PHILADELPHIA The Carpenter Cup championship concluded just before heavy rain and wind pelted Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia Tuesday afternoon, but the storm that did the real damage came in the fourth inning.
A five-run fourth inning was the most damaging lightning strike for the Lehigh Valley squad, as they could never overcome the deficit en route to a 9-2 defeat to Mercer County. The Lehigh Valley squad hoped to win their fourth title in franchise history, but an 11-hit effort by Mercer County helped secure their second title ever and first since 2004.
The championship game started after a four-hour delay from its regularly scheduled 10 am start because of Mercer County's suspended contest against Jersey Shore, which started in the seventh inning on Tuesday and ended up being an 8-6 victory for the champions.
Lehigh Valley manager Ted Plessl didn't look at Mercer County getting a game under their belts before the championship contest as any type of advantage for the opposition, even though it could have been a momentum booster for the players from New Jersey.
"They made the plays and found the holes and made the key hits," said Plessl. "You have to tip your hat to them. You can have every type of philosophy on them playing before this game. You can think that maybe they would have been tired, but the guys that pitched for them earlier, didn't pitch against us. So realistically speaking, we didn't think there was an advantage either way. You just have to go out and play, and let the chips fall where they may fall. Unfortunately, it didn't work out in our favor."
Mercer County started their damage with a two out rally in the fourth, courtesy of two hit batters, a walk and three singles to shake the confidence of the Lehigh Valley squad.
Stroudsburg pitcher Mike Nikorak started the contest and pitched three scoreless innings, but Central's Walt Roland and Liberty's Matt Leon pitched in the fourth. Roland was a pitch away from ending the inning on two occasions and could never get the final out. Things ballooned from there and became even more cemented after Mercer County used a three-run sixth to take a commanding 8-1 lead.
"We played real well throughout the whole tournament and we thought we had the momentum coming in because of the game being pushed back," said Leon. "It just wasn't our day. We just couldn't get out of that fourth and we couldn't get the bats going either."
Phil Stokes (Stroudsburg) and Chris Rabasco (Parkland) each knocked in RBI's for the Lehigh Valley in the sixth and eighth innings respectively.
Yet, as the contest concluded, Mercer County stormed the field as if they won the World Series. The massive Carpenter Cup trophy was in the hands of the other side to give the Lehigh Valley players a sense of disappointment at the tournament's end.
"Ya, it was tough to see them with the trophy," Leon said about Mercer County's celebration. "But it was still a great experience for all of us."
Brett Kosciolek (Tamaqua) didn't pitch for the Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, while Danny Hrbek (Pleasant Valley) went 1-for-2 with a run scored.