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No decision in Legion battle
Ephrata and Penn Manor, the two finalists in last year’s American Legion District 10 final, took the field against each other for the first time in 2014 in Millersville on Tuesday night. The Post 429 squad from Ephrata, because of a home field targeted for reconstruction, was playing at the Comet’s home field and designated as the home team.
The two clubs battled each other and the 88 degree heat for 8½ innings, deadlocked at 1-1 before darkness set in. The game will be completed on July 7 at 5:30 p.m. before the regularly scheduled rematch between the two, with Ephrata coming to bat in the bottom of the ninth.
Penn Manor certainly had the greater number of opportunities, outhitting the Post 429ers 6-2 and stranding 14 runners including the bases loaded in the second, fourth and ninth innings.
Ephrata didn’t even get its first hit until the sixth, a bunt single by lead-off hitter Jake Terry. Terry Promptly stole second and tagged up and moved to third on a fly to right field by Ethan Sipe. Nate Baxter, a mid-game substitute then stroked a single over the shortstop’s head into left-center for a 1-0 Ephrata lead.
Down to its last at-bat, the Comets’ Collin Whiteside led off the seventh with a double to deep right field. Whiteside moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Ephrata’s third error of the game. At this point Ephrata skipper Derek Sipe brought reliever Seth Griffith into the game. Griffith got out of the inning by snaring an ankle high liner and firing to first to complete the double play.
The starting pitchers certainly did their jobs in this tug of war. 429er Austin Lowrey struck out six while walking only two and giving up six hits over six plus innings. Penn Manor starter Jacob Herr was one step better, giving up no hits while only walking one. He was relieved by Grant Gale after five innings. Herr threw an economical 59 pitches while Lowrey worked out of trouble several times and threw 98 pitches.
Several outstanding defensive plays kept the game scoreless through five and locked at 1-1 into the third extra frame. Ephrata’s Terry made a diving catch in left field for the first out in the fourth. In that same half inning, shortstop Jarred Martin went deep in the hole to snare a ground ball and keep the Comets off the board. In the fifth, first baseman Brandon Schwark dug an errant throw out of the dirt to complete a put-out.
Ephrata threatened to put the game away in the bottom of the eighth when lead-off hitter Terry was hit by a pitch and Martin drew a walk. Catcher Colin Albright lifted the fans off their seats with a blast down the left field line. Albright just got under the Gale fastball, but the put-out allowed Terry to move up to third. The fans thought the game was over when the next hitter (RBI hero from the sixth inning, Baxter) hit a cue shot toward third base and Terry crossed the plate. But the ball was snagged by the Comet third baseman before it hit the ground. He strolled over to third, touching the bag, and completing the double play which ended the inning..
Ephrata came into the contest at 4-0 in District 10 play and 8-1 overall. Penn Manor is 7-1 with no additional non-league games. Marrietta, at 8-1, currently sits atop the league. Including the completion of the Ephrata-Penn Manor game, all of the three front-runners play each other twice. The 429ers have 12 games remaining in the next 18 days while the Comets have eight.
Ephrata Coach Derek Sipe talked about one of the advantages that Ephrata has had over the past 8-10 years.
“We only have three Double-Roster players (Those playing for both the Midget and Legion teams).” “Due to the success of both the High School and Legion teams, we do not lose as many players to travel and “elite” teams.”
Comet Manager Jim Zander, who has coached both Penn Manor’s High School and Legion teams for the past 15 years, does not have the same luxury. “We weren’t sure at the beginning of the year, if we were even going to have a team this year. We have six double-roster players and two playing for travel teams. Four of this year’s High School seniors decided not to play this summer.”
Both programs have been very successful at both the high school and legion levels. Zander talked about the advantages of overseeing both teams.
“It makes it easier to continue the philosophy of the high school program,” Zander said. “We hope to develop players over the summer and fall for the school season in the spring, which is the most important of the three.”
Sipe, who is the head JV coach in the spring for Ephrata, agreed.
“This is why we try to schedule as many non-league games as we do,” he said. “We want to give the pitchers enough work in the summer to prepare them for the following spring.”
The next three weeks will provide a lot of action as the three front-runners as well as the other seven District ten teams battling for position in the six team playoff format. Both Sipe and Zander have had conversations with their coaching staffs about the importance of finishing in the top two, getting a bye, and avoiding the single elimination of the first round.
In addition to Tuesday’s District 10 contest, Ephrata split a pair of non-league games this past weekend in the Philadelphia area.
On Saturday vs. Falls, Ephrata scored nine runs over the final two frames to pull away and clinch a 10-1 victory.
Terry and Josh Gehman both had a pair of hits to lead the eight-hit Ephrata attack. On the mound, Morgan Stauffer pitched six strong innings, allowing just three hits with a pair of strikeouts to earn the win.
On Sunday, the Post 429ers were dealt their first loss of the season in a 2-0 decision vs. South Brunswick (NJ).
South Brunswick scratched across a run in the top of the fourth before adding an insurance tally in the sixth.
The loss ruined a solid outing from Ephrata starter Nate Baxter, who scattered six hits with three strikeouts.
Offensively, Ephrata was held to just three hits as Schwark went 2-for-4 to lead the way.