SAYLORSBURG - After a summer's worth of hits and runs, the Birches' bats finally fell silent over the past two days.
Whereas a week ago it would have only cost them a game or two, Saturday and Sunday it cost them their season.
The Birches were swept by Bath in the NORCO Legion semi-finals Sunday afternoon, falling 3-1 in game two of the three-game series. After managing just three runs on six hits in game one on Saturday, the Birches could muster only one run on four hits a day later. Bath's Jimmy Sawyer kept the locals off balance all game and pitched his team into the finals and a spot in the regional playoffs.
"We didn't come out swinging," said Birches manager Allen Faust. "We didn't come out swinging (Saturday). I don't know if the pitcher's ball was moving weird to our guys or what, but we just couldn't get good contact on the ball."
Sawyer allowed a game-tying RBI single in the bottom of the first, but found a groove and became almost unhittable the rest of the way. He didn't allow another hit until the fifth inning and didn't allow a Birches runner to reach second base until the seventh. He fanned five along the way, including a game-ending strikeout of rival starter Russell Baldino.
Baldino did his best to match Sawyer. The first inning started rough once again, as Bath recorded three consecutive singles to plate a run. Baldino would escape the jam though as catcher Joe Wiesmeth picked off a runner at third for the second out of the inning.
After giving up a double to start the fifth, centerfielder Derrik Walling tracked down another double and hit shortstop Danny Hrbek on a perfect relay, who then fired home to nail the runner at the plate. However, Bath's Alex Longernecker immediately followed with a single to drive in the runner from second.
Bath scored its third run an inning later thanks to two Birches' miscues. Third basemen Tom Agosta threw a tailor-made double play ball into right field and allowed Bath to place runners on the corners with no outs. Bath then attempted a squeeze but missed the ball. Instead of chasing the runner - who was halfway down the line - back to third, Wiesmeth fired the ball to Agosta and allowed James Bertolotti to sprint and steal home.
The Birches made some other mental errors throughout the course of the game. Drew Borger legged out a single, but instinctively turned to go to second when the ball was overthrown. Bertolotti was quick to back up the play and threw the ball to first to tag out Borger. Bertolotti also threw out two Birches' runners trying to steal second.
"Our mistakes definitely caught up with us," said Faust. "We had some mistakes in the field. When they had a suicide squeeze on and we went to pick them off and they were able to steal home. We just had too many mental mistakes."
The Birches' lone run was driven in by Walling in the first. Hrbek walked, stole second and took third on a groundout before being knocked in by Walling. Baldino, Borger and Agosta recorded the locals' other three hits. Every hit was a single.
The Birches finish their summer two wins short of the NORCO Legion finals and a trip to regionals. This year both finalists are awarded a spot in the regional playoffs. Despite the sudden end to the season, Faust was happy with the way the summer panned out.
"This summer was a great season," Faust said. "It went the way I expected it to because I knew we had a group of guys coming back that we had since they were 15-years-old. I think the world of them. They are like my kids. I respect all of these kids and I wish them well moving on."
Bath 100 011 0 - 3 10 0
Birches 100 000 0 - 1 4 2
Sawyer and J. Bertolotti; Baldino and Wiesmeth. W - Sawyer. L - Baldino.