ALLENTOWN - In 2003, the Tamaqua Blue Raiders made their historic run, winning the District 11 AA Championship and eventually advancing to the PIAA AA State Championship game.
Now, 10 years later the Raiders are looking to duplicate that wild ride.
However, standing in the way of all their championship aspirations was Colonial League runner-up Southern Lehigh on Wednesday at Coca-Cola Park. The Spartans proved to be a very worthy opponent, but like they have all season long, the Raider players came through when the game was on the line.
Tamaqua scored two runs in the fourth to take the lead after trailing 2-1 and they never relinquished it, defeating Southern Lehigh by a final score of 4-3. The win earned the Raiders the 2013 District 11 AAA Championship.
Tamaqua got on the board early, getting out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Matt Roberts and Brett Kosciolek both singled in the inning and then a throwing error by the Spartans first baseman scored Roberts. Roberts served as the Raiders ultimate weapon from the plate, getting on base on all four of his plate appearance, collecting three hits and knocking in a run.
"I was active right from the start today and their pitcher gave me some good pitches and I took advantage of it," said Roberts. "This year we've all been hitting the ball well and a big difference from last year is that all of us have done big things from the plate in key situations."
Southern Lehigh came back in the second and with authority. The Spartans collected five hits off Raiders' pitcher Josh Zehner, scoring two runs. Zehner looked to be tiring in that inning and the future didn't look bright at all for Tamaqua. Tamaqua couldn't get anything going in the second and third on the offensive end either, getting just two hits in that span from Roberts and Luke Matsago, going scoreless.
Once again, with their back against the wall the Raiders fought back.
Zehner stayed in the ball game and allowed just two hits and zero runs in his next three innings of work. The Tamaqua bats woke up as well, getting four hits in the fourth inning, scoring two runs, tacking on an insurance run in the fifth.
Another reason for the Raiders triumph on the afternoon could certainly be attributed to the mistakes made by Southern Lehigh. The Spartans had two throwing errors on the afternoon and three base running errors. They were caught stealing twice and then in the sixth Tamaqua catcher Luke Matsago made a nice play, picking off Trevor Musselman at second to end the inning.
"It just doesn't feel good to work hard and do the little things all year long and then make those kind of mistakes," said Spartans' coach Todd Miller. "Give them credit, but we also gave up 10 hits and gave away too many things defensively. It's the worse way to lose a game like this. The team that makes the least mistakes wins and that's exactly what happened."
After the fifth, Tamaqua ace Brett Kosciolek (7-1, 1.03 ERA, 74 K's) came in for Zehner to finish out the ball game and things certainly got interesting. Kosciolek got through the sixth okay, but then got into some trouble in the seventh. After getting Bobby Mirth to ground out to third, he walked three straight batters, creating a bases loaded situation. The Spartans' Preston Amato hit a grounder to first on his next at bat, scoring Chase Asman. Kosciolek then brought all the Tamaqua faithful's hearts out of their stomachs when he got Josh Gildea to ground out to third.
"I just couldn't find my arm slot there in the seventh and then I finally found it and started throwing strikes," said Kosciolek. "I knew it was an important moment for Tamaqua baseball and I turned up my focus. I just kept trying to hit my spots and thankfully everything worked out and we got the win."
With all the Raiders have accomplished this season Tamaqua coach Jeff Reading had some interesting things to say on how his team has been able to grind out so many wins.
"It's taken me about two years to get these kids to believe in themselves and to get confident," said Reading. "They've put in the time and they've come through a lot this season when the game has been on the line. I just want to say this. I think the league we play in has a lot to do with the success we've had this season. The Schuylkill League, I mean we come down here to the Lehigh Valley and I don't believe we get the respect we deserve sometimes. As much as I want credit my kids, because they deserve it, but I want credit our league and playing in Division 1. It's a tough league and playing those type of teams helped prepare us for this."
Tamaqua will now move on to play the loser of the District 12 Championship game on Monday at a site and time to be determined.
So. Lehigh 020 000 1 - 3 10 2
Tamaqua 100 210 X - 4 10 0
Long, Waroniak (5), Milios (6), and Del Priore; Zehner, Kosciolek (5), and Matsago; W - Zehner L - Long.