ALLENTOWN - With one swing of the bat, Northwestern's hopes of playing for a league championship game came to an abrupt and crushing halt.
And while the two-run walk-off single by Pen Argyl's Alyssa Weaver was devasting enough for the Tigers, the hit itself made the loss even harder to swallow.
Clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, Northwestern pitcher Ashley Eden found herself in immediate trouble as the Knights' first two hitters in the frame delivered back-to-back singles. After an out and a wild pitch, Weaver lifted a short blooper that fell just over first base and just inside the line. The little looper chased home both baserunners and gave Pen Argyl a 4-3 win in Wednesday's Colonial League semifinal.
"You just feel pretty much empty right now," said Tiger head coach Jen Horner. "I wanted to win for the girls because they've been working hard and I was so proud of them on how focused they were tonight and how physched up they were to play this game.
"Pen Argyl's a good team. It's a strange game and anyone can get a key hit. How could you position a player to be where that ball went? She just found a gap there."
The Knights, the top-seeded team in the league, improved to 19-2 on the season and will now face Saucon Valley tonight in the CL title game.
"I was scared when we came here tonight, because I knew they were a good team," said Pen Argyl mentor Bill Schankel. "The last time we played them we beat them 4-3 and they had the tying run on second. During the game, I told one of the coaches it didn't look like it was going to be our night. But we came through with big hits and the girls never give up."
Schankel's worries were definitely legitimate as Northwestern made a statement early in the contest.
The Tigers (13-8) turned in solid defense plays from shortstop Lauren Horner, center fielder Morgan Cleary and third baseman Nicole Metzger to keep their opponents off the bases over the first three innings. Offensively, they put together an impressive three-run third inning to stun the favored Knights.
In that frame, Metzger singled and Cleary worked a walk during a 10-pitch at-bat. Horner then beat out a bunt, and when the ball was thrown away at first Metzger came home to make it a 1-0 score.
Moments later, Katie Williams drilled a double to right-center to up the margin to 3-0.
"The bottom of our lineup had been struggling so I was really proud to see Morgan and Nicole swing the bat well tonight," said Coach Horner. "They got things started there in that inning.
"Against a team like Pen Argyl, though, it's tough to protect a lead especially when you don't add any more runs. I wish we would have been able to get a few more clutch hits when we had runners on so we could have built a stronger lead and felt more secure."
Any security the Tigers felt dwindled a bit in the fourth when the Knights pushed across a pair of runs. Weaver became her team's first baserunner with a bunt single and eventually crossed home on an error.
Tori Werkheiser added a two-out hit later in the inning and Rachel Warren scored on a bang-bang play at the plate to make it 3-2.
"It's sad for the girls because I wanted them to have a shot at a championship experience," said Horner, who received two hits from both Williams and Cleary. "We played a good game. Now we have to bounce back for districts."
N'western 003 000 0 - 3 9 1
Pen Argyl 000 200 2 - 4 8 2
Eden and Williams; Smull and Stem. W - Smull. L - Eden.