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Lehighton defeats No. Schuylkill

FOUNTAIN SPRINGS – The last hoorah is approaching quickly for Lehighton’s baseball team in the Schuylkill League.

That’s because the Indians’ sports program will be leaving for the Colonial League next school year.

But before they say goodbye to their current league, Lehighton is battling to secure a coveted postseason playoff spot as part of its swansong.

On Wednesday, the Indians continued to make progress toward that goal as they held off perennial postseason qualifier North Schuylkill, 8-4.

The victory improved Lehighton’s record to 8-3 overall and 3-3 in Schuylkill Division I play at the halfway point of the season. Meanwhile, North Schuylkill’s league’s playoff hopes took a hit as they fell to 5-4 overall and 2-4 in the league.

The Tribe came up big in the first four innings as they ran out to leads of 2-1, 6-2 and 8-2 in their early at-bats.

It also helped that Jake Lewis did a great job on the bump, as the junior pitcher had command of all his offerings and kept a dangerous Spartan attack under wraps.

“Jake Lewis pitched a great game,” said Lehighton manager J.C. Dietz. “Carter Birnbaum then came in to close it out. It was a really nice performance by our pitchers.

“But what I’m also proud about is our great defense behind them.”

Indeed, Lehighton made play after play as it turned aside several North Schuylkill rallies.

Among the defensive highlights were:

• Centerfielder Mike Yeakel snagging a pair of would-be extra-base hits in the fourth and sixth innings, including a spectacular catch off Jax Chowansky’s drive that ended the fourth inning with a runner on base. Both catches came at the base of the fence in dead center and quelled Spartan rallies.

• Right fielder Jaycee Lawrence came up big as well with a sliding catch to ward off another North Schuylkill rally late in the game.

• Third baseman Cole Dietz dug out a sharp ground ball and made the long throw across the diamond for an out.

• Slick fielding shortstop Aiden Rarick was golden once again, coming up with a number of nice plays.

But all of that wouldn’t have been enough if the Indians hadn’t come out of their hitting funk.

“We did an outstanding job hitting the ball today,” JC Dietz said. “We’ve been in a hitting rut recently, so this was really needed.”

Brady O’Donnell drove in three runs, while Yeakel and Birnbaum each plated a pair of runners for the Indians. Cole Dietz and Rarick both had a pair of hits, while John Light and Lawrence added singles.

Lehighton scored twice in the top of the first and never looked back. It manufactured the early runs when Rarick walked, Lawrence legged out an infield single, and O’Donnell and Birnbaum both accounted for ground-ball RBIs.

The Indians expanded their lead with a four spot in the third. They managed just two hits – a two-run single by Yaekel and an RBI single by O’Donnell. A sacrifice fly by Birnbaum drove in another run.

Leading 6-2 heading into the fourth, Lehighton added two more runs. Dietz and Rarick had back-to-back singles, before a walk to Lawrence filled the bases. O’Donnell’s ground out brought in Dietz, before a sacrifice fly by Birnbaum finished off the Tribe’s scoring.

The Spartans didn’t go away quietly, however, as they rallied to score twice in the fifth. They also threatened in the sixth and loaded the bases in the seventh, but neither threat produced a run.

“We need to score more runs. We can’t score just four runs with the opportunities we had,” said North Schuylkill’s manager Nick Brayford.

ON THE BUMP … Lewis had a solid 4.2 innings, before giving way to Aiden Albert before Birnbaum finished off the final inning of work.

STILL IN THE HUNT … Lehighton is chasing the top three teams in Division I - Blue Mountain (5-0), Tamaqua (4-1) and Pine Grove (3-2).

GREAT DIGS … North Schuylkill Stadium is a state-of-the-art facility, with newly installed artificial turf, and the site lines are excellent. It’s a first-class facility second-to-none. There is even a game day program.

MAKING IT BIG … Former North Schuylkill baseball standout Reggie Crawford, who was the No. 1 pick of the San Francisco Giants (30th overall) in the 2022 draft, pitched one inning this past week for the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels. Crawford is on a rehab assignment.

Lehighton 204 200 0 - 8 8 3

No. Schuylkill 101 200 0 - 4 7 0

Lewis, Albert (5), Birnbaum (6) and Light; Minahan, Groody (3) and Whalen. W – Lewis. L – Minahan.