NWL beats Bombers in first round, falls to Bangor in semi
The Northwestern Lehigh baseball team earned the No. 2 seed in the Colonial League playoffs and won its opening game last week. The Tigers advanced to Monday’s semifinal, but fell to top-seeded Bangor.
The three games that Northwestern Lehigh has played against Palmerton this season have kind of defined the season that the Tigers have put together.
When the two teams met earlier in the season, Northwestern lost, but it was a close game. Much like some of their play early on when it seemed the team was close but just missing a little something.
Their next encounter was a 12-inning game that took two separate meetings to complete, and the Tigers pulled out an 8-6 win, taking care of business quickly when the game resumed after being suspended following 11 innings.
Finally, the two teams met in the quarterfinals of the Colonial League tournament and the underdog Tigers downed the Bombers 5-4, having overcome plenty of in-game obstacles to come out on top.
Shaun O’Donnell started the playoff game for the Tigers and had a strange first inning that saw him strike out four batters, but also give up a run. The extra strikeout came when Palmerton got a base runner on a dropped third strike that also allowed Trey Sterling to score from third when the pitch got away from Austin Eisenhard. From there, O’Donnell was money in the bank as he struck out the side in the second inning and again in the fourth and fifth innings.
The Tigers needed every bit of O’Donnell’s strong outing as they struggled offensively until they plated two runs in the bottom of the fifth. Wes George led off with a lined single to right and Josh Lichman put a charge into a pitch from pitcher Jacob Grames and launched it over the right field fence to a 2-0 lead. After a double to Bob Croneberger, Grames settled in and got the next three hitters to end the inning.
O’Donnell gave up a leadoff single to Chase Reph, who then stole second but was stranded there after two more strikeouts and a nice play at short by Croneberger that ended the inning.
The pitcher’s duel was blown up in the seventh inning. Cam Pengelly and Sterling opened the inning with back-to-back singles, Sterling’s coming on an attempt to bunt Pengelly over to second. An error allowed Pengelly to score and Sterling to move to third. Northwestern head coach Chad Cooperman then had Cole Serfass walked for the third time in the game to load the bases with one out. One out later, O’Donnell ended his day when he walked Reph to force across a run and tie the game.
Chase Moyer came on to pitch and a fielder’s choice brought in the third run and gave the Blue Bombers a 3-2 edge before Moyer finished off the inning.
“I came out feeling strong for that inning and I knew we had the nine hole up to hit, so I was feeling very confident,” said O’Donnell. “To pitch a really good game like that and then just let the ball slip out of my hand was tough. The team’s got my back and we went into the bottom of the seventh inning, and we were hyping each other up and the team was there to win it.”
Northwestern Lehigh was not going to allow themselves to waste the outing by O’Donnell and they went to work in the seventh. Lichman walked to lead off the inning and Nolan Fitzgerald came on as a pinch runner. Fitzgerald would go one base at a time when he moved up on a base hit by Justin Augustus and an infield single by Josh Farber loaded the bases with one out. Moyer then doubled to right to drive in two and after Aidan Freeman was intentionally walked, Eisenhard singled to bring in Farber with the winning run.
“When we played them the first time things just didn’t go our way and then we played that long second game and won it,” said Eisenhard about the previous meetings with Palmerton. “Every practice, the coach has been telling us that we need to be more aggressive at the plate and we haven’t been making the most of our at-bats, so we have really worked on that.”
Losing a game – especially a playoff game – in the last inning is a tough loss to swallow. Northwestern handed out a devastating loss to Palmerton in the quarterfinals of the Colonial League playoffs with a three-run seventh to beat the Bombers 7-6. Unfortunately, what goes around comes around and in the next round it was Northwestern losing in walk off fashion when they fell to Bangor 7-6.
For a semifinal game, the meeting between the Tigers and Slaters was especially messy. Of the 13 runs scored, only four were earned, thanks to nine errors in the game. In the end, it was an error that slammed the door on the Tigers as a hit off the bat of Greg Campbell was going to tie the game, but when the ball was misplayed in the outfield, the third – and winning run – scored.
The inning opened with back-to-back walks and then an infield single by Max Siu to load the bases. Campbell, who had started on the mound for Bangor, came to the plate having struck out twice and then drew a walk against starter Chase Moyer. This time he was facing Wes George and lined a single to left. By the time the ball landed, Kurt Snyder was close to scoring from third, having gotten a good read and taking off for home. Braiden Pysher was motoring around third and had a full head of steam toward home and only a strong, perfectly placed throw would have kept him from tying the game. Siu was heading to third and when the ball skipped away from Moyer, who had moved to left when Wes George came on to pitch, Siu was waved around third by coach Anthony Martino and scored.
“You want the ball in the hands of a senior (George) in a big moment; it’s always the goal,” said Cooperman. “They had eight, nine up in the order and we just wanted to come out and throw strikes, but we didn’t get that.”
The bottom line is that Northwestern Lehigh did not lose the game on that play. They committed five errors and allowed in three unearned runs. They also missed a couple of good opportunities in the game. Looking to score an insurance run, George and Josh Lichman led off the sixth with back-to-back singles. Erik Mather had come on as a courtesy runner for George and was thrown out at third when catcher Tommy Aulisi made a nice play on a bunt by Bob Croneberger. Justin Augustus then singled to left, but Lichman was not able to get a good read on the ball and was thrown out for the second out of the inning. Reliever Hunter Rydell, who had come on in the top of the fifth, got a strikeout to end the inning.
The next inning was another opportunity when Moyer reached on an error to open the inning and a single from Aidan Freeman put runners on first and second with nobody out. Rydell struck out Austin Eisenhard before Eli Zimmerman hit a long fly ball to center that allowed both runners to move up a base. Again though, Rydell stiffened and got George to fly out on a long fly ball to center. In all, the Tigers stranded 10 base runners, six of them were in scoring position.
Northwestern had taken a 1-0 lead in the second on an RBI single from Freeman, but Bangor tied the game in the bottom of the inning on a single through the middle that scored Dylan Keith, who had walked to lead off the inning, advanced on a ground ball and went to third on a wild pitch. Palmerton added two unearned runs in the third, only to see the Tigers get two unearned runs in their half of the fourth. Josh Farber reached on a two-base error and Moyer walked to put two runners on with no outs. An error on Bangor third baseman Kurt Snyder allowed Farber to score and Eisenhard delivered a sacrifice fly to bring in Moyer and make it 3-3.
Leading off the fifth, Lichman sent a shot over the right field fence that bounced onto William Penn Highway. It was Lichman’s second long home run in as many games and gave Northwestern a 4-3 lead. Another Bangor error in the inning allowed Farber to score and Zimmerman drove in a run with an infield single to make it 6-3.
Bangor got one run back in the fifth and George set the Slaters down in order in the sixth before the seventh inning heroics for Bangor sent them to the Colonial League finals.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow. We didn’t execute to the best of our abilities throughout the game,” said Cooperman. “With that said, we stood in a great position to come out with a victory, and we just could not get it done in the seventh.”
Northwestern will likely face Pine Grove in districts, which begin next week. “We need to regroup and come back fighting in districts,” said Cooperman. “We can take some confidence that we gained today and take that in to districts and give it our best shot.”