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Fast start lifts WV over Bulldogs

ORWIGSBURG - Northern Lehigh’s hopes for a District 11 Class 2A softball championship took another dagger to the heart.

A season ago, it was Minersville that did in the Bulldogs.

On Tuesday it was Williams Valley - another Schuylkill League powerhouse - that pulled the plug on the Bulldogs’ lifeline with an 8-3 victory at Blue Mountain High School.

Northern Lehigh got off to a rocky start, yielding four first-inning runs, then had the tough task of chasing the Vikings and standout pitcher Sage Smeltz.

“It helps to get off to a 4-0 start in the first inning ... then we just rely on our pitching and defense,” said Williams Valley manager Ryan Underkoffer.

That early eruption had the Bulldogs fighting an uphill battle.

At one point, the Colonial League club looked doomed to the 10-run rule ending, before digging in with a three-run sixth-inning rally to keep things afloat.

“I was hoping that we would get off to a fast start. Instead, we’re down by four runs,” said Northern Lehigh first-year manager Dan Caruso. “They just took the wind out of our sails.”

No matter how hard the Dawgs were trying to flip the script, the heavy hitting Vikings had more answers.

In the crucial, momentum-establishing first inning, Williams Valley used a walk, a one-out RBI single from Sage Smeltz, and an RBI double from Sage’s sister, Quin Smeltz, to make it 2-0. The lumber company then showed up when Audrina Fry bombed a two-run homer to cap the early getaway.

“I don’t think we were shaken by that,” Carsuo said. “We knew they had big hitters in the lineup.

But it definitely helps a team when they can take an early lead like that. It forced us to play catchup the entire game. We battled, but could never erase that.”

Northern Lehigh - which scored all three of its runs in the sixth inning - had six hits in the game as it tried to mount a comeback. Super frosh Tegan Simms had two of them, and Arabella Heintzelman added a pair of RBIs.

By the time the Bulldog bats broke out in the sixth, however, the Vikings’ lead had ballooned to 8-0.

Williams Valley juiced the scoring to 6-0 with two runs in the third off starting pitcher Emma Smith, who took the loss. The two-run rally started with back-to-back singles from Sophia Mione and Sage Smeltz. Fry doubled in a run, and Kayla Hand singled in another.

Williams Valley made it 7-0 when Oliva Hand singled and scored on an error in the fourth. The Vikings tacked on their final run in the home fifth on an RBI double from Audry Underkoffer.

The Bulldogs’ three-run sixth came with two out and no one on base. The inning feature back-to-back walks to get things started before Snyder, Heintzelman and Skyelar Horack all singled. But a fly ball to centerfield finally retired the side.

Northern Lehigh went down in order in the seventh as its season came to an end.

“We prepared well for this game,” Caruso said. “We just didn’t execute the way I thought we would.”

UP NEXT ... Williams Valley improves its record to 18-5. It will open PIAA State Tournament play on Monday against the District 2 champion.

END OF THE LINE ... The loss drops the Bulldogs’ final record to 13-10.

EARLY SHAKES … A young Northern Lehigh team didn’t quite seem itself when the game got started. Meanwhile, a veteran Williams Valley squad looked very comfortable at the plate, swinging fluidly and putting the ball in play from the outset.

KUDOS … NL’s third baseman Heintzelman had several chances at the hot corner and performed flawlessly. Same for Simms at shortstop and Snyder in leftfield. Those three Bulldogs weren’t alone with their excellent glove work as Williams Valley’s slick shortstop Ella Kobularik was superb as well.

WHAT A PLAY … Williams Valley nearly added another run in the sixth, but were thwarted thanks to a sensational relay that cut down Mione at home plate. It was the defensive highlight of the game as Snyder fired to Simms who threw to catcher Kaitlyn Stock. It was the way coaches draw it up and work on it at practice.

Northern Lehigh 000 003 0 - 3 6 2

William Valley 402 110 x - 8 11 0

Smith, Horeck and Stock; S. Smeltz and K. Hand. W - S. Smeltz. L - Smith. HR: Williams Valley - Fry (1st, one on).

Arabella Heintzelman of Northern Lehigh looks to make a tag on Williams Valley's Ella Kabularik at third base. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Northern Lehigh's Adriana Danyluk looks up after making it safely back to first on a close play. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS