Tribe wins first ever D-11 crown
Bob Ford/TIMES NEWS Lehighton's Dave Behler reaches for a throw at first base to record an out on Saucon Valley's Keith Okken.
ALLENTOWN - The storybook season for the Lehighton baseball team became even more magical Thursday afternoon at Coca Cola Park.
Anticipating the program's first ever district championship, the Indians' fans rose to their feet and began to applaud Kyle Hunter as he tried to record the final out of the game. Although things became interesting with runners on second and third, Hunter got Saucon Valley's Dave Wildrick to swing at a pitch in the dirt and sealed the 7-5 victory for Lehighton.
"I am just relieved," said a water-logged Brian Polaha, the first-year head coach of the locals. "I am happy for the team. The whole team has worked hard, especially the seniors. They deserve this.
"When I came in, everything was positive even though it wasn't the best situation with everything that had happened in the past. But these kids have done nothing but work hard and they deserve this day today."
For the third time in as many district playoff games, Lehighton came from behind to win. The Indians were down 5-2 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning and had just two hits at the time. And while Saucon Valley starter Tucker Sandercock was practically un-hittable for the first three innings, things began to unravel for him in the fourth.
With the bases loaded and two outs, J.T. Keer grounded a ball to second base for what should have been the last out of the inning.Instead, the second baseman dropped the ball on the exchange and allowed Lehighton's first run to score. The Indians would tack on another run on a walk to the next batter.
Things then began to fall Lehighton's way in the fifth. The first five Indian batters to step to the plate reached base, via either a walk, hit or fielder's choice. All five of those runners eventually came around to score.
Hunter got things rolling by singling in Tyler Hill from second following two consecutive walks. Jacen Nalesnik then hit a shot to deep right-center and doubled off the wall to drive in Derek Heffelfinger. Dave Behler followed with a grounder to the shortstop, who went home on the play but failed to get Hunter.
Sandercock was pulled in favor of Matt Orban following the fielder's choice. After a fly out and a hit-by-pitch, Nic Storm walked with the bases loaded for the second time to force home another run. Matt Schaeffer did the same a batter later and plated the fifth run of the inning. Although the Indians had only two hits in the inning, they had come back to steal the lead and all of the momentum.
"We only had four hits, so we made them count," said Polaha. "Nalesnik again was crushing the ball like he has done all year. He was terrific today.
"We did what we needed to do. I feel redundant in saying that all year long, but we don't always do it with hits. (Saucon Valley) actually made an error to get our scoring started. Then we got back in the game and momentum swung from there. We got a couple of hits mixed in with some quality walks and we ended up on top."
Nalesnik, who entered the game with a .494 average, 16 extra-base hits and 44 RBIs, added to those totals. The freshman catcher went 2-for-4 with two doubles, a RBI and two runs scored.
"It feels great," said Nalesnik, who scored both times he reached base. "The team came into districts knowing that we could definitely give it a run. We finished it off today and I am really proud of our team. We really played well today.
"This has been a great experience to come in my freshman year and win districts like this. Hopefully we keep winning and continue to do so for the next couple of years."
The 2010 District 11 AAA title is just one of many firsts for this year's Lehighton squad. The Indians' 18 wins is a new season-single record. Despite qualifying for the playoffs each of the last three seasons, this year's run marks the first time the program has won a playoff game since 2004.
In his first season as head coach, Polaha has taken the Indians to the promise land. However, when asked if he thought a district title was possible at the beginning of the season, Polaha smiled and responded truthfully.
"I would have said 'I hope so'," said Polaha. "With the work ethic and the senior leadership that we had returning - especially the pitching - we had a good shot. We had a shot to definitely get to districts and perhaps do some damage.
"You can't anticipate winning the district title. We wanted to be here, but that is a really lofty goal to set. Regardless, I am happy for everyone. We all deserve it."
Saucon Vy. 102 020 0 - 5 9 1
Lehighton 000 250 x - 7 4 1
Sandercock, Orban (5), Wildrick (5) and J. Okken; Behler, Harris (5), Hunter (6) and Nalesnik. W - Harris. L - Sandercock. S - Hunter. HR: SV - Schnalzer (5th, one on).