Lions overcome 0-6 start to make LNP Tourney field

By on July 27, 2016
Ephrata’s Dylan Embiscuso (left) puts the tag on the runner during a recent midget league game. Photo by Stan Hall.

Ephrata’s Dylan Embiscuso (left) puts the tag on the runner during a recent midget league game. Photo by Stan Hall.

The Ephrata Lions midget baseball team got off to a rocky start this season. In fact, the Lions, coached by first-year head man Matt Herbener, lost their first six games and appeared dead in the water.

But just when it looked like it was a lost season, a funny thing happened&tstr;they started winning.

Just like that.

On July 2, they finally got in the win column with a 4-2 win over Lancaster. They carried that momentum into the next game and the next. And suddenly, Ephrata won six in-a-row and went 7-1 over the final eight ball games.

And on the final night of the Lancaster County Midget League season, the Lions, once left for dead, qualified for the LNP Tournament, which begins this week.

Ephrata (7-7) will face third-seeded Bears Blue (13-1) Friday night (5:15 p.m.) at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster in the LNP opener.

“There were a number of reasons (for the poor start),” Herbener said Tuesday. “I think some of it was just a learning process that had to do with me being a first-year coach. I’m only 21 and they are 16 so there’s not that big of an age difference so I think some of it was an adjustment getting used to each other. And some of it was we had a ton of guys that happened to be on vacation in the beginning of the year. Some of it just came down to the fact that we had a tough schedule in the beginning. We played a lot of the top teams in the first two weeks, so that didn’t help. And with the high school team having the success it had, we were like three or four games behind every one. We just had to kind of jump right into it.”

After suffering an 8-0 loss to Lititz to fall to 0-6, Ephrata finally got that badly needed win over Lancaster, and the confidence grew.

“We got that one win and some guys just started gaining confidence hitting-wise,” he said. “That was our biggest issue early. Our pitching and defense has been good all season but we just didn’t hit in the beginning. I think once guys got a few hits to drop, we just started to get hot as a team. And as much as hitting can be contagious, not hitting can be contagious as well and that’s what was happening at the beginning of the year. But then we got a few key hits, a few balls to drop and the kids gained the confidence and things really turned around quickly.”

Last Wednesday, Ephrata officially punched its ticket when the Lions defeated Pequea Valley 11-7 in the regular season finale.

Then it was time to celebrate.

“The guys were really excited,” Herbener said. “I know halfway through the season, after we started 0-6, we had a pretty lengthy talk. As a coaching staff we just wanted to let them know we were not giving up on the season. We said at the time that playoffs are still in the picture but we pretty much had to win out. And then we won one, then won two and then three…it just kind of kept piling on and you could just see the team getting more excited and more engaged. The kids were having more fun once the winning streak kept going. I think for them it was just a huge accomplishment to be able to start 0-6 and have some really bad losses but then turn it around like that and finish 7-1…it was almost like two different seasons. All the credit to the players for sticking with it.”

Now they’ll have a chance to play post-season ball and have the opportunity to avenge a 9-5 loss to Bears Blue suffered during that early losing streak.

“I know our team is confident it’s a team we can beat,” Herbener said. “I know they are 13-1 but our guys right now…we are a completely different team from when we played them the first time and what we are now. Back then guys just didn’t have the confidence coming to the plate. Now, just the mentality is so different. I think just confidence-wise, we are way better and I think it’s really going to help us in the game. I know these guys aren’t satisfied with just getting there. They really want to win. We have pretty high expectations. The guys are expecting to win and I know I’m going in expecting to win. Hopefully we can pull out a ‘W.’”

The winner of Friday’s first-round match-up will move on to Monday’s semifinals. They’ll play the second game of a doubleheader at Clipper Magazine Stadium against the winner of the first-round match-up between Lititz and Solanco.

The finals will be held next Tuesday, 7 p.m. back at the Clip.

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Cocalico also had a chance to qualify for the LNP Tournament after finishing 7-7 and taking the last playoff spot in the School League. Cocalico faced Bears White, the Community League champion, in a one-game play-in contest Tuesday night.

Unfortunately, those results were unavailable at press time.

The winner of Tuesday’s game will advance to play top-seeded Manheim Thursday night at 5:15 p.m. at Clipper Magazine Stadium.

 

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