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Tamaqua ace Kosciolek shuts down Northwestern

Len Smith was pretty sure his team would end the season with a loss.

He was hoping, though, that loss wouldn't come so soon.

After enjoying a solid regular season and a trip to the league finals, Smith's Northwestern baseball team ran into a talented pitcher in the quarterfinal round of the District 11 Class AAA playoffs.

That hurler, Tamaqua's Brett Kosciolek, threw a one-hit shutout at the Tigers on May 20 to bring the 2015 campaign to an abrupt halt.

"It hurts to lose the last game of the year," said Smith, whose team finished with a final record of 16-8. "I always say there's only one team in the whole state that's going to walk out of your class with a win and everyone else will lose. But it still hurts.

"Coming into the year, our goals were to make league and district playoffs and we did that ... We made it to the league finals, although we didn't come out on the positive end of that. Here in districts we lost in the first round. It's not because we didn't play well, it's just because we didn't come up with a bunch of runs."

Kosciolek, a senior who is receiving a Division 1 baseball scholarship to Rider University, retired the first 13 batters he faced in last Wednesday's contest. But Northwestern, which trailed 2-0 at the time, tried to rally against the 6-foot-7 right-hander in the home fifth. Nick Rodriguez walked and moved up a base when Jordan Storm rifled a clean single up the middle.

With the tying runs on base, Tiger catcher Tyler Wiik worked a full count before sending a hard grounder to second. The Raiders' defense, however, executed a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning and the threat.

While much of Northwestern's lack of offense in its season-ender had to do with the arm of Kosciolek, who punched out eight Tiger batters and has a batting average against of .096 this year, the hitting woes were unfortunately a common theme over the final weeks.

"It's hard to understand," said Smith. "Coming into the season ... our goal was to score seven runs a game. In the begining of the year, if you look at our scores in most of the games we were scoring six, seven and sometimes more runs a game.

"Then we had to play Palisades about seven, eight games into the season and we won that game, 1-0. From then on, it's been a struggle to get to five runs a game for some reason. It's hard to figure out. I don't have an answer for that. We're better offensively than what we've demonstrated at times."

Like Smith said, in the team's first seven games they scored 67 runs (an average of 9.6 per contest) in posting a 5-2 record. The Tigers managed six or more runs in six of those seven games.

After that, Northwestern tallied 71 runs in 17 contests (an average of 4.2 per game). In only three of those games did the Tigers produce more than six runs.

"That's just baseball," said Smith. "It's a funny game sometimes."

Despite less production at the plate, Smith's club continued to win games. Strong pitching was a huge factor in that equation.

"We have four pitchers that we could rely on to start and give us a good outing," said Smith. "So we tried to match them up with our opponent as much as possible. Sometimes you can't do that because you're scheduled back-to-back-to-back-to-back but we tried to do that. They all gave us exceptional outings throughout the year."

Jake Augustus, a junior, was the hard-luck losing pitcher in the district playoff game. Augustus allowed only four hits, two of them infield singles, and both runs he allowed were unearned.

Besides Augustus (4-1), the Tigers rotation consisted of Josh Williamson (5-3), Jordan Storm (3-0) and Brandon Eden (3-2).

Williamson, Storm and Eden are all seniors, as are other players Rodriguez, Taylor Breininger and Zach Caruso.

"I feel for the seniors because they meant so much to the program," said Smith after the district loss. "A lot of these guys were in ninth grade or 10th grade when they started playing varisty ball. The work ethic and the time that they practiced and the effort they put into everything is greatly appreciated."

While the seniors will be missed, a number of underclassmen return to next year's squad. Included among them are First Team all-Colonial League recipient Brady Mengel. Some other returning are Wiik, Tyler Schreiner, Isaac Fatzinger and Niko Fager.

"All our seniors played key roles in our success," said Smith. "It will tough losing them, but we do have a good nucleus returning. We lose a good group but we also have a good nucleus and hopefully we can build around that next season."

PRESS PHOTO BY BOB FORD Northwestern's Nick Rodriguez hauls in a fly ball during last week's District 11 playoff game.