Tigers rally to reach CL final
The Northwestern baseball team entered the Colonial League playoffs as the No. 5 seed Monday.
The Tigers (13-9 overall, 11-7 Colonial League) pulled out a pair of wins and are headed to Thursday’s league title game, their third appearance in the league championship in the past three years.
Northwestern plays with pride and never gives up.
Combine those two factors and the sum is one dangerous ball club.
The Tigers had the odds against them when they trailed by six runs with three outs left during the Colonial League semifinals against top-seeded Southern Lehigh on Tuesday night at Parkland High School.
However, those two very intangibles kicked in during the top of the seventh inning. Northwestern roared back with seven runs in the final frame, en route to a storybook comeback victory over the Spartans and a trip to the Colonial League championship, 11-10.
“You have to let these guys play,” said first-year Northwestern head coach Bob Fatzinger. “It showed here today. There’s no quit in them. I’m sure everyone counted us out, but they didn’t count themselves out.”
The Tigers initially struck in the top of the second inning with three runs.
Deven Bollinger smacked an RBI-single to opposite field, which scored another runner after the Spartans committed one of their five errors in the outfield. Austin Stasko then hit a single and another Tigers’ run scored after an additional Southern Lehigh throwing error.
“The young guys came up big today,” Fatzinger said. “I couldn’t believe it. We have ninth graders (Nate Goodolf) and (Deven) Bollinger start today and they both had big hits for us.”
But the Spartans illustrated why they earned the top seed in the tournament by scoring 10 unanswered runs during innings two through four. Tiger pitcher Drew White was quickly relieved by Niko Fager in the second inning after the Spartans put a five-spot on the board. The Southern Lehigh bats were clicking and Fager finally recorded the Tigers’ first strikeout against Chris Andrews, who was SL’s 24th batter to make a trip to the plate when the third inning ended.
“It seemed like he got stronger (as the game went on),” Fatzinger said of Fager. “It was a real toss up to go with Drew (White) or to go with Niko (Fager). I talked it over with the staff. We actually changed and went to Drew. I don’t know, that could have been my fault. It hurts us when we pull him out at shortstop and we get weak defensively. We had to watch how we handled it.”
After Fager’s first strikeout in the third, he fanned eight more batters during his time on the mound. His electricity on the bump could have sparked the explosion that the Tigers unleashed in the top of the seventh.
Tyler Schreiner led off the final inning with a double, and Fager brought him home after a single and another blunder in the field, which made the score 10-5 in favor of SL. Trevor Scheriner then drew a walk from Spartans’ starter Connor Murtaugh, who was yanked in favor of Daulton Musselman before Tyler Wiik approached the plate. Wiik reached on yet another error and the bases were full for Jake Haas, who continued to chip away at the Spartans with an RBI-groundout, and the score was 10-6.
The Tigers kept clawing.
After Haas brought in Northwestern’s sixth run, Zach Stanley shot an opposite-field single for run number seven, and Andrew Goodolf immediately hit another seeing-eye single between short and third for run number eight. Bollinger singled and the bases were loaded for the last man in the order, Stasko, who reached base for the third time with a walk. At that point, Northwestern was only down by a run, which set up the fireworks for the game’s next batter, Tyler Schreiner.
Schreiner, the team’s leadoff hitter who recently became just the second player in Northwestern history to record over 100 career hits, hit a missile that appeared to be gone at the crack of the bat, but found a pocket in the deep right field grass between the Spartans’ right fielder and the wall. Although Schreiner was tug-out in between second and third, two runs crossed the plate and Northwestern was ahead, 11-10. Fager lined out to end the inning.
Perhaps nobody outside of the Northwestern dugout believed in the Tigers prior to the seventh inning heroics, but the team’s morale never changed.
“That’s just our way,” said Tyler Schreiner. “We basically came together as a team and said that we can do anything. We definitely want to put a gold around our neck on Thursday, and avenge the last two years where we came in second. We have a good feeling about this year.”
As if there wasn’t enough drama, Fager reached his pitch limit and was relieved by Haas with two outs. Haas walked Stephen Hoyer on four pitches, but then struck out Andrews to end the game.
For Southern Lehigh, catcher Niko Amory drove in three runs, while Hoyer and leadoff hitter Tim Walter recorded two RBIs. Seven different Tigers recorded RBIs in the collective comeback.
“We preach to get the next guy up,” Fatzinger said. “It worked and they finally did it, and you get the right guy up in the right spot and it proves to be successful. That was unbelievable. I don’t know if I ever played in a game or saw a game like that.
Monday, May 15
Northwestern head coach Bob Fatzinger had to decide who would pitch for the Tigers on the way to the Colonial League quarterfinal game against Wilson on Monday,
Would it be Mason Vogwill, Niko Fager, or both?
Fatzinger chose Vogwill, and the Tigers right-hander didn’t disappoint.
Vogwill tossed a three-hitter and helped Northwestern secure a 4-1 win over Wilson.
“Coming down here, we were like ‘Should we throw him (Vogwill) and Niko (Fager) to save the pitch count?,’” Fatzinger said. “But, he ended up taking the ball the whole game and got the job done for us. When he was having his way with them. You just couldn’t make that change. I had to let him go. It was his to win or lose, and he came out on top in the end.”
The Warriors shook Vogwill up a bit in the first inning.
Wilson’s Brandon Miller reached on an infield single, stole second base, moved to third on a fielder’s choice and scored on a wild pitch.
Vogwill was able to eventually relax, as the Tigers collectively stepped up throughout the rest of the game to help him forget about the pitch that got away.
“I tried not to get tense or nervous,” said Vogwill. “Once that happens, you’re not going to throw strikes. As long as you stay relaxed, you can throw pretty well. All went well for me today.”
In the fourth inning, Northwestern’s Tyler Schreiner led off the frame with a double and moved to second on a Niko Fager bunt single. Trevor Schreiner delivered an RBI single, which scored Tyler Schreiner and tied the game at one apiece.
Tyler Wiik singled to load the bases before Jake Haas and Deven Bollinger drew bases-loaded walks, which put the Tigers up 3-1.
“As soon as we got the lead, it made me so much more comfortable out there,” Vogwill said. “We were relaxed and focused. When you’re relaxed, good things tend to happen.”
The Tigers’ big inning was enough to carry Vogwill through the final four frames, as just four more Warriors reached base throughout the remainder of the contest.
Trevor Schreiner gave his pitcher a little more breathing room in the seventh. He led off with a single, moved to second on a stolen base, and then moved to third on a Zach Stanley single. Schreiner then scored on an error, which put the Tigers up by three. Vogwill then recorded his sixth and seventh strikeouts to end the game in the bottom of the inning.
The brother combination of Tyler and Trevor Schreiner accounted for half of the Tigers’ offense. Tyler had two doubles, a walk, and a run, while Trevor finished with two singles, two runs, and an RBI.