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LV falls in CC baseball semi

Even though the heat index reached high into the 90s and Lehigh Valley fell behind early in their Carpenter Cup semifinal game against Mercer County Monday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the team never figured on leaving the ballpark without a win. Perhaps that – and a highly disputed play at the plate – was the reason why the players all walked out of Citizens Bank Park dejected.

Mercer County picked up six runs in its first five at-bats and held on for a 6-5 win over Lehigh Valley, sending Mercer County into Thursday’s championship game against Tri-Cape.

Mercer County picked up an unearned run in both the first and fifth innings and Matt Bethea hit a two-run home run in the fifth to jump out to an early 6-0 lead. As Lehigh Valley came to the plate in the bottom of the fifth, Parkland’s Blake Barthol opened the inning with a one-out walk and scored on a double by J.D. Greeley (PM West) before Rafe Perich (Northwestern Lehigh) singled to drive in Greeley and cut the Mercer County lead down to 6-2.

“I kept watching our guys and I never saw their energy level drop and they weren’t at all ready to quit,” said Lehigh Valley head coach Ted Plessl. “With it being so hot and getting down early, those guys could have blown us out of there, but our guys didn’t let them, and our pitchers kept us in the game and in position to make a comeback.”

Jared Stillwagon restored order for Mercer County in the sixth, but Lehigh Valley started to figure him out in the seventh as Greeley and Perich delivered back-to-back singles to open the inning and Brock Bollinger (Palmerton) singled to left to score Greeley. Perich was caught in a rundown between third and home and tagged out by third baseman Colin Detrolio. Northwestern’s Nick Henry made it 6-4 when he shot a single to center to score Bollinger from second before Stillwagon pitched out of further trouble.

Emmaus’s Braden Waller, the only Hornets player on the team, came on in the seventh and gave Lehigh Valley two scoreless innings of work, allowing just one hit while striking out two batters. Waller pitched in two of Lehigh Valley’s games in relief and delivered four shutout innings with two hits and six strikeouts to his record. Waller also pitched for the 2019 Carpenter Cup team, which was the last one contested because last year’s event was canceled.

Lehigh Valley came into the bottom of the ninth trailing 6-4 but started what looked like it could be a winning rally as Chaise Albus (Bethlehem Catholic) and Bollinger opened with singles to right and were moved up a base when Henry dropped a sacrifice bunt.

That’s when things got interesting. Salisbury’s Quinn Warmkessel singled to right center and Albus scored with Bollinger racing behind him being sent home by third base coach Plessl. Center fielder Dan Merkel’s throw pulled catcher Justin Guest to the first base side of the plate as Bollinger slid for the third base side, leaving Guest to lunge for the tag. Home plate umpire Matt Stuhltrager immediately called Bollinger out on the play for the second out of the inning. Mercer County went to closer Ryan DiMaggio, who struck out Liberty’s Parker Frey for the final out of the game.

After the game, Bollinger maintained that he hit the plate prior to Guest applying the tag. Plessl, who admittedly had a poor view of the attempted tag, didn’t offer an argument on the play.

“I don’t think he [Bollinger] ever got to the plate,” he said. “I was blocked but it looked like their guy got him from where I was, and that he didn’t make it to the plate.”

Lehigh Valley had hoped to return to the finals, looking for its fourth Carpenter Cup championship after winning the tournament in 1998, 2001 and 2011. Last year’s games were canceled due to COVID, leaving players and coaches anxious to return to Philadelphia.

“This was a great group of guys,” said Plessl. “They worked hard, and they really never gave up even when they fell behind early. They just kept the energy level high and never quit on us. I think that I speak for the entire coaching staff when I say that it was a good crew. Now we start to look at next season.”

PRESS PHOTO BY CHUCK HIXSON Braden Waller pitched in two Carpenter Cup baseball games, throwing four shutout innings while allowing two hits and striking out six.