SALISBURY TOWNSHIP - It didn't help matters for the Northern Lehigh baseball team that it was pitted up against a three-time defending District 11 Class 2A champion.
What made matters even worse was the fact that Pine Grove's starting pitcher Dave Hafer didn't make it any easier for the Bulldogs to try and pull out a victory in the district semifinals at Salisbury on Thursday.
Hafer simply crushed the hearts of those inside Northern Lehigh's dugout. He finished with a complete game four-hitter, allowed one walk, one hit-batsman, and struck out 12.
In doing so, Hafer helped the No. 3 seeded Cardinals advance to their fourth consecutive district final behind a 3-1 victory over the No. 1 seeded Bulldogs.
"He was on the dominating side," said Cardinals' coach Keith Lehman, of Hafer, who struck out the side in the bottom of the first. "He was around the plate most of the game and more than quieted their bats. It means well as they have some good hitters on their team."
After Bulldogs' pitcher Eric Snyder only allowed a single in the first, the Cardinals were able to score the game's first run in the second. Ty Zimmerman reached on a fielder's choice than moved to third base on Dylan Spotz's single. Zimmerman managed to score when the Bulldogs committed their first error in the game.
The Bulldogs tried to answer in the bottom half of the inning, but Matt Gill, who recorded an infield single, was left stranded at third base.
After that, Hafer only surrendered a fourth inning single to Jake Kern and a fifth inning single to Eric Snyder.
Meanwhile, Tyler Sholl and Ryan Boyer helped their pitcher out with some additional run support as both connected for solo homers in the fifth inning. They came almost an hour between each other thanks to a 45-minute suspension because of lightning.
With some thunder from their bats, the Cardinals built themselves a more comfortable 3-0 lead. In the sixth however, the Bulldogs finally pushed one across home plate. Joe Seremula, who reached on a Cardinal throwing error, was able to score on Kern's RBI-single in the sixth.
In the seventh, the Bulldogs tried to threaten again.
Dylan Bolton led off with a Dylan Bolton led off with a single. A batter later, Trevor Yashur got a hold of a Hafer fastball and drilled it up the middle. To the Bulldogs' dismay, Cardinal second baseman John Cataldo dove and got his glove on it and was able to flick it to Dylan Spotz at second for the force.
That play stole a potential momentum swing right from the grasp of the Bulldogs, according to Lehman.
"That play up the middle, you can't get a bigger play than that," Lehman said. "They're starting to rally there in the seventh inning and that slowed them down. I knew with the season they had winning the Colonial League, they didn't get that far by being quitters.
"I knew we had to play seven full innings to get the win. But Cataldo's play at second was so huge because just keeps the momentum going on our side."
"I thought it was through until I saw it wasn't," Northern Lehigh coach Erv Prutzman addd. "It had hit written all over it. But, unfortunately, it didn't get through."
After starting the last inning with a strikeout, Hafer ended the Bulldogs' season in a matter of three pitches with another "K."
While Hafer more than had the Bulldogs' number that day, Prutzman didn't let the heart-breaking loss spoil what was one memorable season for his team.
"We weren't expected to do what we did," Prutzman said. "The two previous years in '06 and '07 we won seven games - four and three. Than the past two years, we won 28 games. So, I guess that speaks for itself.
"Sometimes you just don't know. We were losing 1-0 to Minersville and all of a sudden we came out ahead. We just came up a little short today."
Pine Grove 010 020 0 - 3 6 1
No. Lehigh 000 001 0 - 1 4 1
Hafer and Zimmerman; Snyder and Hoch. W - Hafer. L - Snyder. HR: PG - Sholl (5th, none on), Boyer (5th, none on).