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Softball returns large group

The Lady Tigers fielded a young softball team last season, but they responded well and were the top seed in the Colonial League playoffs.

After getting a first-round bye, they faced Palmerton and lost to the Blue Bombers 3-0 to end their shot at a league title.

They went into districts as the top seed and worked their way to the finals where they faced Blue Mountain for a District 11 championship. The offense again came up short as the Tigers fell to Blue Mountain 5-1, ending the season for Northwestern Lehigh, which finished with an 18-5 overall record.

Northwestern was looking forward to another strong season when everything was suddenly put on hold. With schools closed and all practices forbidden, there are no guarantees when - or even if - the Lady Tigers will get to take the field this spring.

“Considering how young we were last season, we really put together a great season,” said head coach Josh Zimmerman. “I’ve been looking forward to this season because we’re still pretty young, but we have a lot of girls who got experience last season and that was a big key for us.”

With just two seniors last season and just two this year (Anna Akelaitis and Natasha Farmer) the Tigers are still a pretty young group.

This year’s squad has five juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen.

Two sophomores, Allison Eiring and Isabella Teprovich, will be helping on the mound to take some pressure off Brynn Balliet, who was an understudy for Emily Akelaitis last season and is ready to step into the role as the team’s ace.

Zimmerman also needed to fill first base that was vacated by the graduation of Ashley Sisco and he moved center fielder Molly Mitman to first to fill that spot.

As often happens, one move begets another and suddenly Zimmerman had a lot of familiar faces in new places. He filled the center field hole by moving catcher Anna Akelaitis to the outfield and putting Olivia Stofflet behind the plate.

Akelaitis had played center field as a freshman, so it wasn’t exactly new territory for her.

“It’s nice to have players who are flexible enough to move around into different spots,” said Zimmerman. “We can do a couple different things and adjust things how we need to in order to make things work and to get the most out of our roster.”

Zimmerman liked what he was able to see of his team through the early spring practices.

The players came in ready to work and he was especially impressed with the leadership that he saw from players and how the team was able to work up to a good pace quickly.

“I thought that everyone came in ready and our pace at practice was really good,” said Zimmerman. “We’re still a pretty young team, but we have good leadership from the older girls and the newer players want to learn and pick things up and they’ve done that quickly.”

One of the highlights of last season was Emily Akelaitis collecting her 100th career hit. Her sister, Anna, was on pace to reach the same plateau this season, needing just 25 more hits to reach the mark. The question is, will she get her chance.

With the season pushed back until some time in April at the earliest, the opportunities for Akelaitis will be greatly reduced.

Northwestern had a busy early schedule with five games in the first week, four of which were road games. So far, 10 games have been postponed, but could wind up being canceled, depending on when teams can get back to playing. If those games aren’t made up, Akelaitis, would have just 10 regular season games, plus any playoff games that would feature the Lady Tigers.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZBrynn Balliet (6) will take over as Northwestern's top pticher when the 2020 season gets underway.