“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
That, said Hunter Williams, is the motto of this year’s edition of the Mountville Angels, and Williams would know about finishing.
He dashed home on the back end of an improbable double steal in the bottom of the ninth inning, capping an improbable comeback and an 8-7 victory over Lititz VFW Monday night at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field.
A victory that delivered the Junior-Midget division championship of the 74th LNP Tournament, Mountville’s third title in five years.
“Hunter hit the nail on the head,” said head coach Tylor Bair, whose team came in as the No. 2 seed and finished the year 25-7.
Lititz reliever Ethan Zipko got the first two outs of the Mountville ninth, then Williams singled, reaching second on a bobble in right field.
Aiden Rodenberger hit a ball to third that was bobbled, and Williams rounded third heading for home.
“I was just thinking, ‘Go for it.’ I was expecting the third baseman to make that play,” Williams said. “If there’s an error at first, we win.”
Hung up in a rundown between third and home, Williams managed to scamper back to safety.
Meanwhile, Rodenberger had arrived at first and, watching the play unfold, made a decision.
“I was like, ‘Well, they’re just standing there, not paying attention,’ ” he said. “Just let me take (second), and maybe he (Williams) can score after that.”
As Rodenberger lit out for second, Williams broke for home, thinking, “I better get up and go for it.”
“If they’re making that play,” he offered, “there’s no way they’re going to get me at home.”
He was correct.
Down 7-0 after three innings, the Angels chipped away, but still trailed 7-3 going into their, theoretically, last at bat in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“When we were down, I was kind of thinking ‘there’s no way,’ ” Williams shared.
“After we got those first three runs, I’m thinking it’s definitely doable. All of us are good hitters. We can make anything possible.”
Lititz (20-13) jumped to that 7-0 lead on the back of a 10-man bat around in the third inning, highlighted by a three-run homer from Josh Zimmerman and a two-run shot from Tyler Marley.
Zipko had given VFW the early advantage on a second-inning solo blast.
With that wind behind him, starting pitcher Seth Adomnik took a no-hitter into the fourth inning and left the game after five innings, having exhausted his pitch limit.
He allowed two earned runs on four hits, walking two while striking out nine.
“That was a heck of an effort by him,” said Bair, tipping his cap. “He was on fire.”
While Adomnik was dealing, Rodenberger came on in relief for Mountville in the top of the fourth.
Over the next four-and-a-third innings, he kept VFW off the board, allowing just four hits. At one point, aided by a double play, he retired 11 in a row.
“Credit to him,” offered Lititz coach Todd Rhoads, “we really didn’t get much going the rest of the game.”
“You don’t have much pressure,” Rodenberger said. “Yes, we’re down by seven, but that just means you come in and ... do your job .”
Down to their last three outs, and down four runs, the Angels went to work in the seventh.
Logan Harelson reached on an error leading off the inning, yielding to pinch runner Tanner Dennis.
Dennis went to second on a wild pitch, and then to third as Zipko, on in relief of Adomnik, had explosive stuff.
He struck out Noah Costa, on a wild pitch, with Costa reaching first and Dennis scoring.
Before the inning was over, the Angels had scored four times, with Caden Woods plating Collin Richardson with the tying run on a suicide squeeze bunt.
It was the Angels third bunt of the inning.
“We’ve had to revert to that every once in a while,” Bair said with a smile.
“They put the pressure on the defense,” Rhoads said. “If you don’t make the plays, they’ll make you pay for it.”
No one scored in the eighth inning before a brief shower interrupted the game for 10 minutes heading to the ninth.
Winning pitcher Ethan Green pitched around a single and a walk in the eighth, retiring Lititz in order in the ninth to set up the final rally.