Tigers edged 3-2 in state playoff game
Northwestern’s baseball season came to an end Monday in the first round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs.
The Tigers fell 3-2 to District 3 champ East Pennsboro after winning a play-in game last Friday to get into the state tournament field.
Jake Madden’s late-inning heroics kick-started a rally that pushed East Pennsboro past Northwestern and into state quarterfinals Monday night at Wenger Field in Fredericksburg.
Madden hit a shot deep into the right-centerfield gap on a 2-1 pitch to leadoff the bottom of the sixth inning in a 2-2 game that sent Madden to third base. Brady Swenson’s groundout in the next at-bat sent Madden home and put the District 3 champion Panthers ahead.
“This is our third year in a row here, so there are some guys here with some experience in these kind of situations,” said East Pennsboro head coach Tyler Comp. “These games are never easy, and that’s a great team (Northwestern).”
The Tigers (22-5) put the first two runners on in the top of the seventh inning when leadoff hitter Carter Welch and Rafe Perich (2-for-3) drew back-to-back walks.
Panthers’ (23-2) reliever Zach Boyer got Derek Holmes, who entered the game hitting .643 this season, to ground into a double play to work out of the jam. Boyer, who came on to start the inning, induced another groundout to end the game.
“I think he (Boyer) actually helped us out a little bit,” said Northwestern coach Duran Porrino. “It’s tough to come in in the seventh inning of a game like this, and you could see there were some nerves. He was missing his spots and stuff like that.
“But it hurts. To have first and second, no outs, and your best hitter up, and at that point you feel so good about what’s about to happen.”
Boyer came on in relief of Michael Morales, who struck out seven in six innings. Morales, who has gotten Division 1 attention from the likes of Vanderbilt, walked four and allowed five hits.
Carter Welch went the distance for the Tigers, fanning five, walking one and allowing seven hits.
“It all started on the mound today for both teams, I think,” said Porrino. “Hopefully, there were some coaches that were here sort of watching our pitcher throw against their pitcher. Our kid is going toe-to-toe with a Vandy commit, and they’re both only sophomores. I hope after a game like that some coaches sort of take note of Carter.”
Northwestern struck in the top of the first inning. Welch drew a leadoff walk, and Perich followed with a single to center, sending Jake Dellicker in to run for Welch to third base. Holmes followed and was hit by a pitch, loading the bases with no outs.
A Nick Henry groundout scored Dellicker, and a perfectly-placed bunt by Nathan Goodolf plated Perich to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
“It always helps to get two runs in the top of the first, but even still, we felt good that Carter was going to keep this what it was,” said Porrino. “We know Carter is only going to give up one or two runs every time out on the mound, and we felt good when we got two in the top of the first. As the game goes on, and it’s 2-0, 2-1, you sort of start thinking, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this 2-1.’ But they had some guys that can hit.”
The Panthers got a run back in the bottom of the first when Madden delivered an infield single to score Nick Embleton (2-for-3) and make it 2-1.
East Pennsboro tied it in the bottom of the fifth when Alejandro Escalet (2-for-3) singled and scored Max Cathers, who reached on an error to start the inning.
Northwestern, the District 11 runner-up, reached the state semifinal a year ago, and Porrino has no doubt the team will be primed for another deep postseason run next year.
“They are a heck of a team, but I would have to say we have to be one of the best two or three teams in the state,” said Porrino. “We’re right there with them, North Schuylkill, and we only start three seniors, so I hope this is the beginning. Last year (advancing to the state semis) was the start of it, but we’re in a four-year window here where I think our goal as a program should be to win a state title. We know we’re good. We really do. The two teams we’ve lost to here, with North Schuylkill (in the district championship game) and East Pennsboro, it wouldn’t shock me if they’re playing for the state championship, and we’re right there with them.”
PIAA Play-in Game
A year ago, Northwestern’s season ended on Central Columbia’s baseball field.
This year, that’s where the Tigers’ state run is started.
The District 11 Class 4A runners-up traveled to Bloomsburg last Friday afternoon for a state play-in game against District 4 runner-up Danville and came away with a 10-7 win. The game was played at the same field where Valley View ended Northwestern’s season in last year’s state semifinals.
“Ecstatic to be able to come back here,” said Northwestern senior Derek Holmes. “Junior year, we lost on this field in the state semis. To be able to come back here and get a berth in the state playoff my senior year is a great feeling.”
The Tigers advanced to Monday’s first round of the state playoffs to meet District 3 champ East Pennsboro at Wenger Field in Fredericksburg at 6:30 p.m.
Northwestern jumped on Danville early, taking an 8-1 lead after two innings.
“In playoff baseball, you just have to be the winner at the end of the game,” said Northwestern head coach Duran Porrino. “We put the ball in play, which is what we didn’t do Monday (in the district final). Today we were able to execute the little parts of the game and have good approaches at the plate, not chase pitches.”
The Tigers (22-4) got their first five runs without any big hits.
Carter Welch led off the game with a bloop single. Rafe Perich followed with an infield hit. Holmes reached on an error before Nick Henry walked to force in a run. Two runs scored later on a throwing error, and the fourth came in on a passed ball.
“They scored four runs without putting the ball on the barrel,” said Danville head coach Devin Knorr. “We made a couple miscues. You can’t play in this type of game and make mistakes against a really good opponent and not give up runs. I thought more troublesome were the four we gave up in the second inning.”
In the second, Perich had another infield single and scored on a wild pitch. When Nathan Goodolf singled to right to make it 6-1, it was the Tigers’ first hit out of the infield. Justin Holmes singled to drive in another run and Colten Hagadus bunted for an RBI hit to make it 8-1.
The Ironmen (12-11) didn’t go down easily. A three-run third inning made it 8-4, but Northwestern added a run in the top of the fifth when Welch drew a leadoff walk and scored on Derek Holmes’ single up the middle.
Danville got a run back in the home sixth, but the Tigers answered when Derek Holmes hit a one-out triple and eventually scored on an error.
The Ironmen got two runs in their last at bats, but the Tigers held on to earn the win.
Welch, the starting pitcher, got the win to move to 10-0 this season. He became the program’s single-season win leader, surpassing Tony Frey’s nine in 1996.
“Halfway through the season, our coaches sent out all the records and it kind of gives us motivation to break them,” Welch said. “That was one of my goals for the season, to break the wins record.”
The sophomore allowed five hits and two earned runs in four innings, while striking out six and walking none. Vinny Castrine came on in the fifth and allowed six hits and two earned runs.
“We gave them off Tuesday and said it was going to sting for a day,” said Porrino, whose team only had two hits in Monday’s district championship game to North Schuylkill. “I was glad we had a couple days. I feel bad for Danville. They lost yesterday on a walk-off and to turn around and have to play right away.”
Not only did Danville have to play back-to-back days, but they just found out days before that the District 4 runner-up would have to win a play-in game to get to states.
“With a tough loss yesterday, we were hoping we could get out of the gates quickly,” he said. “The exact opposite happened.
“You have to give credit to Northwestern Lehigh. They have a very good baseball team. They certainly belong here and they were deserving of a win today.”
Derek Holmes went 3-for-4 in the game, including his 100th career hit.
The Tigers’ Perich went 2-for-5 with two runs. Colten Hagadus went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Justin Holmes drove in three runs.
N’western 440 000 1 - 10 11 2
Danville 103 001 2 - 7 11 3
Welch, Castrine (5) and D. Holmes; Miller, Kozick (6) and Zerbe. W- Welch. L - Miller.