LANCASTER-LEBANON LEAGUE BASEBALL 2013
A real page-turner L-L teams poised for intriguing season BY ED GRUVER, Sports Writer
This edition of Lancaster-Lebanon League baseball looks to have more plot twists than a John Grisham novel.
n Almost one-third of the league's 24 teams -- seven, to be exact -- will operate under a new skipper.
n For the first time in a long time, the L-L will be minus the managerial talents of Annville-Cleona's Mike Capriotti, Lampeter-Strasburg's Todd Garber, Hempfield's Jack Merrifield and Cedar Crest's Chris Groff, who combined had a century of coaching experience.
n Last spring, it was a Braves new world in L-L baseball. One year after winning its first league title, Pequea Valley gears up for a new season of challenges.
n A year after the first All-Section Four L-L championship game, runner-up Lancaster Catholic, keyed by returning all-state stars Mac McCafferty and Bryan Haberstroh, looks to return to the league's biggest stage.
n McCaskey's stock rose sharply last spring, in sharp contrast to Manheim Township, a perennial power which finished last in Section One just two seasons after being a state semifinalist.
n There's Ephrata, which won its sixth Section Two title in nine seasons and is making the celebratory storming of the field a rite of spring.
n And, there's an L-L schedule that has each of the section champions and runners-up going head-to-head in today's league openers.
There's more, of course, but we'll start with the attrition that has resulted in numerous new coaches, including Jeremy Morrison and Keith Martin, who have taken over two of the L-L's more prominent programs in reigning section champions Hempfield and L-S, respectively.
Jack Merrifield, who resigned at the end of last season, spent 35 seasons with the team, the last six as skipper. Last season, Hempfield won Section One and advanced to the league semis and district quarterfinals. At season's end, Hempfield placed a program-best three players -- pitcher Derek Totaro, infielder John Wilt and outfielder Nick Yarnall -- on the Class AAAA All-State squad.
One of those three -- Yarnall, who hit .446 last season -- returns to help fuel a team that boasts talent and experience.
"We have a solid nucleus of returning seniors," Morrison said. "If we perform the fundamentals well, we should have a chance to be competitive."
Like Morrison, Martin has sizable shoes to fill. Prior to stepping down last summer, Garber spent 19 years with the Pioneers, the last 15 as manager.
He posted a career mark of 250-102 and was instrumental in L-S winning 17 section titles, four Eastern Finals, two state titles, two district championships and one league crown.
Garber left on a high note, his team earning Section Three honors, a district title and a state final berth.
The champion Braves return key contributors in seniors Kolton Petersheim, Mitch Stoltzfus (.500, 4 HRs, 25 RBIs), Mike Stoltzfus (.339, 20 RBIs) and junior Tanner Schmitt (.300).
Pequea Valley finished second behind Lancaster Catholic in Section Four but beat the Crusaders in the league final.
"It would be hard to say that we bring the same level of talent to the table that we did a year ago after losing four players currently playing collegiate baseball," Braves coach Ryan O'Donnell said.
"However, there is no lack of talent or experience here at key positions, and we will continue to integrate some new and exciting players into the lineup and rotation."
The Braves' lineup is buttressed by one of the league's best players -- Millersville University-bound catcher Mitch Stoltzfus.
"Mitchell Stoltzfus will be the linchpin," O'Donnell added. "He'll be supported by cousin Michael (like Mitch an L-L All-Star) and by junior outfielder Tanner Schmitt."
The injection of senior Dylan Beiler at the top of the lineup gives the Braves the ability to do some different things on offense this season.
"We see this team as one that can utilize speed, hit-and-runs, and bunts to put pressure on opponents," O'Donnell said. "We may not have the power we did a year ago, but we feel as though we can score runs in different ways and transition into a team that can execute and force the opponent into mistakes."
Catholic claimed its fourth section title in five seasons due in large part to an offense featuring McCafferty and Haberstroh, both of whom earned All-State honors along with the graduated Chris Mattison.
Haberstroh (.538), McCafferty (.509) and Mattison were at the heart of an order that helped the Crusaders go 14-2 in the regular season and 20-5 overall.
It also helped Catholic enjoy a season of firsts: first league playoff win and first L-L final appearance.
Haberstroh, whom Crusaders coach Chris Kiehl calls "our spark plug," was the L-L's Co-Player of the Year last spring, batting .538 with 5 homers, 43 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in the regular season.
McCafferty (.509, 34 RBIs) is one of the top catchers in District Three. Committed to Longwood University (Va.), he's a threat on offense and defense. His rifle-armed throws discourage would-be runners.
With Haberstroh and McCafferty back, expect the Crusaders to make another run this spring.
The Red Tornado enjoyed a meteoric rise last spring, improving from one win and last place in Section One to nine wins and a district playoff game.
Skipper Dave Hinnenkamp is hoping for more of the same from senior all-stars Lazaro Duvergel (.393) and Brenden Markley (.385).
"Lazaro and Brenden have been on the varsity since their freshman year and need to have productive final seasons," he said. "Our junior class is physically talented but needs to develop consistency in all areas of the game."
One season after enduring a freefall, the Blue Streaks seek consistency as well. Particularly from their pitching staff, which takes on the Tornado today.
"If our pitching models the Governor Mifflin nonleague victory (12-1) rather than the Exeter nonleague victory (10-9)," Streaks boss Bill Sassaman said, "then our team will be in the hunt for a postseason playoff spot."
At Ephrata, the Mounts have made a habit of celebrating in late spring.
Still, skipper Adrian Shelley knows the challenge that begins today, in a meeting with runner-up Solanco.
"This will likely be a knock-down, drag-'em-out fight in Section Two," Shelley said. "And we've got a group who, while untested in battle, has been anxiously waiting for a chance to join the fray.
"It should be fun to watch."