Lehighton baseball coach Brian Polaha didn't know what to expect from this club before the start of the season. With only two veteran players in Jacen Nalesnik and Josh Kern returning for the Indians in 2013 there were no high expectations for the Tribe this season.
As the old sports adage says, that's why they play the game.
Despite their inexperience, the Indians were once again able to reach the District 11 playoffs and performed well in their first round match-up against Northwestern on Wednesday. Lehighton took advantage of three costly throwing errors by the Tigers in the third inning to come away with a 6-2 District 11 AAA playoff victory.
In the first two innings, Lehighton pitcher Josh Kern and Northwestern pitcher Brandon Eden were cruising. They each faced just seven batters a piece and neither allowed a hit.
Then came the third inning, an inning which Northwestern wishes they could definitely have back. The Tigers made three crucial throwing errors in the inning and the Indians certainly capitalized. Anthony Rossino was the first Lehighton batter to reach on a throwing error from third to first. Then James Farano reached on a fielders choice after Rossino was caught in a run down between second and third. Then on the next at bat Nalesnik singled advancing Farano to second. Kern then reached base on a throwing error from short to first, scoring Farano.
Believe it or not things then got worse for the Tigers.
On the next at bat, the Tigers had quite the unusual throwing error when catcher Colin Breidinger went to throw out Nalesnik trying to steal third. Breidinger's throw glanced off the bat of Jordan Knappenberger, going out of play, scoring Nalesnik. Knappenberger then singled, bringing in Kern to give Lehighton a 3-0 lead. The Tigers finally got out of the inning when Eden got Nick Hill to ground out to short.
"I always tell our guys that the key to winning in high school baseball is to put the ball in play," said Polaha. "You have to put the pressure on the other team. You have to force them to make plays and they struggled making some plays today. That's all we're preaching on the offensive end right now is to put the ball in play."
The Tigers would try to mount a rally in the fourth, scoring two runs, but for the most part Kern held Northwestern in check.
He went seven strong innings, giving up two runs on five hits, while walking only one batter.
"I knew we were going to have a solid team coming in," said Kern. "Yeah, we were inexperienced, but I knew we had some athletes and that we were going to get better as the season went on. I knew our pitching and defense was going to be solid as well and that showed today."
Lehighton added a run in the fifth on a Hill RBI, extending the Indian's lead to two runs. Then Rossino put two runs. Then Rossino put the game away in the bottom of the sixth with a two-run homer to left, giving Lehighton a 6-2 advantage.
"My job is to get on base anyway I can, so it felt really good to hit one over the fence," said Rossino. "I feel like a lot of people doubted us coming into this season, so we made it a goal of ours to show what we can do on the field. We set out to complete the same goals as last year and so far we're doing that."
Northwestern, much like Lehighton was also coming into the season with an inexperienced team. The Tigers' skipper Len Smith expressed how proud he was of his team for getting to the playoffs in 2013.
"Coming into this season there were a lot of question marks for us," said Smith. "We knew we had talent, it was just a matter of how quickly our guys could acclimate themselves to varsity baseball. We got off to a great start and the guys progressed really well throughout the year. I'm very proud we were able to qualify for districts."
With the win Lehighton will now advance to play No. 1 seed Tamaqua at Parkland High School on Friday night at 7:15 p.m.
Northwestern 000 200 0 - 2 5 5
Lehighton 003 012 X - 6 7 2
Eden, Perry(6), and Breidinger; Kern and Nalesnik. W - Kern L - Eden; HR - Lehighton: Rossino (6th, two on).