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Lehigh 12U team tops Solehi

What turned out to be a highly competitive PA District 20 Little League 12U playoff between Lehigh and Southern Lehigh started calmly enough last Friday at Lehigh.

Solehi turned a double play in the top of the first inning, and Lehigh catcher Andrew Erfle’s sharp throw to Willie Cruz covering second base in the bottom of the first kept the teams even.

“They all told me [Mason Brown] was going, so my first instinct was to throw it down,” Erfle said.

And then the storm came in the top of the second as heavy downpours delayed the game for more than one hour.

And then there was the storm after that, the kind of storm that brews when 11 and 12-year-olds have to perform in a high-pressure situation in front of hundreds of people in a game with championship implications.

So when the rain subsided and the sun came back out, Lehigh’s Willie Cruz hit a two-out double to right center, stole third base, and a bad throw by Solehi allowed Cruz to score the only run of the game in the third inning.

“It was really high in the air so I thought it was going to be an easy pop fly, but I ran my hardest and got to second, and took home on a passed ball,” Cruz said. “I was excited when I did that.”

Earlier in the day, Solehi manager BJ Spigelmyer told his team that the game was going to come down to one mistake.

“And that was our mistake,” Spigelmyer said. “They had a fly ball to center field that should’ve been caught. I felt like the fans had a little bit of a play in that. They were yelling at my kid and he kind of eased off it, and he didn’t catch it.”

Solehi pitcher Colton Sams followed up with a strikeout, his fourth at that point, and Lehigh pitcher Brayden Kashner, who likes to work quickly on the mound, threw three straight strikeouts to end the third inning.

“My curveball was working tonight and a lot of four-seam fastballs because the ball was really wet,” Kashner said. “I like to work fast. I think having the same rhythm is good. I like repetition, and I like to get out of things quick.”

Solehi manager B.J. Spigelmyer said whether Kashner was quick pitching or not didn’t matter.

“He threw strikes all day, and we have to adjust,” Spigelmyer said. “Both pitchers are phenomenal. I didn’t call one pitch tonight. I let [Sams] do it with the catcher, and not one time did I disagree with anything they were throwing. [Kashner and Sams] both got ahead, and they only walked one guy between the two of them. It’s amazing.”

When Sams returned to the mound in the fourth, he threw three consecutive strikeouts of his own.

“That young man threw one heck of a baseball game,” said Lehigh manager Mike Kashner. “This game was so eerily similar to when these kids were 10 years old. The field’s perfect, we start playing, and then there’s rain. The same exact thing happened the last time we played at the end of the first inning with the same two kids pitching, and just about the same roster.”

The only difference was that Solehi won that day two years ago, and by the bottom of the fifth, it could have happened again, but this year, it was Lehigh’s day.

Solehi’s Evan Przynski had a line drive to left field and made his way to third base on two passed balls but was thrown out at home on a hit by Jack Fistner.

“All I remember is trying to scoop the ball up and throwing as hard as I could home, and hoping it wasn’t a bad throw,” said Lehigh third baseman Mac Pavlish, who had two hits in the game. “I felt pretty good right when Andrew caught it because I knew he’d probably get him out. They weren’t really hitting Brayden, so I knew as long as our fielding was good and we were able to keep the ball out of the outfield so they wouldn’t be able to run all over the bases, we’d be pretty good.”

Coach Kashner said his team works every day on cutting off runners.

“Mac Pavlish is a kid that gives me everything he has, fields it clean,” he said. “We’d still be here playing if that didn’t happen.”

Coach Spigelmyer thought the game would go to extra innings.

“Three feet to the left, it’s in the hole, and it’s a tie game. Literally, it comes down to little things like that,” he said, “but that’s the way it is. We were just hoping it would be their mistake and not ours, but give them credit. They didn’t make any mistakes.”

As for Kashner, the Lehigh pitcher was trying for a strike out or a ground ball to the left side.

“Mac can make that throw from third base, Willie at short has a good arm, and I was working kind of up in the zone because I didn’t want a passed ball, but I wasn’t that scared of missing high,” he said. “Walking in, I was pretty nervous because [Southern Lehigh] looked pretty good, but when you finally play the game, your nerves calm down, and that’s kind of what happened with me. I focused on the strike zone and pounded it.”

And on the last play of the game, a ground ball was hit to Cruz.

“I was kind of nervous, but then there were two outs, the ball got hit to me, and I made the last play, and I was really excited,” he said.

Lehigh players, coaches, and fans celebrated, not only the victory, but the right to host a possible championship this Wednesday.

“This group grinds,” said an emotional Coach Kashner. “I think we’ve had 24 practices, double sessions, basically no days off, two to three hour practices, and I’m hard on them. And the reason is so that they can somehow keep their cool in environments like this and find a way to be loose and free and still compete and play. There were times when both sides, the emotions got ahold of people because it was such a competitive baseball game.

“Sometimes things get a little heated, but that’s sport. If they’re not doing that, they don’t care. I’m a big believer in letting it loose because that shows it matters to you, you’re willing to go the extra distance to win, and accept it if you lose. I thought everybody kept their cool and the kids were just trying to do the best they can. That’s part of what we try to do, put them in high-pressure situations in practice which is pretty intense, and when it carries over, it makes me proud.”

Press photo by Mark Kirlin Lehigh 12U player Willie Cruz slides safely into third base during a recent game.
Marco Sciarra, left, and Willie Cruz celebrate coming off the field.