NV makes run at regional
Early in the Lehigh Valley Legion season Northern Valley was a team in jeopardy of missing out on the league playoffs.
Not much more than a month later, the Chargers were the last team from the Lehigh Valley area still playing in the Region 2 playoffs.
The team that gets players from four different high schools took some time to come together early in the season. But by mid-season the Chargers were playing like one of the top teams in the Lehigh Valley. They made the eight-team league playoffs and won three straight elimination games to earn the right to represent the LVL in the regional tournament last weekend in Quakertown.
“You can’t really hang your head,” said Chargers’ head coach Brad Rauch. “You’re disappointed because you lost, but you can’t be disappointed that we’re one of four teams left playing in the region. We came out and gave it our all the entire season.”
After a first-round loss in the regional, Northern Valley made one of its trademark runs in a do-or-die situation, beating NorCo champ Birches and NorCo runner up Nazareth before being eliminated Tuesday by Quakertown.
After getting beat by 20 runs in their opener, the Chargers were out to prove something in their losers bracket game against Birches Sunday.
Despite falling behind by four runs early, Northern Valley beat Birches 16-5 to stay alive in the tournament.
“Yesterday, I don’t want to say it, but we were embarrassed,” said Northern Valley’s John Taylor, who went 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs against Birches. “We needed to prove we were better than that.”
Early on Sunday it looked like the Chargers had not recovered from Saturday’s loss.
Northern Valley starter Josh Williamson gave up four first-inning runs. But the 2015 Northwestern Lehigh graduate settled down from there, allowing just five hits and one run over the next eight innings.
“Josh Williamson pitched well,” said Northern Valley head coach Brad Racuh. “I’ve given him the ball the last two times we faced elimination. He’s come through for us.”
The Chargers were trailing Birches until the fifth inning, when Taylor brought in Ben Cordova and Tyler Wiik with a two-run single that made it 5-5.
The Chargers took their first lead of the game in the eighth when Rauch called on Cordova, the team’s clean-up hitter, to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Cordova moved the runner two bases and helped start a big inning.
Northern Valley pushed across five runs in the eighth inning, with three of them coming in on Taylor Breininger’s RBI triple that gave his team a 10-5 lead.
“I feel great coming back after losing the first game,” said Breininger. “We knew it was do or die. We faced that a couple times this year in the playoffs and we knew that we could compete with anyone. It was eye-opening. We didn’t even get 10-runned in the league this year at all.”
Northern Valley tacked on six more runs in the ninth inning on three hits, three walks and a sacrifice fly.
Birches jumped out to its early lead on Luke Hohenstein’s 2-RBI double. They added another run on a balk and a fourth on a fielder’s choice.
The Chargers made it 4-2 in the second inning on a pair of sacrifice flies by Evan Meixsell and Breininger, who had five RBI in the game.
Birches made it 5-2 on a misplayed line to right field in the bottom of the third inning.
The Chargers swung momentum back in their favor when Wiik launched a solo homer over the left-center field fence to make it 5-3 in the sixth inning.
Williamson had settled into a groove at that point and the defense behind him made several big plays. He threw 134 pitches in the game with 68 going for strikes.
Northern Valley’s Cordova (short stop) and Evan Meixsell (second base) turned three double plays in the win over Birches. They spun two of the 6-4-3 type and one 4-6-3.
Six Northern Valley players had two hits or more, including Taylor (3-for-4, 3 RBIs), Breininger (2-for-4, 5 RBIs), Kole Rogriguwz (2-for-5), Cordova (2-for-3, 3 runs), Wiik (2-for-3, 4 runs) and Jacob Kistler (2-for-3, RBI, 2 runs).
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Trailing late and coming out of a lengthy weather delay Monday, it looked as if the Chargers’ remarkable season was about to come to an end.
But Northern Valley stormed back after the interruption in play, scoring two runs in the top of the ninth inning to earn a 7-6 victory over Nazareth in the Region 2 Legion Tournament.
While waiting out about an hour-long delay following the eighth inning and staring at a 6-5 deficit, Rauch got some reassurance from one of his players.
“Cordova actually said to me, ‘Coach, you’re talking to us like we’re going to lose. We got this in the bag. We got it,’” Rauch said. “They’re very confident. They’re not cocky; they’re just having fun. They love it, and I love it.”
Wiik delivered the game-winning hit, an infield single that scored Niko Fager. Fager had tied the game with an RBI double that plated Josh Williamson earlier in the ninth inning.
Fager had two doubles and scored two runs, while Williamson went 2-for-4.
“We kind of just wanted to try to stay positive and not think about how we were down and what we were going to do at the plate,” said Wiik, who finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs. “We just wanted to have fun with the moment because baseball in the end is fun and it’s meant to be fun. No matter the outcome, we’ve had a great season.”
After Williamson hit a rocket down the left field line to start the top of the ninth inning, Fager conceded his at bat that produced the game-tying run didn’t exactly go as planned.
“Coach (Rauch) gave me the bunt signal and I missed the first one,” he said. “I knew that I either had to get a single to move him (Williamson) up or … he (Nazareth pitcher Cade Stoneback) gave me a perfect pitch right down the middle.”
John Taylor, who came on in relief in the bottom of the eighth inning, worked around a leadoff double by Steve Stasolla in the ninth to preserve the win.
“There was no pressure,” said Taylor, who also had two hits. “We’ve made comebacks throughout the season and we weren’t afraid. We didn’t sit in the dugout and cringe.
“We made the best of it and we did what we could and we came out ahead.”
Nazareth, which was eliminated from the tournament, took the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning on an RBI single from Cam Farmer after tying it on Stoneback’s sacrifice fly earlier in the frame. Stoneback also hit a solo home run in the fourth inning.
One aspect has remained consistent for Quakertown this season.
The Blue Jays led the Bucks-Mont league in runs against, and starting pitcher Devyn Bard added furthermore to that statistic.
Bard tossed seven innings of one-run ball, while striking out four during a 13-1 victory over Northern Valley on Tuesday in a shortened seven inning game.
“Pitching has picked us up all year long,” said Quakertown skipper Bob Helm. “A lot of times our problem has been getting enough runs. Kids are getting comfortable with their swings and they’re starting to click at the right time.”
Helm received more than he expected from his offense when the Blue Jays plated seven runners in the second inning. His left fielder, Victor Murelock, was 4-for-4 with four RBIs. Matthew Bukevich also supplied four hits and a trio of runs, as Quakertown piled on 17 hits throughout the game and took a commanding 10-1 lead after three frames.
The Chargers’ loudest hit of the game was a rope into the left-center field gap by Evan Meixsell in the fourth inning. He ended up sliding into third with a triple. But once again, Bard wasn’t fazed and Meixsell was stranded on third base when the inning was over.
Nico Fager relieved John Taylor in the second for NV. Fager kept the Blue Jays scoreless during innings four through six.
“Coming down here today, I knew our pitching was going to be limited,” said Rauch. “Guys were tired. They (Quakertown) hit the ball one inning, and we had some costly errors, and you’ll have days like today. Quakertown is a good team and they deserve to be going to the championship.”
But Northern Valley looked fatigued, as it committed one of its four errors in the top of the seventh.
Bukavich hit a routine base-hit into the outfield with runners on first and second. However, the ball trickled under a Northern Valley outfielder’s glove and rolled to the fence. Both base runners scored, including Bukavich, who motored around 360 feet, which made the score 13-1.
Northern Valley won just two of its first seven game this year, but closed out the year with a record of 14-7 over its final 21 contests.
“A few weeks ago I didn’t think that I would be standing here getting interviewed in a regional tournament,” said Rauch. “I’m glad Northern Valley is back on top. It was nice to get these guys there. I’m proud of them and they have nothing to hang their head about.
“I have a lot of guys with a lot of heart with great character. It’s going to be sad to see some of these guys go. There are senior guys on this team that put together a year that carried this team, and always put us in position to win. I can’t say enough about these guys.”
Press writers Justin Carlucci and Patrick Matsinko contributed to this article.