Lehighton rolls to mercy-rule win
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Lehighton shortstop Kyle Hunter steps on second base and prepares to throw to first to complete a double play in Tuesday's District 11 playoff game against Pottsville. Indian second baseman Matt Schaeffer (4) is also part of the action.
For most coaches, it's a bad thing when the other team scores first.
But with Lehighton's Brian Polaha, trailing early is actually a blessing in disguise.
In Tuesday's District 11 Class AAA quarterfinal contest, visiting Pottsville made the mistake of scoring two first-inning runs against the Indians.
Faced with that deficit, Lehighton's offense responded by plating five runs in the bottom of the first and eventually cruised to a 12-2 five-inning victory.
"I was talking with the coaching staff after (Pottsville) got two runs early and I said that often times this year that's been good for us because we usually come right back and answer," said Polaha.
"Sometimes if the other team starts out slow, we tend to as well. I think because they came out quick we felt we had to answer right away and we did."
Tyler Hill got the Indian bats going by leading off the home first with a homer over the leftfield foul pole. Jacen Nalesnik's two-run double gave Lehighton (16-7) its first lead while J.T. Keer's single up the middle plated two more to make it 5-2.
"Today we hit as a team," said Polaha, whose team will now face Central Catholic on Thursday in the semifinal round. "We got runners on base and then we knocked them in. We put the bat on the ball and things happened.
"(Hill) led off with the home run and that just set the tone for us offensively. It was key for us to come back and take the lead right there. We felt good after that and had some hop in our step."
Indian starting pitcher Dave Behler, who didn't feel good early on, settled down after a rough start.
After allowing the two runs on three hits in the first, the left-hander gave up just one hit over the final four frames.
"Pitching is so time-oriented and I have a system I like to keep," said Behler, who struck out five in improving to 6-1. "The game started a little early and I didn't get to work on everything in the bullpen. I came in a little rusty but I seemed to settle down as the game went on.
"To start the game I wasn't really attacking hitters ... I went after them later in the game and tried to get ahead. Some teams quit when they get down but we came right back and got them in a hole. As a pitcher, that helps my psyche."
Behler was also helped by his team continuing to score.
Nalesnik singled in a run in the second and Derek Heffelfinger delivered an RBI triple in the third. Keer sent everyone home in the fifth when his two-run single to left invoked the 10-run rule.
"It was important for us to get ahead in the bottom of the first and then to keep scoring so they would feel they couldn't get back into the game," said Keer, who had three hits and knocked in four runs. "Everyone was hitting the ball well today and there was always men on base when I came to the plate.
"We're real confident right now. We feel like we have a good chance at winning a district title."
Nalesnik also had three hits, three RBIs and two runs scored for the winners while Kyle Hunter had a double and scored three times.
Pottsville 200 00 - 2 4 2
Lehighton 522 03 - 12 12 0
Hoke, Delinko (2) and Heffner; Behler and Nalesnik. W - Behler. L - Hoke. HR: Lehighton - Hill (1st, none on).