Tigers fall in league title game
Pitcher Brandon Eden and the Northwestern defense needed three outs to break a Colonial League championship drought that's spanned over a decade.
Through six innings, Eden managed the game perfectly, allowing just one Saucon Valley run on four hits. The run was unearned, the result of a Tiger infield error near the pitcher's mound on a pop-up that would have kept the Panthers scoreless. Instead the Panthers got on the scoreboard to tie the game 1-1.
Northwestern responded with a run in the top half of the seventh, giving Eden a 2-1 cushion for the final three outs.
But that's when Saucon Valley's bats started to heat up. The top-seeded Panthers rallied for two runs on three hits in the bottom half of the seventh to down the No. 3 seed Tigers, 3-2, last Thursday night at Limeport Stadium.
"When you're in this situation, it's tough to lose these," Smith said. "We had a couple of bumps in the season, and we got through that and over that. But this hurts even more, and it's a little more difficult to handle."
The loss keeps Northwestern's league championship drought alive, with its last (and fourth of head coach Len Smith) coming in 2003.
"The last two years, we missed the league playoffs by a tiebreaker," Smith said. "I would've been disappointed if we didn't get in the league tournament this year. And I knew we had the ability to be at this pointe. We just didn't get the breaks at the end here to finish it off."
Saucon Valley's Alston Wolfe began the seventh with a single to left field and advanced to second base on Nate Kologie's sacrifice bunt. Eden then hit Tyler Greenwalt with the first pitch of the at-bat, sending Smith to the mound to have a few words with his senior pitcher.
When play resumed, so did the power of the Panthers' bats. Pinch-hitter Anthony Sneska lined a single over the head of third baseman Josh Williamson into left field that scored Wolfe to tie it once again.
The Tigers got Will Smith to ground out to third base, but after an intentional walk to Joe Schuyler, Nate Harka (2-for-4, one RBI) lined the game-winning hit into centerfield to score Ryan Smith.
"He fell behind 3-0 to that one batter, and then he finally got through that with the sacrifice," Smith said. "I just wanted to go out and settle him down, refocus, and start all over."
With the way the Tigers were forced to use their pitching staff in the quarterfinals and semifinals, Smith decided to ride Eden until the end.
"We felt that we had to schedule our pitchers," Smith said. "On Saturday, we got a good outing from Josh [Williamson], and Brandon finished up. The other day [Tuesday in the semifinals against Salisbury] is what really hurt us a little bit because we went 10 innings and we had to pitch three people."
Northwestern opened the game with three hits in the first inning, capped by Nick Rodriguez's bloop single to right field that scored Jake Augustus (3-for-4, two runs). The Tigers held that 1-0 advantage through five innings.
Saucon Valley got the game-tying run in the sixth on a Tiger miscue. With a runner on third base, Adam Hough's pop up to the pitcher's mound should have ended the Panthers' threat. But three different Tigers went for the ball, none of who were able to secure it cleanly.
It didn't take long for Northwestern to respond. Tyler Schreiner's groundout to shortstop advanced Augustus to second base, and Augustus moved to third on a heads up play during the Panthers' throw to first base. He was able to come across home when that ensuing throw to third base was off line, the Panthers' only error of the outing.