JACKSON TOWNSHIP - For Jim Thorpe, playing the role of underdog was nothing new.
Thorpe was overlooked in its District 18 title run against perennial powerhouse Hazleton, yet managed to stave off elimination after dropping the first game in a best-of-three series to capture the title.
The team was able to parlay that success into a comeback win against Big Pocono in the opening round of the 9-10 Little League Section 6 double-elimination tournament before falling to Warwick in the second round.
Faced with elimination, Jim Thorpe knew the task was difficult. But it had been here before.
Thorpe battled a tough Lehigh Valley team and kept it close early, but the team's courageous fight ended with an 11-1 loss. Lehigh will move on to face undefeated Warwick for a chance at the sectional title.
"They're a very disciplined team," Jim Thorpe coach Ryan Hurley said of his opponent. "Obviously, the coaching is very good, as they were here last year and won the sectional tournament.
"Their coaching was phenomenal and their kids made the plays. That was just the story of the game. Their kids just outplayed us today."
Jim Thorpe kept it close early, as starter Caiden Hurley allowed one hit and no runs in the first to match a scoreless frame from Lehigh starter Eric Ludwick.
But Thorpe ran into trouble after the opening frame, when Hurley had to be pulled and relief pitching was needed sooner than expected.
"He (Hurley) was dealing with a little bit of soreness in his arm and there was no way I was going to risk a kid's arm," the coach said. "So we had to pull him early and that threw a wrench into the whole pitching strategy.
"These tournaments go long and if you lose one game, you run out of arms. And that was a little bit of what we had today."
Lehigh would quickly take advantage of the pitching change, batting around and scoring four runs in the second inning, capped by Brandon D'Amico's two-run double to take a 4-1 lead.
Lehigh continued to put the bat on the ball, scoring four more and again batting around in the in the third. D'Amico was once again the catalyst for the offense, this time with a two-run single and a run scored.
Lehigh put the finishing touches on the win in the fourth with three more runs to secure the four-inning victory.
After taking an early 1-0 lead in the second on Mike Day's groundout, Jim Thorpe struggled to capitalize on runners in scoring position the next two innings, leaving men stranded in each.
"We put the bat on the ball, but they made the plays," Hurley said. "Give credit to Lehigh,"
The solid fundamental play is something the Lehigh coach staff preaches and it paid dividends on this day.
"Our kids just really focus in the fundamentals; running the bases, fielding, getting a timely hit, we just really emphasize that with the kids," Lehigh coach Charlie Reineri said. "They're a great group and they really like each other and they like playing baseball."
Reineri's challenge now is to keep his kids focused as a showdown with Warwick looms.
"Warwick's a really, really tough team all the way around," Reineri said. "They're fundamentally sound in every facet of the game and they have really tough pitching. We have to bring our 'A' game and play Lehigh baseball. If we can do that, we think we can win."
For Jim Thorpe, the experience of reaching this point is invaluable and something Hurley takes great pride in.
"I'm so proud of this team," Hurley said. "We've accomplished a lot. It was a pleasure to coach them and it makes coaching easy working with these kids."
Jim Thorpe 010 0 - 1 4 1
Lehigh Valley 044 3 - 11 9 1
Hurley, Hubbard (2), Condly (4) and Hubbard, Marykwas (2); Ludwick and Klipple, W - Ludwick. L - Hubbard.