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Baseball season was a tale of two streaks

The Northwestern Lehigh baseball season consisted basically of two long winning streaks. The first one went seven games after a season-opening loss to Saucon Valley. Then, after a 7-2 loss to Blue Mountain, the Tigers rattled off 11 straight regular season wins. They entered the postseason at 18-2.

Throughout the season, Northwestern and North Schuylkill, who also finished at 18-2, seemed to be on a collision course that would end in districts. North Schuylkill was the defending champion in the 3A classification, but was moved up to 4A for the 2019 season.

The two teams would wind up meeting in the District 11 finals, which were played in Pottsville and resulted in a heart-breaking loss when a two-run bottom of the seventh gave the Spartans the District 11 gold medals and left the Tigers to face a play-in game to reach states. Northwestern beat Danville to gain a spot in states, hoping for another shot at North Schuylkill down the road.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, they fell to East Pennsboro, 3-2 in the first round of the state playoffs, ending their season.

“You never want your season to end like that,” said coach Duran Porrino. “It was a close game and they scored late and that was it.”

In the Colonial League playoffs, Northwestern had a first-round bye and then downed Southern Lehigh 6-1 to advance to the finals against Notre Dame (Green Pond). Again, a tight game ended the Tigers hopes for a league championship when they lost to the Crusaders 2-1 in the finals at Lehigh Carbon Community College.

All along, Porrino had concerns that his team hadn’t been tested enough during the regular season for him to gauge how they would perform in a tight game in a playoff scenario. Those concerns turned out to be true with the string of losses in close postseason games.

“It’s not really anything that our kids did wrong,” he said. “It was just that we didn’t have a lot of very challenging games during the season and so you’re not used to that situation. It wasn’t that our guys weren’t up to the challenge, we just ultimately didn’t do the right things, or at least enough of them, to get us where we wanted to be.”

Senior Derek Holmes moved behind the plate for his final season and not only played well defensively, but became the offensive story for the Tigers throughout the season. Holmes reached the 100-hit mark for his career late in the year and was ranked among the top 20 players in Pennsylvania.

Holmes finished the year as the team leader in home runs (5), RBI (36) and average (.624), striking out just four times in 107 plate appearances.

Sophomore Rafe Perich was right behind Holmes in leading the offense with four home runs, 33 RBI and a .500 average for the season. Perich also showed his value on the mound, finishing with a 1.35 ERA in 11 games, including starting the district final game against North Schuylkill and matching senior Reggie Crawford pitch-for-pitch. Crawford wound up being drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the MLB Draft in early June.

Sophomore Carter Welch and junior Vinny Castrine started the bulk of the games on the mound and both pitched well, with Welch putting up a 10-1, 1.38 line and Castrine finishing at 4-3, 2.80 on the season. Both return next season to give Northwestern a deep pitching staff, which was part of its success in 2019.

In all, five players graduated this season – Will Dellicker, Colten Hagadus, Brandon Mengel, Sam Yadush and Holmes – but there are plenty of younger players who saw time on the field this season to fill their spots coming into next year.

“We had a great group of seniors and every successful team really needs that,” said Porrino. “It’s one of those things where these guys move on and you’re happy for them, but you also know you’ll miss them.”

PRESS FILE PHOTODerek Holmes (25), seen here in a 2017 game against Catasauqua, led Northwestern in batting average, home runs and RBIs this season.