Indians get best of NL
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Northern Lehigh's Jake Kern jumps high for a late throw as Lehighton's Alex Storm pulls in safely. The Indians wound up beating the Bulldogs 14-4 in the non-league contest.
At a different time and under different circumstances, it could have been the ultimate "statement" game.
The non-league meeting between Northern Lehigh and Lehighton on Monday featured a pair of teams that had just one loss each and had combined to win 13 of their 15 games.
But thanks in large part to spring weather that has at times both frosted and flooded fields, the matchup between the Colonial League and Mountain Valley Conference powers was used more to answer questions than make statements.
In the end, both Northern Lehigh coach Erv Prutzman and Lehighton coach Brian Polaha found some things out about their teams. But it was Polaha and the Indians who got the better answers.
Lehighton erupted for 15 hits and scored in six of its seven at bats to roll to a 14-4 victory over the Bulldogs.
The offensive explosion came just five days after the Indians (6-1) were no-hit by Panther Valley and dealt their only loss of the season.
"We were a little down after the last game," said Polaha. "Not only did Panther Valley beat us, but they no-hit us and mercy-ruled us on our home field. That stung.
"I was looking to see how we would bounce back today and I think our kids answered that question."
The Indians did it by getting contributions up and down the lineup. Nine different Lehighton players scored runs, seven Indians knocked in runs, and five players had multiple hit games.
"I really like our depth and how balanced our lineup is top to bottom," said Polaha. "That's one area where I think we are better than last year's team.
"Look what the bottom half of the order did today. Tyler Harris had three hits out of the No. 5 spot, Alex Storm had three hits out of the No. 7 slot, and Steve Shanton had two hits in the No. 9 spot. That's a lot of offense coming after the cleanup hitter in the order."
That balance helped the Indians score in each of their first four at bats to grab an 8-2 lead.
Northern Lehigh threatened to get back into the game as it scored twice in the fifth to cut the margin to 8-4, but Lehighton relief pitcher A.J. Wenrich got a pop out to escape a bases-loaded jam. It was one of three times that the Bulldogs left the bases full as they stranded 14 runners in the game.
"We weren't able to get the big hit," said Prutzman. "We had our chances.
"But it was a good learning experience. We played a lot of kids and learned some things that will hopefully pay off for us during the last few weeks of the season."
With Northern Lehigh back in the game and seemingly threatening every inning, the Indians added some insurance over their final two at bats - and they all came courtesy of Jacen Nalesnik.
Nalesnik crushed a three-run homer to leftfield in the sixth inning and then singled home two more in the seventh.
"It's nice to have balance up and down the line-up and it's really nice to have the best hitter in the area right in the middle of that," said Polaha. "Jacen is a dangerous hitter anytime, but when you fall behind him in the count then he's really dangerous. The homer he hit came on a 3-1 pitch and he didn't miss it."
The offense both teams displayed - Lehighton had 24 base runners and Northern Lehigh had 18 - is what you would expect in a game where both coaches saved their top pitchers.
"We were both in the same boat," said Polaha. "I talked to Erv before the game and they had the same idea as we did. We both have big league games coming up this week so we were going to use our 3-4-5 pitchers and try to find out some things about them.
"Because of all the rainouts we've had, today starts a stretch where we have 10 games in 13 days. We needed to find out about some of our other pitchers."
Prutzman added, "We did some experimenting on the mound. None of the four kids we used today had thrown more than an inning this year. We wanted to get some answers that will help us down the stretch and I think we accomplished that."
Nalesnik, Harris and Storm all had three hits for the Indians. Nalesnik had five RBIs while Derek Heffelfinger, Anthony Farole, Harris, Storm and Shanton all scored twice.
For Northern Lehigh (8-2), Nick Heyer belted a homer and Zach Palansky had an RBI and run scored.
Lehighton 122 303 3 - 14 15 2
No. Lehigh 001 120 0 - 4 7 3
Rex, Wenrich (5), David (7) and Nalesnik; Gill, Papay (3), Palnsky (4), Schomp (7). W-Rex. L-Gill. HR - Lehighton: Nalesnik (6th, two on). No. Lehigh: Heyer (4th, none on).