Baseball falls in district championship
All season long, North Schuylkill and Northwestern Lehigh were the best teams in Class 4A baseball in District 11. The two teams were on a collision course and their coaches even talked throughout the season about playing in the postseason, which they weren’t able to do in previous seasons when the Spartans were in Class 3A.
The ultimate postseason for both coaches was to have the District 11 title come down to a game between two defending district champions. They got their wish.
Pitchers ruled the day through the first six innings, with the game tied 1-1. Reggie Crawford, who has been scouted by major league teams, started for North Schuylkill and Rafe Perich was on the mound for the Tigers.
North Schuylkill got a run in the bottom of the second inning on an RBI double by Jacob Hall. It took Northwestern until the fourth inning to answer back against Crawford, who gave the Tigers the opening they needed with a leadoff walk to Brandon Mengel. One out later, errors by Crawford and Hall allowed Mengel to score the tying run.
With Crawford nearing his pitch limit, he came out to start the seventh and again issued a leadoff walk, this time to Nate Goodolf. Carter Welch then reached on an error by Zach Stokes at short. At that point, Crawford had reached the 105-pitch limit and Brandon Rockwell came on in relief, walking Perich and loading the bases.
Derek Holmes lifted a flyball to center field that carried deep enough to score Goodolf for a 2-1 Northwestern lead. Rockwell then got two groundballs to end the inning.
Like Crawford, Perich was also nearing the pitch limit, but coach Duran Porrino had a best-case scenerio in mind for the seventh.
“We were hoping for a one-pitch out scenario and then hopefully follow that up with a couple of quick outs,” said Porrino. “He deserved every chance to finish this game and he still had gas left in the tank, so we sent him out.”
Perich’s first pitch was put in play, but it was a single up the middle. Stokes then redeemed himself and doubled to put runners on second and third. An intentional walk to Crawford loaded the bases. Mike Little hit a flyball to right that brought home Zach Chowansky, making it 2-2.
Perich reached his pitch limit and was relieved by Vinny Castrine and Porrino elected to intentionally walk Max Schally to again load the bases.
Castrine, who had no opportunity to warm up, then walked Jake Green, forcing home the winning run.
“When it’s only 2-1 going into the bottom of the seventh against a team that doesn’t swing and miss a lot, those runs that we left there in the seventh sort of hurt,” said Porrino.
Actually, Northwestern missed on other opportunities, having loaded the bases in the first inning with nobody out. Crawford quickly regrouped and struck out the next three batters to end the threat. Meanwhile, the Spartans loaded the bases three times and got one run each time.
While North Schuylkill locked up a spot in the PIAA playoffs, Northwestern still has one more shot at advancing.
The Tigers will play the loser of the Selinsgrove and Danville 4A title game from District 4. The play-in game is slated for Friday at 1 p.m. in Bloomsburg. The District 4 championship game was scheduled for Wednesday.
“We’re going to be pretty happy to play again,” said Porrino, who said ace Carter Welch will be the starter on Friday. “Our goal is to play them [North Schuylkill] again in states and I think we have the pitching.”
Northwestern and North Schuylkill had very similar seasons, with both teams rolling through the regular season but losing in their league final game before rebounding in districts to reach the finals.
Porrino and Spartans coach Nick Brayford know each other well and have talked about the possibility of the teams meeting in both districts and states, which could still happen.