Monday, January 22, 2018
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Hempfield eliminates Mounts

Hempfield is back to where it had hoped to be all spring, back to where the Black Knights believe they belong:

The L-L League championship game.

Alec Miller pitched a complete game Tuesday night at chilly War Memorial Field and Hempfield scored four runs with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to down Ephrata, 5-1, in a semifinal that was much closer than the final score.

Michael Hernandez delivered the eventual game-winning hit — an RBI double with two outs that scored Chase Gilbert with the tiebreaking run. Jon Beck followed with a run-scoring single and two batters later Jon Peterson broke the game open with a two-run single to left-center field.

“We were fortunate to tack on runs in the seventh,” said Hempfield head coach Jeremy Morrison, who takes his team to its second straight title game, a 7 p.m. matchup Thursday night with AnnvilleCleona in Ephrata.

The Little Dutchmen rallied to trim Northern Lebanon, 5-4, Tuesday night at Wenger Field.

“We don’t know much about them,” said Morrison, who will seek to deliver the Knights’ ninth L-L title and first since 2008. “But we do know they have a very fine program.”

Hempfield handled A-C in last year’s league quarterfinals before eventually falling to Section Four champ Lancaster Catholic in the L-L final. Now the Section One runner-up Knights (13-9) face another Section Four champ in A-C (15-6).

“Last year was really tough,” said Hernandez, who had a couple of slick fielding plays at third base to go along with his game-winning hit. “We wanted to get back (to the title game).”

Along with Hernandez’s plays, Hempfield got another defensive gem in the seventh when center fielder Grant Oberholtzer ran down Colin Albright’s booming drive that appeared to be headed for the right-center gap.

“Grant made a very nice catch,” Morrison said.

Miller spent the rest of the early evening dueling fellow right-hander Austin Lowrey. That they matched each other pitch for pitch isn’t surprising considering their pregame numbers. Miller entered the game 5-1 with a 1.30 ERA; Lowrey was 4-0 with a 1.36.

“He threw great,” Miller said. “He kept us off balance.”

Miller did the same, mixing fastballs, curves and change-ups en route to scattering eight hits and striking out seven, including the final out of the night.

“He’s been really good for us all year,” said Hernandez. “He’s been keeping us in every game.”

Miller’s lone loss was a 2-1 decision to the Mountaineers on this same War Memorial turf on April 17.

“It gave me confidence,” he said of his prior outing against the Section Two champs. “I felt I could shut them down.”

Josh Gehman’s leadoff walk in the second and Anthony Embiscuso’s RBI single gave Ephrata (15-3) the early edge. Limited to two hits through five innings, the Knights tied it in the sixth when Tim Gailor reached on a two-base error with two outs and scored on Peterson’s single.

Gilbert, who reached base four times, ignited the Knights’ decisive rally in the seventh with a one-out single. Two batters later Derek Manning was hit by a pitch. Hernandez, who by his own admission has been struggling at the plate of late, broke out with an RBI double to left center. All five of Hempfield’s runs over the final two frames were scored with two outs.

“He’s been a spark for us all year,” Morrison said of Hernandez. “He’s a very competitive player, a gamer.”

Beck’s infield single off reliever Morgan Stauffer made it 3-1. Gailor walked and Peterson hammered a two-run drive to left-center. Miller took it from there. “Go out, pitch to contact and get them out,” the sophomore said of his strategy in the bottom of the seventh.

Miller did that, and now the Knights are back where they believe they belong.

“I’m very happy for the kids,” Morrison said. “It’s a great testament to them.”