Indians fall just short
bob ford/times news Lehighton's A.J. Wenrich charges in to scoop up an infielder grounder.
ALLENTOWN - Following his team's ten-run loss to Pleasant Valley back on April 16th, Lehighton manager Brian Polaha wasn't shy about expressing his displeasure with his players and their recent play.
Despite being 9-2 at the time, Polaha felt as if his team's sub-par defensive play did not match their above-average record.
"Our record is a lot better than we are," Polaha said at the time. "A 9-1 team should not play like this. Yeah, sometimes a hard hit ball will get booted. Even good teams make mistakes. But there is no excuse for the amount of errors we made today."
Nearly a month and a half later, after swallowing a tough loss to Blue Mountain in the AAA District 11 championship game at Coca Cola Park, Polaha's views on his team had changed.
"All in all I think this was a great year," said Polaha. "We exceeded expectations. Two years ago when we won districts, we set the school-record for regular season wins (14) and we duplicated that this year. Although we arrived (at the title game) on somewhat of a rollercoaster, I thought our defense really tightened up toward the end of the year.
"That day (in April) we couldn't field the ball and make a throw home. Today we played a nice game defensively and I was very pleased. We just walked a lot of guys and obviously you can't win if you don't score. But the guys kept fighting and we died with the bases loaded. We still played to the last out and believed."
Lehighton started out the year by winning its first seven games and stood at 10-2 on April 18th. However, the Indians would go 4-4 over their next eight games before taking on East Stroudsburg South in the Mountain Valley Conference play-in game on May 16th. Although they lost to the Cavs by a 4-1 score, the Indians were later awarded the No. 2 seed in the district playoffs thanks in large part to their 60 points against mostly AAAA teams.
From there Lehighton held off Southern Lehigh 3-2 in the district quarterfinals thanks to a walk-off hit from Anthony Farole. The Indians then knocked off a 16-6 Pottsville team in the semis by scoring eight runs within the first three innings. And though the Indians did commit four errors in those two games, Polaha thought their performance in the field was much better than it has been during the middle of the season.
"The games we lost and lost ugly were because we played poor defensively," Polaha said. "To be honest, our pitching staff isn't great. They battled all year, but we don't have the guys that can walk a few and then come back with two straight strikeouts to get out of it. The opposition was going to put balls in play and we were going to have to make the plays.
"The last few weeks we have been making those plays and I think that is a big reason why we were here today. We got the most out of our guys this year and I think anyone who is around this team a lot will tell you that."
Since Polaha took over as head coach three years ago, Lehighton has played in two District 11 championship games. Two years ago the Indians won their first-ever district title by defeating Saucon Valley 7-5. While this year's championship game loss will undoubtedly be tough to take for everyone involved with the program, Polaha said he expects to be back soon.
"As long as I am here, this is going to be my expectation," said Polaha. "The players will change, but my expectations will not. I want us to be playing meaningful games. If we win our last regular season game this year we make the (MVC) playoffs. Then from there on it is either win or face the consequences. And that's why we try to make baseball an all-year-around thing.
"These guys are going to remember this game for the rest of their lives. How many high school kids get to play in a district championship in a park like this? I am just so proud of them. They gave me everything they had all year long."