Indians will play for title
TAMAQUA Lehighton's Parker David always prepares to pitch, even on days he doesn't start.
But being prepared to pitch and being prepared for the situation he faced Thursday are two different things.
With the Indians clinging to a one-run lead against a Pottsville team that had seized momentum in their District 11 Class AAA semifinal matchup, David worked through two pressure-packed innings to preserve his team's victory and lift them into next week's championship game.
"It was definitely stressful and a little tense but I knew going in that the whole team said they'd have my back," said David moments after Lehighton's 8-7 victory. "I just pitched to contact.
"In the fifth inning coach told me to start warming up. I was prepared the entire day. Every game you come mentally prepared to pitch even if you never get to pitch that day. I felt good today."
The Indians felt good about their chance to advance after jumping out to an early 8-3 advantage. But the Crimson Tide used a four-run fifth inning, highlighted by Jake Tolin's two-run homer, to make things tense.
David was called upon to relieve tiring starter A.J. Wenrich, who admittedly didn't have his best stuff. Pottsville managed to get two runners on in the sixth but the senior righty got a strikeout to end that frame. In the seventh, he got the first two outs (including the first one on a diving catch by rightfielder Billy Angst) before a walk, single and stolen base put a pair of runners in scoring position.
The Lehighton reliever, though, bore down and got leadoff hitter Tyler Heffner to ground out to first to end the game.
"AJ hung tough and battled but there was no doubt in my mind I was going with Parker," said head coach Brian Polaha, whose team improved to 16-7. "He's a senior and was a threat for us all year. I expected him to step up and he did.
"We made the move and Parker did the job ... They made it interesting, but we hung on and that's the way it's been all year. We just battle to the last pitch."
After the Tide (16-7) opened the contest with three runs, two of them coming on Zack Sabaday's two-run single, Lehighton more than battled back.
The Indians pushed across two runs in the bottom of the first before batting around in the second and scoring five times. That second frame started with both Anthony Farole and Steve Shanton working Pottsville hurler Heffner (who threw 132 pitches in his complete-game effort) for walks on 3-2 counts. Jacen Nalesnik also worked the count full before lining a three-run homer over the left-centerfield fence.
"I was just trying to hang and have a good at-bat there," said Nalesnik. "He was pitching me tough and then he left one out over the plate. I was able to put a good swing on it. I felt it gave us a lot of momentum."
Following Nalesnik's homer, his fifth of the season that gave the Tribe a 5-3 lead, an error and Joe Oriel double accounted for two more runs. An inning later Farole beat out an infield single, stole second, moved to third on a groundout and came home on Nalesnik's single up the middle.
"We had great at-bats early on," said Polaha, whose team registered their seventh one-run victory of the season. "We worked him. I was very pleased with our first two times through the order.
"Jacen's homer was huge. Just scoring runs is a huge momentum swing, but when you hit a ball like that and everyone can hop off the bech and be waiting at home plate it's huge. In high school baseball, it's a lot about momentum."
Nalesnik finished with two hits, two runs and four RBI while Oriel added a pair of hits. Farole also scored twice for Lehighton, who will now face Blue Mountain for the district title at Coca-Cola Park on a day to be determined.
Pottsville 300 040 0 - 7 12 3
Lehighton 251 000 x - 8 8 3
Heffner and Hinchliffe; Wenrich, David (6) and Nalesnik. W - Wenrich. L - Heffner. HR: Pottsville - Tobin (5th, one on); Lehighton - Nalesnik (2nd, two on).