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Tigers advance to softball title game

PINE GROVE - For Northwestern, it was worth the wait.

In a game that began nearly two hours after its scheduled start time, the Tigers defeated Blue Mountain 7-3 last Thursday to advance to the District 11 Class 4A softball finals against Bethlehem Catholic.

Although contributions to the victory came from several players, the pitching and hitting star of the game for Northwestern was clearly senior Brynn Balliet.

Balliet pitched a complete game, allowing three runs on nine hits. At the plate, she belted a lead-off home run over the left field fence in the top of the fourth inning, and smashed a double to left in the seventh before she came around to score the Tigers’ final run of the game.

Northwestern head coach Josh Zimmerman couldn’t have been more pleased with Balliet’s performance.

“She’s been doing a great job for us all year,” Zimmerman said. “We have a great one-two punch with Peyton Neumoyer and Brynn, and we’ve been stretching out Brynn to go the distance, and she certainly was terrific doing that today.”

Blue Mountain, the District 11 No. 2 seed, took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Elle Walasavage led off with a single to right and stole second. She advanced to third on a fielder’s choice, and scored on a two-out infield single by Anna Laughlin.

Eagles’ hurler Olivia Labe kept the visitors scoreless until the top half of the third when the third-seeded Tigers pushed across two runs to take the lead.

Sage Toman drew a one-out walk. Morgan Farthing reached on a dropped outfield fly ball - one of six errors in the game committed by Blue Mountain. Marissa Christman then ripped a double to right-center scoring Toman and Farthing.

In the fourth, after Balliet’s bomb made the score 3-1 in favor of the Tigers, Isabella Teprovich walked after an eight-pitch at-bat. Pinch runner Danielle Leto broke for second on Rylee McKinley’s sacrifice bunt and the ball was thrown wide of first base. With two runners aboard, Quinn Conrey moved both into scoring position with a bunt. Leto tagged and scored the Tigers’ fourth run on a sacrifice fly to right by Toman.

Blue Mountain answered with two of its own runs in the home-half of the fourth. Labe singled to center and stole second. With two outs, Walasavage laced a low line drive single under the glove of the first baseman to put runners on first and second. Marla Friewald then cracked a triple over the center fielder’s head to drive in two runs.

Holding onto a precarious one-run lead, Northwestern rallied for two runs in the sixth. Conrey walked. Toman dropped a bunt down the third base line that was thrown into short right field, scoring Conrey all the way from first. The throw home bounced to the backstop, sending Toman all the way to third.

With two outs, Zimmerman pulled what turned out to be a double steal out of his bag of tricks.

Farthing walked and when she reached first base, she made the turn and purposely got into a rundown between first and second. Toman broke from third, and the throw home was late giving the Tigers a 6-3 lead.

“We work on this kind of play,” said Zimmerman. “Sage has to make the read at what point during the rundown between first and second to make her break from third. It’s not on me, because it would be too late if I have to tell her when.”

Following Balliet’s double in the seventh, she tagged and reached third on a fly ball to center by Teprovich. On the first pitch to McGinley, she laid down a suicide bunt, scoring Balliet for a 7-3 lead.

“In softball, the base paths are short, so you can make a lot happen with the running game,” Zimmerman said. “We rely on it to try to score runs without hits.

“The rundown and steal of home, and the suicide bunt helped us to lengthen our lead.”

With two gone in the home seventh, Blue Mountain’s Paige Bergan doubled and Autumn Handwerk singled, but Balliet thwarted the scoring threat on a line drive to center caught by Toman to end the game.

Twice in the game Tiger catcher Olivia Stofflet gunned down base runners attempting to steal second.

Northwestern returns to the championship game for the third time in a row. Last season the Tigers were the top seed and lost to No. 2 Beca, 11-4. In 2019, Northwestern was the top seed and fell to No. 2 Blue Mountain, 5-1.

The Tigers will match up with Becahi again in this year’s title game, which was slated for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Pates Park. That game was played after Press deadlines. For coverage see next week’s edition.

Northwestern 002 202 1 - 7 5 0

Blue Mountain 100 200 0 - 3 9 6

Balliet and Stofflet; Labe, Friewald (4) and Bergan. W - Balliet. L - Labe. HR: Northwestern - Balliet (4th, none on).

PRESS PHOTO BY RON GOWER Brynn Balliet contributed with her arm and her bat in Northwestern's win over Blue Mountain in the District 11 Class 4A semifinal.
PRESS PHOTO BY CHUCK HIXSON Sage Toman scored a Northwestern run on a designed play and heads-up baserunning in the Tigers' district semifinal win.