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Successful season ends in state tourney

Nobody saw the Northwestern Lehigh softball season ending this abruptly. A loss to Bethlehem Catholic in the district finals put the Lady Tigers into a play-in game for the PIAA tournament and a loss there ended their season at 21-3.

The team breezed through its regular season schedule with just one loss, a thrilling 19-16 loss to Palmerton in April. Even in that game, the Tigers came into the bottom of the seventh trailing by six and mounted a furious rally to cut it to three before Palmerton got the third out.

After the loss, Northwestern rattled off 11 straight wins in the regular season and added four more in the postseason, including winning the Colonial League championship.

“It just wasn’t in the cards for us to go further,” said Tiger head coach Josh Zimmerman. “The fact is though that they can never get it taken away from them that they’re 2021 Colonial League champions, so yeah, it stinks but that’s what softball and sports in general are all about. In sports, you learn to deal with adversity and get up the next day and be ready to go and I hope that’s what the girls take away from this.”

Before the season, Zimmerman projected that the team would have no problem scoring runs and would score a bunch of them off home runs. As a team, the Lady Tigers hit 32 home runs and crossed the plate 268 times with a team batting average of .384 on the season.

Junior Morgan Farthing led the team with nine home runs and Molly Mitman was right behind with seven. Farthing also led the team in hitting with a .507 average, while Mitman, Kylie Zentz and Izzy Akelaitis were all at .460 or above.

On the mound, Brynn Balliet handled the bulk of the responsibility, finishing with 17 wins and a 2.64 ERA, pitching over 100 innings. As a junior, Balliet will return next season as will Peyton Neumoyer, who pitched in eight games as a freshman with four wins and a 3.87 ERA for Northwestern Lehigh.

Defensively, the Lady Tigers were spotty and their play in the field cost them in their final two games when they committed a combined 11 errors in the losses to Bethlehem Catholic and Berwick.

The roster featured five seniors – Adana Funk, Novalie Duffy-Slemer, Mitman, Sam Sisco and Zentz – who will have to be replaced since four of them were starters. Duffy-Slemer was a featured courtesy runner for the team, scoring 26 runs.

“Their sophomore year, we had 19 wins and they were a huge part of that and to follow that up with the 21 wins this season is a testament to their leadership,” said Zimmerman of the senior class.

The good news is that there is a strong group of players who will return next season, led by Farthing, Balliet and catcher Olivia Stofflet. With both pitchers returning, Northwestern will have experienced pitchers with a strong catcher that they’re familiar working with behind the plate. The left side of the infield will feature Farthing at short and Marissa Christman, a rising junior, at third base. Left fielder Sage Toman played in 21 games and hit .349 this season and will be back on next year’s team as well.

“We’ve got a good group coming back next year, so things don’t look so bad,” Zimmerman said. “Our program continues to grow and we’re kind of at the point now where we don’t rebuild, we reload thanks to the feeder programs and all of the travel clubs and our middle school team. We’re extremely excited about the future, although right now we’re hurting for our seniors who had their season end.”

PRESS PHOTO BY LINDA ROTHROCK Kylie Zentz is one of five seniors who helped lead Northwestern to this year's Colonial League softball championship.
PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Pitcher Brynn Balliet will be part of a solid returning core for next year's Northwestern softball team.