NW walks off Palmerton
If it seems like Palmerton and Northwestern have played a lot of baseball this season, they have.
They met twice during the regular season with the last meeting at Palmerton being suspended after 11 innings only to have Northwestern come to town to finish the game on Sunday and score two runs in the top of the 12th for an 8-6 win.
Their most recent meeting on Friday - in the Colonial League quarterfinals - was also close. After a wild seventh inning that saw the Blue Bombers take the lead in the top half only to have the Tigers answer with three runs in the bottom, it will be Northwestern advancing to the league semifinals with a 5-4 walk-off victory.
Shaun O’Donnell got the start for the Tigers and threw a gem after a weird first inning.
Trey Sterling led off the game with a base hit and stole second. Northwestern was not going to take any chances with Cole Serfass, the most dangerous hitter in Palmerton’s lineup, so they issued an intentional walk, putting runners on first and second before they both moved up on a double steal.
O’Donnell thought he had pitched out of the inning when he struck out Chase Reph, but the ball got away from catcher Austin Eisenhard on the third strike and Reph reached first as Sterling raced home with the game’s first run.
In one of those weird baseball stats, O’Donnell struck out Nate Steinmetz for his fourth strikeout of the inning, retiring the side.
“When we played them the first time, things just didn’t go our way and then we played that long second game and won it,” said Eisenhard. “Every practice, the coach has been telling us that we need to be more aggressive at the plate and we haven’t been making the most of our at-bats, so we have really worked on that.”
Reph was on the mound for Palmerton, and he and O’Donnell were locked in a pitching duel. Reph was throwing a shutout through four innings and O’Donnell had 11 strikeouts up to that point with Palmerton still leading 1-0.
The Bombers put runners on first and second with two outs in the fifth, but O’Donnell got Jacob Grammes to fly to center. Reph was lifted in the bottom of the inning for Grammes and the Tigers welcomed the change.
Wes George led off the inning with a line drive single to right and then Josh Lichman picked out a fastball he liked and swung his bright orange bat, watching the ball sail well over the right field fence to give Northwestern a 2-1 lead.
All was quiet in the sixth and O’Donnell came out for the seventh looking to throw a complete game. Cam Pengelly led off with a hit to left and when Sterling looked to move him over with a bunt, his placement was perfect and he reached on a hit.
Daniel Lucykanish then looked to sacrifice both runners, but O’Donnell threw wildly to first, allowing pinch-runner Jason Carrelli to score from second and leaving runners on second and third with nobody out and the game tied 2-2. The Tigers walked Serfass intentionally for the third time in the game and O’Donnell struck out Grammes, leaving the bags loaded with one out. Reph then worked a walk to force home a run and make it 3-2 in favor of the Bombers, ending the day for O’Donnell.
“I came out feeling strong for that inning and I knew we had the nine hole up to hit, so I was feeling very confident,” said O’Donnell. “To pitch a really good game like that and then just let the ball slip out of my hand was tough. The team’s got my back and we went into the bottom of the seventh inning, and we were hyping each other up and the team was there to win it.”
Chase Moyer came on in relief and got Steinmetz to hit into a fielder’s choice, but another run scored, making it 4-2.
Brayden Hosier came on to pitch the seventh and walked Lichman to lead off the inning. One out later, Justin Augustus blooped a single to right and Josh Farber followed with a grounder down the third base line. Pengelly was in position to field the ball and step on third for the out, but the ball hit the bag and went over his head to load the bases with one out.
Moyer lined a double to right to bring in two runs and tie the game. Palmerton then intentionally walked Aidan Freeman and Eisenhard lined a base hit to left that brought in Farber with the winning run.
“If we played every game and had the energy that we had in the seventh inning, we would be able to beat anybody,” said Eisenhard.
“This one definitely hurts,” said Palmerton coach Tyler Svetik. “We had that two-run lead going into the last inning and we felt pretty good, but credit to them because they put balls in play and got a bounce off the bag; we knew our margin of error was going to be slim today, but it is what it is.”
UP NEXT ... The Tigers will travel to Easton High School Monday afternoon to play top seed Bangor in the semifinals. The finals are set for DeSales University on Thursday. Palmerton will return to action in the district playoffs.
Palmerton 100 000 3 - 4 6 0
Northwestern 000 020 3 - 5 7 1
Reph, Grames (5), Hosier (7) and Serfass; O’Donnell, Moyer (7) and Eisenhard. W - Moyer. L - Hosier. HR: Northwestern - Lichman (5th, one on).