Seeing Northwestern Lehigh and Southern Lehigh face each other in the Colonial League semifinals is nothing new, it’s happened in each of the last four league postseasons. This season, the two teams split their two regular season games and the Tigers advanced to the league championship with a 7-3 win at home on Monday.
Carter Welch took care of business on the mound for Northwestern Lehigh and joined Justin Holmes and Randall Zack in collecting two hits each in the game. Zack also scored a run and Welch and Holmes each scored two, while Nick Henry drove in two runs, with the first coming on a first inning sacrifice fly and the second when Henry was hit by a pitch with bases loaded in the sixth.
After putting the Spartans down in order in the first, Welch led off with a double to left center and Rafe Perich followed with a double to almost the same spot. Holmes singled to put runners on first and third, setting up Henry’s sacrifice fly on a little pop up to short right field. Ryan Kensinger later delivered an RBI single to make it 3-0.
Welch again retired the side in order in the second before Mike Andrews led off the third with a base hit. Welch returned to form and retired the next five batters before a two-out single by Matt Tankred in the fourth. Two more singles followed to load the bases before Welch walked Andrews to make it 3-1.
“I worked more with off-speed pitches than I did the first couple times I faced them,” said Welch of his strategy coming into the game. “I used the fastball to keep them off balance and to get them to chase some pitches.”
Holmes doubled to center to lead off the third and advanced on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Dylan Witkowski that turned into a hit. Ben Boyer’s ground ball to second allowed Holmes to score, making it 4-1 in favor of the Tigers.
For a team with a lot of power and strong hitters, Northwestern looked to play small ball, collecting three bunt singles and getting a sacrifice bunt in the game.
“Trust me, we work on bunting all the time,” said Tiger head coach Duran Porrino. “Even before the game we set up our machine and we worked on bunting. In our mind, it keeps certain guys out of hitting into double plays and puts guys in scoring position for us. Our kids have bought into it and that’s the biggest thing because sometimes high school kids don’t want to bunt and aren’t used to bunting, but our guys have really bought into it.”
The third bunt single of the day came in the bottom of the sixth when Zack dropped one down and beat it out to open the inning. Romig bunted him to second and an error allowed Zack to score the Tigers’ fifth run. Another error and two hit batters pushed across two more runs, breaking the game open.
The Spartans threatened throughout the game but couldn’t get the big hit they needed to produce runs. In the seventh, with Perich on in relief, Justin Balliet reached on an error and one out later, Gavin Bealer launched a long home run to left to make it 7-3. Perich settled in and put down the rally without any further damage.
Northwestern Lehigh will see another familiar postseason team when they face Notre Dame Green Pond in the championship game Wednesday at Saucon Valley. The two teams have battled for the championship in three of the past four seasons with the Crusaders taking every meeting. The Tigers look to reverse that trend to win their first Colonial League Championship since 2003.
Porrino will face a decision in who to send to the mound to start as he struggles to find a starting pitcher to put behind Welch in the rotation for the postseason. After reaching the 100-pitch mark against Southern Lehigh and having to exit, Welch will be unavailable to pitch against Notre Dame.
“We have to sit down as a staff and figure out who we’re going to go with. It’s been tough finding someone to step up, so hopefully, with it being playoffs, someone will take over that spot,” said Porrino.