Inning to remember for Indians
Bob Ford/TIMES NEWS Lehighton second baseman Matt Schaeffer flips the ball to second for a force out during the third inning of Thursday's District 11 AAA championship game.
ALLENTOWN It was an inning that will live in Lehighton baseball history.
But more than that, it was an inning that mirrored the Indians' entire 2010 season and the attitude they took to the field every game.
Trailing 5-2 against Saucon Valley in the District AAA finals on Thursday, Brian Polaha's scrappy club did something they've done all year. They believed.
And because of that belief, deficits are just something you overcome.
By putting quality at-bats together, getting some timely hits and being patient at the plate, Polaha's team rallied for five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to propel them to a 7-5 victory and the school's first-ever district championship in baseball.
"Coach instills in us an attitude of never give up," said senior Kyle Hunter. "And throughout the entire season we believed in him. That's the kind of team we are. We definitely knew that we were still in it. We just had to come together as a team like we've done all year. We just had to get on base and come up with some clutch hits."
"The first thing I thought (of that inning) was boy, this is just how we play, isn't it? the way we just never quit," said Dave Behler, another senior starter. "This is the way we get on teams and when we get on them we never stop ... It's important to never quit. If you have one pitch left, you can still win a game no matter what the score is."
The Panthers' Jake Schnalzer made the score 5-2 when he drilled a two-run homer well over the rightfield fence in the top of the fifth inning off Behler.
While the blast could have driven a stake through Lehighton's heart, it instead set the stage for a rally typical of this year's Indian squad.
"When they hit the home run, I knew we had to answer there," said head coach Polaha. "We had the top of the order coming up and we had to answer, and we did. Time and time again, when we've been in this situation late in the game and we've had to do it, we've done it."
Tyler Hill and Derek Heffelfinger started the big frame by working walks against Tucker Sandercock, the Panthers' starting pitcher who hadn't allowed a hit through the first three innings.
After striking out twice in his first two at-bats, Hunter singled to left to plate Hill and generate some momentum.
"My first two at-bats I struggled a bit at the plate," said Hunter. "He gave me a nice pitch middle-in and I just turned on it. Baseball is a huge momentum game. Whenever you have the momentum, anything can happen. And we proved that today."
Freshman catcher Jacen Nalesnik followed Hunter by crushing an RBI double off the rightfield wall to close the gap to 5-4.
Moments later, Behler grounded to short and Hunter beat the throw home to tie the game.
"We were down (on the scoreboard) at that point, so we knew we had to hit," said Nalesnik. "We were at a good point in our order. We just knew we had to score some runs at that point. That has been the story of our season, everybody has contributed the whole season. Yeah, that inning was like our whole season."
Following a pitching change, JT Keer was hit to load the bases. Nic Storm and Matt Schaeffer both walked on four pitches to force in runs.
"That was absolutely symbolic of our season," said Polaha. "Our guys up top get on base, Hunter gets a hit and Nalesnik smashes a double off the wall. We get a couple walks with the bases loaded and that does the trick. You don't always have to put the bat on the ball. You just have to be patient."
"It's knowledge of the game," said Behler. "Guys are smart enough to know that when a time comes to be patient they have to be patient. When it's time to be aggressive, you have to be aggressive. You have to know that. You also need to know the strike zone and have discipline up there. It's important to come out and know the game of baseball and play it the right way."
Because of playing it the right way, Behler and his teammatess are now wearing district gold medals and are headed to the state playoffs.
"One of my goals was to be a part of hanging a baseball banner at Lehighton High School," said Behler. "It's something the school has never done before ... It's been the ultimate goal and it feels better than anything I've ever experienced."
"I'm ecstatic, I don't know how to describe it," added Hunter. "We worked hard for it all year."