EAST STROUDSBURG - For the first two and a half innings of Thursday's Mountain Valley Conference championship game, Lehighton had Pleasant Valley on the ropes while searching for its first ever conference title.
However, one swing from the Bears' Pat Kregeloh changed all of that.
With Pleasant Valley trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the third, Kregeloh stepped to the plate with a runner on first. The conference's MVP swung at the first pitch he saw and delivered a towering blast to left field that tied the game and grabbed all of the momentum for his team. He added another two-run homer in the sixth to make the score 7-3 and helped his Bears to their first conference championship in four years.
"I was just looking for a good pitch to hit," said Kregeloh, who now has 20 home runs for his career. "(Lehighton's Tyler Hill) left a fastball up in the zone and I got a good piece of it. It was a good fastball. I was just ready for it.
"Once I got back in the dugout, everyone was up and everyone was cheering. It felt good to get my team back up like that."
Everyone, from the players to the coaches to the fans along the right field line, could feel the game turn at that very moment.
"You will be hard-pressed to find anybody that can deliver like that," said Pleasant Valley head coach Karl Rentzheimer. "For him to be able to tie the game and then add another late to give us some cushion is remarkable. The second one was the one where I finally thought, 'We got this one'."
Lehighton (15-7) scored three runs in the first three innings, but had a number of chances to plate more. The Indians scored two in the first on two walks and two singles - all with two outs - but still left two runners on. They would then have runners on the corners an inning later with nobody out, yet ended up leaving the bases loaded when Jacen Nalesnik flied out to deep center field.
Then in the third, the Indians' first four batters managed to reach base on either a single or an error. And while JT Keer did deliver with a RBI-single, they stranded two more runners on base with less than two outs. Those missed opportunities, along with Kregeloh's bomb, spelled doom for Lehighton.
"The first inning was good because we did it all with two outs," said Lehighton head coach Brian Polaha. "Then in the second inning we have first and third with nobody out. We had to get at least one there. Then in the third we had a good opportunity again and could only get one.
"You just have a feeling when you are playing a good team like Pleasant Valley - you have to take advantage of what they give you. You know they aren't going to go away. And yeah, with that blast, that officially changed the momentum."
Xavier Hammond took the hill for Pleasant Valley (19-3) and looked as if he wasn't going to make it through three innings. Regardless, he began to settle down at the end of the third and retired 12 straight into the seventh.
Along with Kregeloh's three hits and four RBIs, the Bears received RBIs from Tim Shea, Chris Kershner and Chris D'Arcy. Jake Chamberlain also had three hits, as he doubled three times in a row.
Tyler Harris picked up two RBIs for Lehighton. He drove in both runs in the first. Keer, who had the other RBI, was the only Indian to have multiple hits.
The district playoffs are next for both teams. While the sting of the loss may last for a few days, Polaha believes his squad will soon move on and focus on next week.
"We have a lot of high-character guys and a lot of tough competitors," said Polaha. "I think we will put it behind us. We really wanted this - no doubt about it - and it is going to hurt. But we are going to come back to work tomorrow. Next week is districts and it's a whole different tournament. We have to shake it off and I think we will."
As for Pleasant Valley, they captured their first MVC title since 2006 and will likely enjoy the victory through the weekend.
"It feels great," said Rentzheimer. "This is what you coach for. At 11-1 last year, we really didn't expect to get here. It was just a tribute to those kids and their character. This year, we expected to be here. We expect to be here in the future. It's just a matter of winning the game or not."
Lehighton 201 000 0 - 3 7 1
Pleasant Valley 013 012 x - 7 12 4
Hill, Harris (3), Hunter (6) and Nalesnik; Hammond and D'Arcy. W - Hammond, L - Hill. HR: PV - Kregeloh 2 (3rd, one on and 6th, one on).