SAYLORSBURG - For the first five innings, the Birches had trouble figuring out the puzzle that was East Stroudsburg starter J.T. Hartman.
Then, finally in the sixth inning, the locals seemed to put together all of the pieces.
The Birches plated four runs in the bottom of the sixth to come from behind and defeat East Stroudsburg, 5-4 in NORCO Legion baseball. Second baseman Drew Borger came through in the clutch and singled home two runs with two outs to push his team in front for good. The win gives the Birches at least a half-game lead in the North Division with two games remaining in the regular season.
"A win like this is tremendous," said Birches manager Allen Faust. "It is really going to build our confidence heading into the playoffs.
"We always battle with (East Stroudsburg). Every single time we play them it seems to come down to one run. This should put us at the top of our division, or at least pretty close to it."
The Birches began the sixth inning with just one hit to their credit. Their lone hit came in the second inning off the bat of Jim Beidleman, but it had nothing to do with the run. Tom Agosta took third after wiggling his way out of a pickle and quickly ran home when he realized no one was covering the plate.
Borger was 0-for-2 with a hit-by-pitch entering his sixth inning at-bat with Hartman. By then the Birches had already driven home two runs on fielder's choice RBIs from Beidleman and Dan Hrbek, but the locals still found themselves down one.
With Howie Stevens and third and Hrbek on second, Borger stepped to the dish with two down. He quickly received two strikes before working the count even at 2-2. That was when the former Mountain Valley Conference All-Star went the other way and delivered with a two-run single between third and short.
"I had faced Hartman so many times throughout high school," said Borger. "It seems like he gives me trouble every time. I just can't seem to read the ball out of his hands very well. The same thing was going on tonight. I wasn't comfortable, but I was up there with two strikes just trying to put the bat on the ball.
"This definitely helps our confidence. Just to have the knowledge to know that we can get that hit in the late innings when we need it is big. All we have to do is keep ourselves in the game."
The Birches had an opportunity to perhaps score some more runs in the second inning. Unfortunately, they ran themselves out of the inning. Faust called for a suicide squeeze with Stevens on third and Hrbek at the plate, however Hrbek missed the bunt and Stevens was easily tagged out for the second out. Hrbek went on to strike out swinging.
"We know that (East Stroudsburg) plays us tough," said Faust. "We were trying to score one run at a time to get up on them because we knew it could be a one run game. That's why we tried it and it backfired. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but you take your chances."
Joe Wiesmeth had the Birches only other hit on the day. He singled to lead off the sixth. Agosta, who also earned the win on the mound, walked three times and scored twice.
The Birches move to 13-6 and lead the NORCO Legion's North Division. The loss drops East Stroudsburg to 11-5-2. Depending on Big Pocono's (11-6 entering Wednesday) outcome, the locals' division lead could be either a half-game or one-and-a-half games. As fate would have it, the Birches play Big Pocono Thursday at Pocono.
East Strouds. 000 112 0 - 4 6 3
Birches 010 004 x - 5 3 4
Hartman, Alicea (6) and Grober; Agosta and Wiesmeth. W - Agosta, L - Hartman.