Young Tigers start season 5-2
Baseball teams with seven new varsity starters usually take some time to adjust. But Northwestern doesn't look like a team with seven new starters. And the team certainly has not needed much time to adjust.
The Tigers are off to a 5-2 start this season, including a five-game win streak and lot of run scoring.
"I'm very pleased with where we're at at this point in the season," said Smith. "I'm just so pleased with the progress we have made even from the first game to now with such a young and inexperienced team."
The Tigers have a team heavy in underclassmen, with just three seniors and one junior in their starting line up. After a season-opening loss to Pen Argyl, Northwestern reeled off wins over Blue Mountain, Tamaqua, Northern Lehigh, Palmerton and Jim Thorpe before falling to Bangor Monday.
They have scored 12 or more runs in three of their wins and have been held to less than six runs just once this season.
A batting order which lost seven members from last year, including most of the team's top hitters, has not only made up for those losses, but could be out-performing last year's veteran line up.
"The top of the order has really come around," Smith said. "When you look at one through five, especially with some of the young kids hitting the ball, they've really improved tremendously. You're talking about kids who have never played varsity ball. That's a big step up."
In last Friday's 12-2 mercy-rule win over Palmerton, the top of the order included senior Boston Furjanic (2 for 2), sophomore Nick Rodriguez (1 for 2, two runs scored, RBI), senior Rich Perry (2 for 3), junior Collin Breidinger (2 for 3) and senior Alex Smith.
Number six hitter Taylor Breininger has also been contributing to the offense. He had his second straight big game last Friday. The sophomore outfielder went 2 for 2 against Palmerton, reaching base four times and scoring three runs. Two days earlier he went 4 for 5 against Northern Lehigh.
He shook off some early season nerves and is starting to feel comfortable at the plate.
"I've become a lot more relaxed," said Breininger. "I'm not worried about needing to get a hit. I get up there, clear my mind and focus on what I'm trying to do.
"My first game I was really nervous. I didn't have a great game. My teammates were always picking me up when I did something wrong, telling me to shake it off. It's totally different now that I'm relaxed. I'm just focused."
Breininger and the Tigers (4-1 overall, 2-1 Colonial League) took advantage of eight Palmerton miscues last Friday while playing solid defense behind Perry, who pitched all six innings. He allowed just four hits while striking out three and walking two.
"He keeps us in the ball game and he gives us a chance," said Smith. "He doesn't really get involved in a big inning."
"I threw pretty good," said Perry. "If you have your head in the game and you have your teammates behind you, all you have to do is rely on them. If you rely on them you'll be golden."
Northwestern pulled ahead 1-0 on a Breidinger (2-for-3) double in the first inning. They got three more in the third, two on Palmerton errors. Breininger started the inning with a single. Furjanic and Rodriguez added a single and double, respectively, in between the Bomber errors.
Breidinger led off the third inning with his second hit of the game. Breininger drove in one run with his one-out triple. The Tigers got another run on a Palmerton error for a 6-0 lead after three innings.
The Bombers (3-2 overall, 1-2 Colonial League) got on the board in the fourth when two runs scored on Garrett Krome's no-out double. Perry responded by retiring the last nine batters of the game in order.
The Tigers used four walks, two errors and one hit to score four more runs and take an 11-2 lead in the fifth inning.
A walk, a Brandon Eden single and an error loaded the bases in the sixth. Freshman Brady Mengel walked to earn the game-winning RBI with no outs.
Northwestern has proved through its first seven games that it could be a contender this season despite its youth and inexperience.
"Even though we're young, we've proved we can do this," said Perry. "We're here and we're ready to win."