TNT/South Lebanon still relishing tourney win

TNT/South Lebanon still relishing tourney win
From the Lebanon Daily News

Sports Correspondent
Lebanon Daily News

It took 20 years, but Lebanon has returned to a top spot in the softball world thanks to South Lebanon/TNT Sanitation’s perfect outing in Kitchener, Ontario.

In 1987, Jolly Molly, a perennial softball powerhouse along with South Lebanon in the local league, won the Class A National title in Redding, Calif.

This year, South Lebanon/TNT went a step better by winning the International Softball Congress II Tournament that featured 35 teams — eight from the U.S. and 27 Canadian squads.

Ranked 10th in the tourney, SL/TNT finished its season with a 51-5 record by winning 20 consecutive games since July 2. Two of those victories came when they defeated the two top-ranked teams in the semifinal and title games in Kitchener to win the championship.

“It was almost 20 years since Jolly Molly won that national tournament,” field manager Lee Lutz said, “but this is much bigger because it was an international tournament. It was also the first time in the six years of the tourney that a team from the United States won it. We went 4-0 in pool play, got a bye in the first round of the single elimination round, so we had one less game to play, then won all four after that.”

The 13 players who made the trip included pitcher Jeremy Tracy, a resident of New Brunswick, Canada, who had to travel at least 16 hours to some locations during the season to play in the Mid-Atlantic League games with SL/TNT.

“Softball is dying in New Brunswick, and he wanted a place to play last year so we contacted him,” Lutz said. “He drove to some games and flew to others the last two years with his dad, who is an assistant coach.”

Tracy won six games while also hitting two home runs in the title game, and Scot Adams of Lebanon won the other two.

After finishing fifth in last year’s tourney, Lee and his brother Irv, who was unable to make the trip, assessed their needs to improve, and thanks to a situation in neighboring Lancaster County, those holes were filled.

“Jay Herr (tourney MVP with seven home runs and 16 RBIs), Jason McClune, Jeremy Gehr and John Lechtel were looking for a place where they could all play this summer because their team folded,” Irv said. “Scot knew about their situation, so we contacted them because they were exactly what we needed.”

Rounding out the other seven spots were Brad Klopp of Sinking Spring; Paul Batt of Harleysville; and Clint Lutz, Mike Rohrer, Bob Wengert, Brad Getz and Mike Nordall, all of Lebanon area.

The South Lebanon franchise started in 1963 and over the years has gone through several sponsor name changes, but the thing that hasn’t changed since that year is that a Lutz has been on the roster.

“I started in ’68 and Lee before that,” Irv said from his hospital bed at the Good Samaritan Hospital where he is being treated for a severe liver problem. “Nobody on the team has been around longer than us. Over the years the team has won a lot of games and tournaments, but nothing compares to this.

“There is nothing higher we could win. It’s bigger than the ASA because there were teams from outside the U.S. Several Canadian teams had players from other countries, and three of the teams there were also from the Mid-Atlantic League to give you an idea of how strong that league is.”

Up until his health deteriorated, Irv was the field manager but turned that position over to Lee last summer while maintaining the duties as chief fundraiser with the help of his wife, Deb.

“It’s very expensive to go to this, especially in Canada with the money difference, plus it runs six days,” he said. “It costs $375 to enter, hotels cost about $4,000, and then there’s the food and gas, which the players pay themselves, plus they have to use vacation time. The total cost was probably around $8,000.

“We raised money all year through golf tournaments, dances, chicken barbecues and profits from the concession stand at Prescott Field. That’s in addition to our sponsor’s money.”

As the defending champion, SL/TNT qualified for the 2008 tourney in Kimberly, Wisc., and that means another plan is required to raise the funds, Irv said.

“As far as the fundraising, I’ll still be involved but won’t be able to do it without Deb’s help and also maybe looking for an additional sponsor. We really appreciate everything Leonard Tobias at TNT has done to this point. He has been great to us the last few years, but there is only so much he can do.

“Everybody on the team expects to return, including Tracy, who has told me his loyalty is to us even though other teams are after him.”

And that’s not a bad point to start from to try and bring more fame to the South Lebanon franchise that will celebrate its 45th year of continuous, successful softball competition.

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