By now, opponents have to realize that having a lead over the Northwestern softball team really doesn’t mean a thing until the game is over.
After numerous comebacks throughout the season, the most dramatic one came in the Colonial League championship when Northwestern twice battled from behind late in the game, scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win its first league title since 2006, downing Bangor 8-7.
“It’s just amazing,” said head coach Josh Zimmerman. “It’s a long journey to get here and we’re not done by any means, but at the same time, we’re going to enjoy this one for a little while.”
The Lady Tigers (20-1) were down 7-6 with two outs and no runners on base in the bottom of the ninth when Adana Funk worked a walk and Kylie Zentz followed with a base hit to right to send Funk to third. An error on the play allowed Funk to score the tying run and put Zentz on second. Brynn Balliet followed with a single to left and when the ball was misplayed, Zentz sprinted home to score the winning run for Northwestern Lehigh.
“I knew that I had to make some sort of contact and put the ball in play,” said Funk. “Being up there with two strikes definitely was a little nerve wracking, but when I saw the 3-2 pitch coming in low, I knew I was going to get on base.”
While Funk, Zentz and Balliet provided the ninth-inning heroics, there were plenty of other highlights.
After Bangor (18-2) put up three runs in the first, Northwestern came up with a run of its own in the bottom of the inning on an RBI triple from Morgan Farthing that scored Novalie Duffy-Slemmer, who was a courtesy runner after Balliet led off with a walk.
Bangor came back with two in the top of the third to take a 5-1 lead. Bangor pitcher Nicky Smith delayed a Northwestern comeback in the bottom of the inning, but the Lady Tigers weren’t going to be kept down for long.
The bottom of the fourth opened with Molly Mitman, Marissa Christman, Olivia Stofflet and Izzy Akelaitis all picking up singles to make it 5-2. One out later, Zentz singled to center, driving in two more runs and making it a one run game at 5-4, which would stand until Bangor picked up an insurance run in the top of the seventh.
Down by two, Northwestern didn’t take long to come back. Sage Toman led off with a walk and Farthing got a hold of a 3-2 pitch and launched it over the center field fence to tie the game. Smith came back to finish off the inning and deny the Lady Tigers a victory at least temporarily. Northwestern loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth but was unable to score. Bangor looked to put the game away in the top of the ninth, going up 7-6. The Slaters didn’t count on the two-out, two-strike heroics from the Tigers in the bottom of the inning.
“It wasn’t the prettiest hit, but I knew I just needed a little single to get the run in and I did it,” said Balliet. “I struggled in my first two at-bats and I knew there were some things to work on, so I just focused on that, and it worked.”
Both teams struggled defensively with both committing six errors in the game.
The Lady Tigers go into districts as the top seed in Class 4A and will be off until Thursday when they will host fourth seeded Wilson (11-11). Northwestern beat Colonial League foe Wilson 12-2 during the regular season.