HAMBURG >> Saturday night provided a reminder of what Hamburg baseball accomplished at the high school level a year ago and what it could be again a year later, within the confines of American Legion ball.
In a split doubleheader at Hamburg Community Park, the Reds swept the day with a 7-4 win over Valley View in the early game and a 6-2 victory in the nightcap over Kutztown, on June 17.
Hamburg improved to 6-2 in the Schuylkill-Berks League with the dual triumphs, 2½ games behind front-running and unbeaten Muhlenberg, as of Monday. Kutztown — victimized by a forfeiture earlier in the week to Valley View when a numbers of players drove to wrong locale — fell to 3-4.
Hamburg’s win over Kutztown in Saturday’s nightcap was dominated on the back end by Ryan Smith, the best player and a senior on the 2016 District 3 Class AAA champions. He hasn’t forgotten that feeling — none of them will ever forget it, frankly — and sees his last Legion shot as somewhat of a make good for the Hawks’ return to earth this spring.
“Absolutely,” Smith said. “Coming back for this year our one goal is to try to repeat what we had (in 2016) and pick up where we left off. … We’re back at it and we’re feeling pretty good.”
Smith struck out five of the six batters he faced over the final two innings, out of the bullpen, and clubbed a long home to left center field at Community Park that banged off the scoreboard for some late-frame icing.
Smith pocketed several fastballs in the zone, then hit the overmatched Kutztown batters with a devastating curveball in carving up the Cougars to close it out.
“I felt good, it was a good night,” Smith said. “I had the fastball going. And once I get the off-speed stuff going, it complements the fastball a little bit more. Throws the timing off and that’s what I kind of trying to do out there.”
Hamburg manager Nick Evangelista is glad to have Smith back in the fold.
“Ryan’s got top-notch stuff,” Evangelista said. “He’s going to be tough to beat anytime he’s on the mound. He’s a competitor and he gets after it out there.”
The home run, which gave the contest its final score, came off Kutztown reliever Nathan Hayduk on his first offering in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“It was kind of a flat fastball he threw right down the middle,” Smith said. “I wanted to jump on the first pitch so I didn’t get behind in the count and I just happened to put a good swing on it.”
The Reds have an opportunity this summer to erase what has to be a bitter taste left in their mouths from the high school’s Hawks trying season in defense of their D-3 crown. The Hawks finished 7-13 overall and 3-7 in Berks League Section 2 this spring — in part due to the graduation losses such as Smith’s and the inherent youth that accompanies it.
Legion season provides a chance to wipe that slate clean. So far, Evangelista’s Reds have been taking full advantage. Saturday’s sweep gave Hamburg four wins in its last five games.
“Anytime you can win a ballgame it’s good, let alone two,” the skipper said. “Two big league wins. Taking it one pitch, one inning at a time, and our kids did a nice job of that (Saturday).
“I don’t think we look at it as redemption. I think we look at it as a new challenge, a new season. Something to give us that fire, that hunger, to get back there again. I know it’s not high school, it’s Legion, but it’s a chance to get back there in some capacity, back into a playoff situation.”
Hamburg jumped on young Kutztown starter Trevor Leverington for three runs in the bottom of the first on three hits, the big blow a two-run triple off the bat of Logan Adams.
The Cougars shaved a run off the deficit in the top of the second, scored sans a base hit thanks to three Reds errors.
An RBI single from Smith, who was at shortstop before taking the hill, gave Hamburg starter Tanner Quigley a 4-1 lead after three innings.
Taylor Schroder’s run-scoring triple in the fourth for Kutztown cut it to 4-2, before the hosts posted single runs in the fifth and sixth frames.
Leverington settled down after the rough first inning to keep his ballclub in the contest. Kutztown manager Rod Mease knows he has a talented hurler with potential.
“He’s got good stuff,” Mease said of Leverington. “When you have Nick Evangelista sitting over there telling you that kid’s got as good a stuff as he’s seen in Legion baseball, he’s got good stuff.”
The loss capped a rough week for Kutztown, which — already sporting a small roster — had to forfeit to Valley View earlier in the week when five of the 13 ballplayers carpooled to wrong ballfield, leaving the Cougars with eight players on site.
“It’s everywhere, everywhere you go,” Mease said, lamenting overall dwindling Legion numbers.