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Tigers improve playoff position

There’s a new number-one in District 11’s Class 3A baseball rankings.

Thanks to a 7-6 win by Northwestern Lehigh over Salisbury on Monday, the Tigers are now the top-ranked team in the 3A power rankings, leapfrogging the Falcons. Northwestern and Salisbury are the top two teams in the Colonial League and have split their two regular season games as the Tigers avenged a 3-1 loss at Salisbury back on March 22.

Both teams have strong and deep pitching staffs and it looked like the pitching was going to dominate in Monday’s game. When the Falcons put up four runs in the third, it seemed like a huge development. Ultimately, it just changed how the game would play out.

The big blow in the inning came on a three-run home run by Salisbury’s Tom Lovelidge, who hit a towering shot to left field against starter Shaun O’Donnell. Combined with a run that scored earlier in the inning on a wild pitch, the blast gave the Falcons a 4-0 edge.

Austin Spisszak was on the mound for Salisbury and was victimized by a key error in the third that led to three unearned runs. With runners on first and third and two outs, Josh Farber hit a ground ball to third that was misplayed and allowed Eli Zimmerman to score. Justin Augustus followed with a two-run double and suddenly, the game was back to a one-run advantage for Salisbury through three innings.

In the top of the fourth, Salisbury shifted to using some small ball to push a run across. Spisszak and Jake Zellin led off with singles and Nate Nunez later singled through the middle to make it a 5-3 advantage for Salisbury.

Again, it looked like the pitching was going to gain control. While O’Donnell exited after four innings of work for Northwestern, Spisszak was still on the mound for the bottom of the fifth and issued a leadoff walk to Cannon Fitch. Josh Lichman followed with a single to push Fitch to third with nobody out and Bob Croneberger followed with a sacrifice fly to right to again cut the lead to just a run. Spisszak was able to work through the rest of the inning without any further damage as the Tigers continued to get close but could not tie up the game.

Farber worked through the fifth and sixth innings with a little help from his defense. With a runner on second and one out, Caleb Gonzalez hit a fly ball to center that looked like it was going to drop in for a hit.

Eli Zimmerman quickly closed the gap and made a diving catch only to bounce right back up and throw a strike to second.

The baserunner, Jake Zellin, was among those who thought it would fall in and was caught off the bag when Zimmerman’s throw arrived.

“That was a huge play in the game,” said Northwestern head coach Brian Polaha. “I don’t know that I have ever had a player get to their full speed as quickly as Eli. Then, he has the awareness to get up and make the play to second for the double play, which is what made the play really special.”

The Tigers finally chased Spisszak in the bottom of the sixth. After Salisbury’s Jacob Bucchin made a diving catch to rob Watson Church of a hit to open the inning, Cole Dynda singled to right and moved to second when Zimmerman walked.

Fitch stepped to the plate and lined a single to right that brought Dynda in to score, tying the game, and Zimmerman went to third. Lichman drew a walk to load the bases and force the exit of Spisszak, who had reached 98 pitches in the game.

A pair of wild pitches brought in Zimmerman and Fitch to put the Tigers up 7-5.

“I was just looking to hit the ball hard somewhere and make something happen,” said Fitch of the game-tying single. “We had the attitude that we were going to win this one and there was no way we were going to give up because we needed this win. This was huge for us, especially since we lost to them the first time.”

Bucchin looked to rally the Falcons with two outs and the bases empty in the seventh when he hit a solo home run to left field before Farber was able to get the final out of the game on a pop-up to first.

“We knew they were going to come after us,” said Salisbury coach Justin Aungst. “We figure that we are going to have to face them again for the league title and then again in districts, so there are going to be more games like this one, I’m sure.”

Justin Augustus appeared to have a home run in the third inning when the ball appeared to have gone over the fence, hit something, and bounced back into play.

Instead, the umpires ruled it went off the top of the fence and came back into play. Another play on a ball hit by Zellin looked like it was caught by Church, but it was ruled in play. Zellin was only able to get to first as Church was able to get the ball back in quickly.

In other games last week, the Tigers beat Notre Dame Green Pond 12-4 last Thursday.

Augustus had three hits and two RBIs in the win. t Croneberger went 2 for 3 with two RBIs and a pair of runs scored against the Crusaders.

Northwestern beat Northern Lehigh 14-3 a day later. Croneberger had two hits in the win, while Farber had one hit, four RBIs and two runs scored.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Eli Zimmerman rounds third base during Monday's win over Salisbury.
PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Justin Augustus had some key hits in Monday's win over Salisbury.