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Blue Bombers shut out by Southern Lehigh

ALLENTOWN – Palmerton didn’t get it. But Southern Lehigh did.

It was just that simple.

In a battle to advance to the semifinal round of the Colonial Softball League tournament, the Blue Bombers had chances - plenty of them here at Patriots Park Friday evening.

When the Spartans had opportunities, they were able to put the ball in play. They did it in rousing fashion, taking advantage of some miscues along the way to gain a 7-0 victory.

Southern Lehigh advances to meet Bangor Tuesday evening in the semifinal round at Pates Park. Palmerton, on the other hand, will be off until the start of the District 11 Class 3A playoffs.

The Bombers had chances to catch the Spartans, who jumped in front with solo runs in the first, second and fourth innings to take a 3-0 lead.

Southern Lehigh was relying on the superb pitching of Mikaela Benner, who retired the first eight batters in order- before Alyssa Silliman singled.

The eventual winners pushed across an unearned run in the first when Morgan Benner walked, reached third with two outs, and scored on an error. In the second, the Spartans got a double from Mikaela Benner, and another error allowed her to cross home plate for a 2-0 lead.

While Palmerton (13-8) was able to put pressure on Benner, it could never generate a key hit. That was especially true for the Bombers in the fourth inning.

Kelsey Balliet and Megan Matsko both singled, while Sydney Frantz reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases.

But Benner reared back, struck out the next batter and got a soft looping pop back to the box to retire the side without any further damage.

“We stopped getting big hits about three weeks ago,” Palmerton head coach Bob Hock said in jest, although he would have liked his team to come up with a clutch hit.

After that inning, the Bombers had another chance to get on the scoreboard when Mikayla Pengelly uncorked a sizzling triple to right center field with two outs. Again, Benner wiggled out of the jam by getting a ground out to end the threat.

Eventually, the roof started to cave in on Palmerton. Starting pitcher Carly Gaffney, who was touched for 10 hits and allowed only three earned runs, was sailing along in the home fourth - tossing all of eight pitches. But a double by Marissa Hespell and a single by Emily Schlegel produced another run to make it 4-0.

In the sixth, the Spartans broke the game open with a three-run rally. There was one out when Chole Benner and Hannah Bausher singled. Gaffney looked like she was going to get out of the jam with a strikeout, however three more hits and an error led to the big inning.

“We’re doing a lot of dumb things that I thought we would learn from,” Hock said. “We just don’t want to learn from our mistakes.”

“We emphasized putting the ball in play,” was the way winning manager Brain Neefe evaluated things. “This was one of the best games we played all year. We played them in the beginning of the year and won 10-0, and that’s because it was 20-below zero. The second time we played them, they beat us 5-1.”

WHOA, NELLIE … Both teams made some terrific plays. Palmerton shortstop Frantz came up with two dandies and threw out would-be runners. In left field and right for Palmerton were Pengelly and Strohl, who both made fantastic catches. Ditto to Solehi center fielder Chole Brenner, who made a shoestring catch to take away a sure hit by Megan Matsko. Schlegel also had a snow cone catch to rob Kaitlyn Heimbach of a hit.

BY THE NUMBERS … Mikaela Brenner doubled twice for the winners.

Palmerton 000 000 0 - 0 4 4

Southern Lehigh 110 104 x - 7 10 0

Gaffney and Balliet; M. Benner and Davies. W - M. Benner. L - Gaffney.

Palmerton's Sydney Frantz lays down a bunt during Friday's game against Southern Lehigh. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS