When Lehighton's Tyler Harris stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the eighth inning, he carried the fate of his team squarely on his shoulders.
With one swing of the bat, he carried the Indians to a place they've never been before the Mountain Valley Conference Championship Game.
With two outs and pinch runner Steve Shanton at second base, Harris took a 2-2 pitch and lined it into center field for a walk-off single that propelled second-seeded Lehighton (15-6) to a 3-2 semifinal victory over third-seeded Pocono Mountain West (8-12). With the win, the Indians will travel to East Stroudsburg South this afternoon (5:00 p.m.), where they will meet top-seeded Pleasant Valley, a 2-0 winner over Stroudsburg, for the MVC Championship.
"Tyler had a great final at bat," said Lehighton head coach Brian Polaha. "He fell behind in the count but kept battling and I couldn't be happier for him. He's such a hard worker. He had a great round of batting practice and I could tell he was focused. I had complete confidence in Tyler in that situation and he came up big for us with that game-winning hit."
"I got down in the count and I fouled a few tough pitches off," said Harris. "I watched a curveball that was outside and when I saw him come back with a fastball, I just wanted to try to hit it up the middle."
Lehighton actually appeared to have the game well in hand by taking a 2-1 lead into the top of the seventh inning. However, Cody Knecht led off with a bloop single down the left field line and advanced to second base on a fielder's choice ground out. Matt Suter then tied the game with an RBI single to left field.
The Panthers then led off the eighth inning with back-to-back singles, which forced Polaha to make a pitching change. With runners on first and second and no outs, Kyle Hunter replaced Dave Behler and got Brian Archibald to bunt into a fielder's choice that forced Justin Slager out at third base. Hunter then went on to strikeout Joel Soler and Frankie Argentieri to end the inning.
"Behler was throwing a great game up to that point and his pitch count was pretty low so I let him in there to start the eighth," said Polaha. "When the first two hitters got on, I knew I had to make a change. Hunter is the hardest thrower on our staff and at that point in the game, we needed strikeouts. He came into to a very volatile situation and he got us out of there unscathed."
Behler went seven strong innings, allowing one earned run on four hits to go along with six strikeouts.
Hunter and Jacen Nalesnik both had three hits apiece to lead the Indians, with Nalesnik knocking in Lehighton's first two runs of the game. Harris ended the night with two hits and a final thought on tomorrow's championship game.
"We haven't had a lot of success against Pleasant Valley in the past and they've been a thorn in our sides for the past 10 or 15 years. We're going up to East Stroudsburg tomorrow with one goal in mine to beat Pleasant Valley and bring an MVC Championship back home to Lehighton."
PM West 100 000 10 - 2 6 0
Lehighton 101 000 01 - 3 9 2
Knecht and Argentieri; Behler, Hunter (8) and Nalesnik. W - Hunter. L - Knecht.