Ten-inning win over Salisbury sends NW to league final
Northwestern Lehigh head coach Len Smith told his senior ace Josh Williamson before the Tigers' Colonial League semifinal contest against Salisbury that there is no tomorrow in single-elimination tournament games.
Williamson pitched five effective innings against Bangor during Saturday's quarterfinal victory and didn't expect to be used Monday against Salisbury.
However, Williamson earned the save during Northwestern's thrilling 5-4 10-inning semifinal victory against the Falcons.
"It feels awesome for many reasons," said Williamson. "We haven't beaten them at all this season. This is the first time we've ever been in the league playoffs as seniors and it's a pretty exciting experience to make it to the league championship."
Northwestern started off scorching hot in the first inning. The top of the order strung together four consecutive hits to start the game, including Tyler Schreiner's inside-the-park, two-run home run.
"We feel we have three people at the top of that order that can hit the ball and have speed," Smith said. "However we get on base, we're usually going to run on people. You saw that with the way he circled the bases in very quick order. The speed there is outstanding."
Salisbury also struck in the bottom of the first inning, but Tigers' starting pitcher Jordan Storm settled in and tossed an efficient six and a third innings, limiting the Falcons' explosive offense to just two runs.
"He's really come a long way this season," Smith said. "I wish it would have been a little different outcome for him, but he did an outstanding job for us and has taken upon a big role in our rotation."
Northwestern clung to a two-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning when Salisbury's Evan Kulig came through with a two-run single up the middle off of Jacob Augustus to even up the game an send it to extras.
"He did everything we asked him to do," said Salisbury head coach Mike Pochron. "He faced them twice this year (on the mound) and we thought we would give them (Northwestern) a different look. He came in and gave us everything and more at the plate and on the mound."
Kulig also relieved Salisbury starter Chad Cooperman in the fifth inning and limited the Tigers to just two runs (one earned) over his five innings.
Thanks to some sloppy Salisbury feilding, the Tigers manufactured a run in the top of the tenth frame.
Williamson ripped a grounder to Cooperman at shortstop, who made an impressive snag during Williamson's previous at-bat that robbed him of a hit. Cooperman's low throw couldn't be scooped out of the dirt by first basemen Eric Schware. As a result, Northwestern's Brady Mengel scored the game-winning run during the play.
"It was a hard-fought game and everyone gave everything they had," said Pochron. "Both teams had a lot of opportunities. We had some in the last few innings. We could have ended it a few times. Unfortunately we made a few mistakes in the 10th inning that ended up costing us the game."
With a one-run lead and runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the 10th inning, Williamson was called upon to get the job done.
"The plan wasn't for me to have to pitch today at all," Williamson said. "Coach did say to me that there is no tomorrow in games like these and we have to be ready for anything. It was too close of a game, but we came away with the win.
"Coach says you always want to be playing your best baseball at the end of the year, hopefully this momentum carries into Thursday."
Williamson struck out Taylor Linn for the second out and earned the final out of the game as Taylor Breininger impressively snagged an Andrew Fletcher fly ball in right-center field.
"He's (Breininger) a great athlete out there," said Williamson. "He's saved me a bunch of times. We have a great defense out there. He's one of the big reasons why we made it to where we are."
Salisbury will prepare for District 11 Class AA playoff action, as Northwestern has a Colonial League championship game to play on Thursday night.
The No. 3 seed Tigers will face top-ssed Saucon Valley in the finals. Saucon beat Palisades, 5-4 in Tuesday's second game att Limeport.
N'western 200 101 000 1 – 5 9 2
Salisbury 101 000 200 0 – 4 11 5
Storm, Augustus (7), Williamson (10), and Wiik; Cooperman, Kulig (5), and Rogers. W – Augustus. L – Kulig. HR – Schreiner (first inning, one on)