OREFIELD – Something had to give when two of the hottest teams in the area met up in Thursday night's District 11 Class AAA baseball game at Parkland High School.
Northwestern came in on a seven-game winning streak. Pottsville had won 12 of its last 14 games. With its season on the line, the Crimson Tide ended Northwestern's streak with a 9-0 win to advance to next week's title game against Blue Mountain at Coca-Cola Park.
"They put the ball in play," said Northwestern head coach Len Smith. "They got a bunch of two-strike hits. They also got a bunch of two-out hits. We were playing from behind and that's not where you want to be in this situation."
Five of Pottsville's 13 hits came with two strikes and five runs were scored with two outs.
"I'm proud of the way the guys battle every at bat with two strikes," said Tide head coach Mike Welsh. "They extend a lot of at bats and a lot of innings by just putting the ball in play and stuff like that. They just keep going."
Pottsville got three runs on two hits in the top of the first inning. Two of those runs came with two outs, including Jacob Tobin's two-out RBI double and Tyler Heffner's RBI single with two strikes and two outs.
Tigers starter Mitchell Snyder allowed three more hits over the next three innings, but gave up just one more run before coming out in the fifth in favor of Richard Perry.
Pottsville stretched its lead to 7-0 in the fifth. Bobby Schappell (3 for 4, 3 runs) singled to lead off the inning and scored on Trey Hook's single.
Perry came in to relive Snyder before Heffner (3 for 3, 3 RBI) doubled to centerfield with two outs to score Hook. Nick Hair followed with an RBI single.
The Tigers (13-9) didn't have senior ace Sawyer Smith available for the game and their younger pitchers couldn't hold down Pottsville's potent offense.
"We had to hope we could get the bats going and stay with them in that regard," Smith said. "They kept us in check and as a result we didn't muster much offense whatsoever."
Pottsville got a solid outing from starter Kristian Zanis, who allowed just three hits over the first four innings. He gave up one walk and hit two batters, but was aided by a two double plays.
Tobin pitched the last three innings, preserving the shut out.
After a 1-6 start to the season, the Tide turned things around and will play for a district title. Now the Tide is rolling.
"I knew coming in that if we played baseball the right way we had a chance to be a very good team," Welsh said. "In the beginning of the season we didn't play baseball the right way. We had a lot of errors. Pitching wasn't where it needed to be. It took us a couple wins. Once we got some wins, we got some confidence and things started moving the right way and we've been rolling ever since."
The Tigers had only a couple experienced players coming into the season, but they played well at the end to earn a spot in the postseason. That experience could go a long way next season.
"I thought a realistic goal for us was to get to .500 and get to the playoffs," Len Smith said. "We accomplished that. We ended up at the end of the season running off seven wins in a row. As a result we end up winning the first game of the playoffs and we got into the second round. It's quite an accomplishment. I told the kids 'hold your heads high because you have a lot to be proud of in the accomplishments you achieved this season.' They were a hard working group. They accomplished a lot as we went along."
Pottsville 301 032 0 – 9 13 2
Northwestern 000 000 0 – 0 4 1
Schlitzer, Tobin (5) and Heffner; Snyder, Perry (5) and White, Bennett (7).