Hempfield, Donegal relishing top ratings
nDespite injuries, the Black Knights are holding fast to their No. 1 spot in District Three Class AAAA, and the emergent Indians are tops in Class AAA. BY ED GRUVER, Sports Writer
You lose your ace to an injury after just three mound appearances, and in your dugout you see your Division I-caliber infielder with his arm in a sling.
And you have two choices.
You can become despondent.
Hempfield's baseball team has chosen the latter. And it's paid off.
Under the guidance of a new boss -- Jeremy Morrison, a seven-year assistant to Jim Zander at Penn Manor -- the Black Knights own the No. 1 ranking in District Three Class AAAA.
As of Tuesday night, Hempfield was 14-3 overall and 11-2 in L-L Section One, where the Black Knights were tied for first with Warwick, another team with a new coach, Bob Locker.
The Knights are one of two L-L baseball teams ranked No. 1 in the district. In Class AAA, Chris Miller's Donegal squad also sits atop the ratings, the Indians being 16-1 overall, 12-1 in the L-L and in first place in Section Three.
For his part, Morrison doesn't place a lot of emphasis on Hempfield's lofty rankings.
"Where we're ranked or what people say about us, who cares?" he said. "We don't worry about things beyond our control."
The aforementioned injuries to ace Cory Gantz and infielder Shaun Corso fall into the category of things beyond Hempfield's control. What the Knights do have a say in is their reaction to adversity.
Morrison, who as a Comets assistant always was well aware of the talent in Hempfield's program, likes the grit his players and coaches have shown.
"There's no letup," he said.
If one game can serve as a capsule of Hempfield's defiance, it's last Friday's 8-7 comeback win over section rival Cedar Crest. The Knights trailed 4-0 and 7-2, and in the seventh, were behind 7-4 and down to their final out. What followed was a stunner: A four-run rally fueled by a double, two walks, three singles and one close call at first base.
"This is something pretty special," Morrison said. "To do that with two outs. ... It says a lot about their composure, their confidence."
By his own admission, Jared Pestcoe, who struck the winning hit -- a single that plated a pair of runs -- was very composed and very confident in his crucial at-bat. He had been struggling at the plate, batting .256, but none of that mattered when he stood in against southpaw reliever Hunter Torres.
"I knew I had my whole team behind me," he said. "It was my time to step up and I did it."
Also stepping up for the Knights is Chris Schroll, who is 4-1 with a 1.59 earned run average. Ditto Camden Hess (3-0, 1.38), Michael Hernandez (2-0, 1.17) and Jon Peterson (1-1, 3.27).
Gantz, who was 3-0 with a 1.11 ERA in his three starts, is batting .388 as the starting shortstop. Catcher Nolan Myers follows at .377.
Corso, a West Virginia recruit, was hitting .375 in 28 plate appearances when he went down with an arm injury. He hasn't played since April 6.
And yet the Knights continue to succeed despite being shorthanded. A win Tuesday, 6-0 over McCaskey, was their eighth straight.
"Our confidence is really high," Pestcoe said. "We feel like we're on top of the world."
Like Hempfield, Donegal has found itself at a crossroads or two this spring.
"We've won some close ones that could have gone either way," Miller said.
The Tribe has won four games by one run; five by two runs or fewer; six by three runs or less.
Their most memorable victory came on April 17, a 6-5 win over Lancaster Catholic in 13 innings.
"It was," Miller said, "one of the best high school games you'll ever see."
Unlike the Knights, the Indians have avoided the injury bug thus far. They've also ridden the momentum of a winter campaign that saw the boys' basketball team start the season 23-0 and eventually dethrone state champ Neumann-Goretti in the quarterfinals.
Catcher Chris Robinson, center fielder Dylan Houseal and starting pitcher Tommy Hatt were key contributors on the hardwood, and it's been the same in hardball.
"Their confidence playing in big games has rubbed off on the other guys," Miller said.
Robinson, whose older brother Mike was the Tribe's starting catcher the past three years before graduating, is in his first season as a full-timer behind the plate.
"He's played every inning of every game," Miller said, "and he's playing exceptionally well."
Robinson's .395 batting average is proof of that. So, too, is the staff ERA (2.52) and opponent's batting average (.234), both of which reflect on Robinson's abilities.
Fellow senior Eli Schramm is another player Miller calls a pleasant surprise.
Working in short relief, Schramm has compiled a staff-best 0.48 ERA and three saves in seven appearances.
"He's come up big for us," Miller said.
Hempfield's defiance. The emergence of key players at Donegal. It's all helped make for an interesting spring.
Miller laughed. "To say the least," he said.