Lady Tigers reach D-11 title game
In a game where the momentum and the lead seesawed from one team to another, Northwestern Lehigh was glad to have the last at-bats.
Freshman Brynn Balliet gave her team the lead back at just the right time with a walk-off double as Northwestern downed Tamaqua 8-7 in eight innings to earn a trip to the District 11 Class 4A softball final.
Northwestern (18-4) appeared to have the game wrapped up when it led 7-5 going to the top of the seventh. It looked to be even more certain when there were two outs and two strikes on Miranda Chinchar. Things started to change though when Chinchar reached on an infield single and Jada Shellhammer followed by hitting a hard shot out of the reach of Balliet’s dive to put runners on first and second. Ally Frederick made it three straight singles, driving in Chinchar. A wild pitch brought Shellhammer home from third base to tie the game. With a runner on second, Emily Akelaitis got Jane Kupchinsky to ground out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, the younger members of the Tigers roster went to work. Sophomore Adana Funk singled to lead off the inning, bringing fellow sophomore Kylie Zentz to the plate. Zentz dropped a sacrifice bunt to put Funk into scoring position for Northwestern Lehigh with Balliet, a freshman, coming to the plate. Balliet lined a pitch to center and Funk raced around third and headed home, scoring the winning run ahead of the throw and bringing her teammates out to mob both her and Balliet.
“I was nervous, but I knew that I had to believe in myself and I knew that my team believed in me, so that helped my confidence a lot,” said Balliet. “I saw the ball coming in perfectly and I thought ‘this is mine.”
Early in the game, both teams used the long ball to put runs on the board. Molly Mitman led off the game for Northwestern with a home run to left.
Tamaqua’s Chinchar matched the shot in the top of the third with a two-run shot to give the Raiders a 2-1 edge.
By the end of the game, Mitman had collected a home run, a double and a single. She came to bat in the sixth looking to hit for the cycle, but was hit by a pitch.
“I was ready to play today,” said Mitman with a broad smile. “I knew what Jada [Shellhammer] was like and I came in ready to go. I’ve hit well against her before, so I was ready.”
Mitman started one of the two three-run innings that Northwestern had on the day. In the bottom of the third, Mitman led off with a double and both Anna and Emily Akelaitis singled, making it a 2-2 game.
With the bases loaded Ashley Sisco hit into a fielder’s choice that gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead and Olivia Stofflet followed with a sacrifice fly for the third run of the inning and a 4-2 Northwestern lead.
Tamaqua (12-8) picked up a single run in the fourth and two runs in the fifth to retake the lead at 5-4, but another three-run inning for Northwestern in the bottom of the fifth tipped the scales back in their favor at 7-5, with Stofflet, a freshman, and Funk driving in runs.
The semifinal matchup between the two teams marked the third season in a row that Tamaqua and Northwestern have met in the first round of the District 11 Class 4A playoffs. Tamaqua won the two previous meetings, winning 11-1 last year and 4-3 in 2017.
Tamaqua also beat Northwestern 10-6 during the regular season. Before their two previous district playoff games, the teams were in different classifications.