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N’western blanks BC

ALLENTOWN - Sometimes, opportunity does knock more than once.

For Northwestern Lehigh it knocked in the second inning and then again in the fourth.

The first knock went unanswered, but the Tigers answered the second knock, opening the door to a 4-0 win over Bethlehem Catholic and a trip to the District 11 Class 4A softball finals and guaranteeing them a spot in the PIAA tournament.

In the second inning, opportunity came in the form of two Hawks errors that put Northwestern runners on second and third with nobody out. Beca starter Hailey Pyle took it upon herself to get out of the jam, however, striking out the next three batters.

“It can be tough to make calls because our batters are so skilled in bunting, dragging, and hitting, so when they’re so versatile it makes my job harder to decide whether we let this girl hit or bunt, or drag bunt, do we try a power slap? I thought to myself if we lose, I should have done something different there,” admitted Northwestern coach Kate Farber.

The good news was that Emma Freeman was on the mound for the Tigers and on cruise control. After giving up a single to Rivera to open the game, Freeman retired seven straight batters and allowed just the one hit, a walk and a hit batter through four innings.

Good old opportunity was back at the door in the bottom of the fourth and with runners on first and second and one out, Lizzy Diehl dropped a soft liner in front of center fielder Madeline Ahner to bring in Freeman from second with the first run of the game.

Lily Kinnon then hit a grounder to short that was booted to load the bases. Bethlehem Catholic coach Kayla Paszek argued that there should have been a runner’s interference call on the play, but the umpires conferred and did not reverse their original call. Ella Bressi grounded to third baseman Sarah Banko who threw home to force Shelby Mitman at the plate for the second out of the inning. Rylee McGinley followed with an infield single to make it 2-0 before Pyle got out of the inning with a groundball to third.

“Honestly, I couldn’t do that without my team behind me,” said Diehl of her RBI single to center. “We played a fantastic game and Emma threw a great game for us.”

The two runs gave Northwestern momentum and Freeman added to it when she put down the Hawks in order in the top of the fifth. To open the sixth, Rivera hit a ball to the hole at short that third baseman Sage Toman couldn’t get to, but Izzy Akelaitis went deep into the hole to field the ball and threw a laser to Mitman at first who made a great stretch to retire Rivera.

Just to smooth the path a little more for Freeman, Northwestern put together a two-out rally in the bottom of the sixth. After Pyle opened the final inning with two strikeouts, Kinnon singled to right-center and Bressi reached on an infield single to get McGinley back to the plate - again it was with two outs. The junior outfielder launched a fly ball to right-center field for a two-run double pushing the Northwestern lead to 4-0.

“I knew we had the two runners on, and I just wanted to put the ball in play to give us a chance to score an extra run or two going into the last inning. The first pitch was a pretty pitch, so I just took a whack at it,” said McGinley of the two six-inning runs she drove in.

Freeman nonchalantly retired the side in order in the seventh to end the game, allowing just one hit with five strikeouts in the game.

FAMILIAR PARTNERS … The win sends Northwestern to the District 11 4A finals for the fifth straight season and helps to avenge back-to-back losses to the Hawks in the 2021 and 2022 finals. Now, they get another opportunity to dish out some revenge when they face Blue Mountain, who beat the Tigers in the 2019 and 2023 district finals. The Eagles advanced with a 9-1 win over North Schuylkill in the other semifinal game. The finals will be Wednesday with the time and location to be decided.

Bethlehem Cath. 000 000 0 – 0 1 3

Northwestern 000 202 x – 4 7 1

Pyla and Greger; Freeman and Dunstan. W-Freeman. L-Pyla.