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Tigers softball reaches D-11 title game

The Northwestern Lehigh softball team advanced to the District 11 Class 4A title game with a 4-0 win over Bethlehem Catholic last Friday.

Bethlehem Catholic made two second-inning errors that put runners on second and third with nobody out and escaped with both runners being stranded.

Pitcher Haylie Pyle survived the scare by striking out three Northwestern Lehigh hitters.

With runners on first and second and one out in the fourth, Pyle was not able to escape and it started the Tigers on their way to a 4-0 win in the District 11 semifinals, which also puts them through to the PIAA tournament.

With the fourth-inning threat underway, Northwestern’s Lizzy Diehl dropped a soft liner in front of center fielder Madeline Ahner to bring in pitcher Emma Freeman from second with the first run of the game.

Lily Kinnon hit a grounder to short that was booted to load the bases. Bethlehem Catholic coach Kayla Paszek argued that there should have been a runner’s interference call on the play, but the umpires conferred and did not reverse their original call.

Ella Bressi grounded to third baseman Sarah Banko who threw home to force Shelby Mitman at the plate for the second out of the inning, but Rylee McGinley used her speed to beat out an infield single that brought in the second run of the inning before Pyle could work out of the jam.

“Honestly, I couldn’t do that without my team behind me,” said Diehl of her RBI single to center. “We played a fantastic game and Emma threw a great game for us.”

“She [Pyle] really had her drop curve working tonight,” said Tiger head coach Kate Farber. “And she was pitching very well and kept us on our toes going in and going out with her pitches.

“We came in between innings, and we talked about making adjustments and that’s what we did. We focused on hitting the top half of the ball and even if you miss the top, you’re going to get the middle, so that’s what we did.”

Freeman was fantastic on the mound and was on cruise control. After giving up a single to Rivera to open the game, Freeman retired seven straight batters and allowed just the one hit, a walk, and a hit batter through four innings.

The two runs gave Northwestern momentum and Freeman added to it when she put down the Hawks in order in the top of the fifth.

To open the sixth, Rivera hit a ball to the hole at short that third baseman Sage Toman couldn’t get to, but Izzy Akelaitis went deep into the hole to field the ball and threw a laser to Mitman at first who made a great stretch to retire Rivera.

Just to smooth the path a little more for Freeman, Northwestern put together a two out rally in the seventh. After Pyle opened the final inning with two strikeouts, Kinnon singled to right-center and Bressi reached on an infield single to get McGinley back to the plate, and again it was with two outs. The junior outfielder launched a fly ball to right-center field for a two-run double pushing the Northwestern lead to 4-0.

“I knew we had the two runners on, and I just wanted to put the ball in play to give us a chance to score an extra run or two going into the last inning. The first pitch was a pretty pitch, so I just took a whack at it,” said McGinley of the two seventh inning runs she drove in.

Freeman nonchalantly retired the side in order in the seventh to end the game, allowing just one hit and a walk with five strikeouts in the game.

The weather at Patriot’s Park was a distinct difference from what the Tigers have faced there earlier in the playoffs. Instead of damp, rainy weather, the semifinals were played in sunny, 80-degree weather, something that Freeman prefers.

“It really wasn’t bad. It was definitely better than playing in a downpour,” laughed Freeman, who threw around 100 pitches in the win. “The sun was out and it actually was a great day to be pitching and it didn’t bother me much at all.”

The Hawks had defeated Northwestern in the 2021 and 2022 district finals, giving the Tigers a little slice of revenge as they advanced to the championship game for the fifth straight season with the win over Beca.

PRESS PHOTO BY LINDA ROTHROCK Rylee McGinley drove in three of Northwestern's four runs in last week's District 11 semifinal win over Bethlehem Catholic.