NV wins play-in game, gets to LVL playoffs
You've heard the old Abbott and Costello "Who's on First?" routine. Well, the Northern Valley Chargers have played a version of that almost all season and Tuesday night, their pitcher was their catcher and it helped to produce a strong outing for the pitcher.
For the first time in about four months, Dante Salerno put on catching gear and went behind the plate. He's spent most of his time on the mound, but coach Brad Rauch needed him more behind the plate and that's where Salerno wound up.
As it turned out, it worked out well, because pitcher John Taylor threw five shutout innings in the Chargers 12-0 win over Salisbury that clinched a spot in the Lehigh Valley Legion playoffs for Northern Valley.
"He [Taylor] was spotting everything up and hitting every spot that I gave him," said Salerno. "His curveball was breaking and he had people off balance with that."
Batting leadoff, Salerno reached base all four times he was up, with three singles and a walk, scoring two runs. Batting leadoff is an unusual spot for a pitcher and a very unusual spot for a catcher, but it's where Salerno is most comfortable.
"I've been leading off basically my whole life," he said. "What I try to do is just get on and rely on the rest of my team to get me over and score me and that's what happened today."
The Chargers struck hard in the second inning against Salisbury starter Tristan Rissmiller. Taylor led off with a ground-rule double and Evan Meixell followed with a perfect bunt that Rissmiller threw away, allowing Taylor to score.
Another error put Meixell on third and a sacrifice fly from Travis Nelmes made it 2-0. From there, Northern Valley strung together three singles, two walks and a triple from Ben Cordova to take a 7-0 lead.
From there, Meixell tripled to lead off the third and scored on an RBI single from Zachary Rex. More hitting and weak fielding from Salisbury allowed the Chargers to stretch the lead to 11-0 after three. In the fourth, Nelmes capped the scoring with a long home run to left field and a 12-0 advantage.
"I think one of the things that we have going for us is that we had a lot of back-to-back games during the year where we played a lot of games, even playing double-headers on Saturdays and Sundays," said Rauch. "I think we're in a good spot.
"We're one of the teams that got hammered big-time with rainouts, so I think we're prepared for that and we have enough guys that we can sort of mix guys in here and there and be comfortable."
Northern Valley enjoyed an off day Wednesday and opens the playoffs Thursday at Parkland High School against second-seed South Parkland. The Chargers lost both meetings with South Parkland during the regular season, by scores of 7-1 and 8-3.
"We've always been very successful in the playoffs," said Rauch. "I've been here five years and we've made it every year and always been a top contender. To be in this spot says a lot about these guys. We're one of the smaller teams, pulling from Northwestern, Northern Lehigh and Lehighton, we don't pull guys like some of these other teams do. For these guys to be competitive and to be one of the top teams these five years says a lot about these guys as a team."
Rauch was encouraged by Taylor's outing, after the young right-hander got off to a shaky start to the season and has worked hard to get back to where he was a year ago when he was one of the top pitchers in the league.
"He struggled early in the year, but he was hurt a little bit during the high school year and he didn't pitch that much. We worked a lot the first couple games to get his mechanics back and to get him in the right frame of mind to get him to where he was last year for us," said Rauch. "Last year, I think he led the league as far as ERA and maybe even strikeouts and he showed a lot of last year today, and even in his last couple games that he's pitched, he's shown a lot of improvement and has been big for us."