice fly from Connor Blantz, giving SWS a 4-3 win and a berth in the semifinals against Hempfield Black, who beat Solanco Gray 6-4 in the final quarterfinal matchup on the same night.
“(Our game plan) was to not let the run score,”Templin said. “We brought our infield up there with one out after the strikeout. That kid did his job on that fly ball to centerfield. They
made one more play than we did tonight. We had our chances. We had guys on early in the game. If we (capitalize) on that, we’re in a good spot. Again, this is a young team. They’re gonna play a lot of baseball together, so I’m excited to see what we can do next spring with these guys. This will be a great experience for them. They’ll be able to look back and draw from this, and next spring, when things get tight, they can do the same thing they did today: Just keep fighting.”
Nick Kreider went 5 innings on the mound, allowing 7 hits, 3 walks and 3 runs. He had 2 strikeouts. Baker pitched the rest of the game, yielding 5 hits and the gamewinner, also striking out 2 batters. Murry led all players at the plate, going a perfect 4-for-4, including the two previously mentioned doubles. He, Aidan Masters and Jake Black each had an RBI, while Livingston, Brandt and Souders shared the 3 runs.
Byler started the game at pitcher for SWS, leaving before the sixth after injuring himself on his fifth-inning RBI double. He allowed 4 hits, 3 walks and no runs, striking out 3 batters. Bradeon Karpathios replaced him for the remainder of the game, allowing 4 hits of his own and the 3 Bears Blue runs, but also getting 4 strikeouts. On offense, Byler and Eckman each had 2 hits to lead the team, with the RBIs going to Byler, Meck, Snyder and Blantz. Kopak had a game-high 2 runs, with Book and Snyder getting the other two.
Bears Blue finishes the summer with a record of 13-7. They looked very solid overall, especially in their victories, but they also have plenty of work to do in the winter before the high school season begins in the spring.
“We’ve got to work on bunting,” Templin said with a chuckle. “But I think it was great that the older kids were all here and were able to mentor these younger kids. Now the kids who are gonna be sophomores next season basically got to spend a season with a bunch of seniors, so they know how it’s done, they know what to expect and they know how fast the game can be. Hopefully, they’ll use that and keep improving at the JV level next year and right into next summer.”