BY JEFF FALK
EPHRATA – As agonizing as it was for him to watch, Conor Bawiec’s Myerstown teammates prolonged his American Legion baseball career by playing well in the recent Lebanon County playoffs. Yesterday, Bawiec showed his gratitude the only way he knew how.
On Saturday morning on the artificial surface of Ephrata’s War Memorial Field, Baweic twirled a two-hit gem to lead Myerstown Baseball Inc. to a 1-0 triumph over Pleasureville, in the opening game of the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament. It was Baweic’s first return to full action, after breaking bones in his nose following a weight-lifting accident two weeks ago.
Bawiec, who toils for Elmira College in New York, was dominant, masterful and in control the entire way. With his right arm well-rested, Bawiec routinely hit 80-plus miles an hour with his fastball and totaled 110 pitches during his route-going effort.
His performance also kept Myerstown on its postseason roll, a streak that has seen the Lebanon County champions rip off seven wins in their last eight outings, all playoff contests. Now 14-9 overall, Myerstown will meet the winner of the Red Land-Penn Manor tussle on Sunday at 4 p.m., in the Region Four’s winners’ bracket semifinal, back at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.
Lebanon County champions had dropped their last seven Region Four tournament games dating back four years, including Myerstown’s 0-2 showing last summer.
“He wanted to be out here,” said Myerstown head coach Johnny Mentzer of his ace. “It’s knowing the process (with the broken nose). He wanted to play in the County playoffs. He told me, ‘If we make regionals, I’m back, doing everything’. When I got to the field this morning at 7 a.m., he was there waiting. But I think we’re relishing the role of underdogs.
“I think we got a better draw this year, playing the second team out of York County” continued Mentzer. “The two teams we played last year were in it at the end. We played really well both games. We were right there. Today, luck was on our side in getting it done. It (last season) got us ready for this year.”
Bawiec. who hurled the final inning of Myerstown’s championship-clinching win over Campbelltown on Wednesday, whiffed a dozen and issued a lone free pass. After needing 26 pitches to work around that only walk and an error in the opening inning, Bawiec struck out the side in both the first and second frames.
The Cedar Crest graduate also retired Pleasuerville in order in the third, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth, and at one time put down 17 opponent hitters in-a-row. Bawiec did allow Pleasurveille runners to reach third base twice, in the first and fourth innings.
“In that situation, when you don’t have a great day the plate, it’s nice to have that talent on the mound,” aid Mentzer. “We didn’t panic all day. They (Bawiec’s teammates) know he has good stuff. But we’ve got talent across the board.
“Conor started the game throwing 86-87 (mph), and once he settled in he was throwing 83-84,” Mentzer added. “That’s normal for him. The first game back, his arm was strong. But I thought his off-speed stuff – his breaking ball, his slider, his knuckle-ball – was the difference. When he has all of it going, it makes him really tough to hit.
“He worked efficiently. That’s what I preach to my pitchers. Get outs and use as few pitches as possible.”
Defensively, Myerstown made just the one error behind him. Offensively, Bawiec didn’t need a lot of support, but what he got came from younger brother, Brett Baweic.
B. Bawiec drove home Kyle Bogdanovich with the game’s only run, with one out in the bottom of the second inning. Bogdanovich led off with a walk and was safe at second when Pleasurevelle’s attempt to turn a double play pulled its second baseman’s foot off the bag.
“It was a lot closer than I wanted it to be,” said Mentzer. “K-Bog hit into a double play the only place he could’ve in the eighth, and twice we didn’t get bunts down. We just couldn’t get that extra run. Thank goodness Brett got that hit in the second inning. One run is not going to win too many baseball games.
“Compete. That’s my goal for this tournament,” continued Mentzer. “Of course, I’d like to win it. It’s ‘win one game, and go on’. I think we’re going to be just fine.”
With Kyle Bogdanovich’s single in the sixth and B. Bawiec’s safety in the seventh as its only other hits, Myerstown didn’t exactly rip the cover off the baseball.
Actually, Myerstown’s only best chance of tacking on came in the bottom of the eighth, when it loaded the bases on a hit-by-pitch from Andy Bogdanovich and walks to Austin Douple and C. Bawiec. But K. Bogdanovich lined a ball to the right side of the infield that the Pleasureville first-baseman turned into a double play.
“It’s perfect,” said Mentzer of his club’s position in the tournament. “We can come back with Douple tomorrow. He’ll be on short rest, but he didn’t throw a lot of pitches on Wednesday. And we have Tyler Price to back him up. It sets us up in the winners’ bracket.
“It was new (playing on Ephrata War Memorial Field’s artificial surface),” concluded Mentzer. “We got down pretty early, just to see how balls were going to bounce off of it. We played at In The Net (sports complex in Palmyra), so we’re kind of used to it. It was a change, but not something we couldn’t adapt to.”
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Eight-Team, Double-Elimination Region Four Tournament
(at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field)
SATURDAY, JULY 18
GAME 1: Myerstown 1, Pleasureville 0
GAME 2: Linglestown vs. Shippensburg, 12:30
GAME 3: Penn Manor vs. Red Land, 4
GAME 4: Northeastern vs. Ephrata, 7
SUNDAY, JULY 19
GAME 5: Pleasureville vs. Loser Game 3, 9:30 a.m. (loser eliminated)
GAME 6: Loser Game 2 vs. Loser Game 4, 12:30 (loser eliminated)
GAME 7: Myerstown vs. Winner Game 3, 4
GAME 8: Winner Game 2 vs. Winner Game 4, 7
MONDAY, JULY 20
GAME 9: Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 7, 12:30 (loser eliminated)
GAME 10: Winner Game 5 vs. Loser Game 8, 3:30 (loser eliminated)
GAME 11: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 7
TUESDAY, JULY 21
GAME 12: Winner Game 9 or 10 vs. Loser Game 11, 3:30* (loser eliminated)
GAME 13: Winner Game 9 or 10 vs. Winner Game 11, 7* (Winner Game 9 or 10 eliminated with loss)
WEDNESDAY, JULY 22
GAME 14: Winner Game 12 vs. Winner Game 13, 11:30 a.m. (Winner Game 12 eliminated with loss; Winner Game 13 possibly eliminated with loss)
GAME 15: Winner Game 14 vs. Winner Game 11, 2 (if necessary, loser eliminated)