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WHS softball begins new journey in 5A bracket

This has been a unique season for Whitehall softball. The Zephyrs were nearly flawless in the regular season, amassing an overall 18-2 record. They won their first 11 games before suffering a loss at Pine Grove, and then reeled off seven straight before a loss to Emmaus.

Whitehall was eliminated in the East Penn Conference (EPC) semifinal playoffs by Northampton, letting a 5-0 lead turn into a 9-5 defeat.

Northampton has been a taboo word around the Whitehall program. The rival from across the Cementon Bridge eliminated the Zephyrs in the last two District 11 Class 6A title tilts, and they have been a thorn in their playoff side.

With district play beginning this week, the Zephyrs would normally have their focus on eventually meeting the Konkrete Kids somewhere along the line. However, like their season, this playoff round will take a different twist.

Whitehall is playing in the Class 5A bracket this season, and the top-seeded Zephyrs were scheduled to meet fourth-seeded East Stroudsburg South Thursday night at Pates Park for a 7:30 p.m. first pitch. Second-seeded Bangor will meet third-seeded Pocono Mountain East in the other semifinal beginning at 5 p.m. in Allentown.

Second-year head coach Jeff Vivian expects a new environment, but the ultimate goal is still the same. Ironically, Whitehall beat Northampton in both their regular-season meetings this season.

“This year will have a different feel from previous years not seeing Northampton, Parkland, or Emmaus,” he said. “We certainly will miss that part of the 6A playoffs. We loved playing in those rivalry games. It always ratchets the intensity up.”

Vivian knows the bull’s-eye likely will be on his team’s back.

“Starting our journey in 5A, we know no one wants the new kid on the block to win,” he added. “We know there is some revenge here, and it’s starting a new rivalry. We look forward to that.

“It will be a fun experience as we become more acclimated to the 5A districts.”

With only four teams in the bracket, the Zephyrs will need two wins to claim their first district title since 2009. They beat Parkland, 1-0, in the 4A bracket then.

Pitcher Kassy Aquino knows it is all about staying focused.

“In the past few years we came close, but we couldn’t finish the game,” she said. ‘Regardless of who we play, we have to focus on finishing the game and play all the way through. Our motto this year has been to focus on one pitch, inning and at-bat. If anything, we have to play harder and with more grit. Playing for each other and a clean game is essential to be successful.”

Infielder Emma Bonshak noted that she and her teammates will play for the moment, no matter who the opponent.

“We can only control what we can control,” said Bonshak. “We are very motivated for districts and to prove we belong there. We know we can’t let our guard down in districts.

We need to show up ready to play if we want to make it as far as we did the past two seasons. My hope is we can get further this season. This would be a great way to end my team’s season and the seniors’ career at Whitehall.”

Vivian understands the room for error is very slight. Whitehall routed East Stroudsburg, 14-2, during the regular season.

“It’s the start of districts and we go right to the semifinal round,” he said. “We understand this is do or die, and you can tell this group wants to play for as long as they can.

“We open with East Stroudsburg South, which will be a revenge game for them. We beat them earlier in the year, so I am sure they are coming down looking for revenge. We have to be up for that and we have to force them to play our type of game. We have to be clean in the field and aggressive at the plate. If we can push the pace of the game offensively, we should be in a good spot.”

Press photo by Linda Rothrock Jess Spanitz stretches for a ball at second base during a game against rival Northampton.