Balliet’s hit lifts Northwestern past Tamaqua
Tamaqua’s Miranda Chinchar stretches to take a throw at first base while Northwestern’s Kylie Zentz reaches the bag. CHUCK HIXSON/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
CENTER VALLEY — Anyone making a quick run to the concession stand during the District 11 Class 4A semifinal playoff game between Tamaqua and Northwestern probably witnessed a different scenario when they returned to their seat.
Thursday’s contest featured five lead changes, culminating with the final one that came via a walk-off double from Tiger freshman Brynn Balliet.
Balliet’s key hit allowed top-seeded Northwestern to pull out an 8-7 win in eight innings and earn a trip to the district championship game.
“I was nervous, but I knew that I had to believe in myself and I knew that my team believed in me, so that helped my confidence a lot,” said Balliet of her game-winning hit. “I saw the ball coming in perfectly and I thought ‘this is mine.’”
The Tigers (18-4) appeared to have the game wrapped up when they led 7-5 going to the top of the seventh. It looked to be even more certain when there were two outs and two strikes on the Blue Raiders’ Miranda Chinchar.
Things started to change though when Chinchar reached on an infield single and Jada Shellhammer followed by hitting a hard shot out of the reach of Balliet’s dive to put runners on first and second. Ally Frederick made it three straight singles, driving in Chinchar, and a wild pitch brought Shellhammer home from third base to tie the game.
With a runner on second, Emily Akelaitis got Jane Kupchinsky to ground out to end the inning.
Early in the game, both teams used the long ball to put runs on the board.
Molly Mitman led off the home first for Northwestern with a home run to left. Tamaqua’s Chinchar matched the shot in the top of the third with a two-run shot to left to give the Raiders a 2-1 edge.
Mitman ended the contest with three hits (home run, double, single). She came to bat in the sixth looking to hit for the cycle, but was hit by a pitch.
“I was ready to play today,” said Mitman. “I knew what Jada [Shellhammer] was like and I came in ready to go. I’ve hit well against her before, so I was ready.”
The Tigers put up three runs in the bottom of the third, with Mitman’s double leading off the inning. After that, Anna and Emily Akelaitis both singled, making it a 2-2 game. With the bases loaded, Ashley Sisco hit into a fielder’s choice that gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead. Olivia Stofflet followed with a sacrifice fly, giving Northwestern a two-run advantage.
Tamaqua (12-8) picked up a single run in the fourth and two runs in the fifth to retake the lead at 5-4, but another three-run inning for Northwestern in the bottom of the fifth tipped the scales back in their favor at 7-5, with freshman Stofflet and sophomore Adana Funk driving in runs.
Chinchar finished the day 3-for-4 with two RBIs and three runs. Shellhammer, who pitched the first five innings for the Raiders, had three doubles and a single in her four plate appearances, driving in one run and scoring twice.
“Give credit to Tamaqua, they hit the ball well today and if we played 10 times, it would probably be five wins apiece between us,” said Northwestern head coach Josh Zimmerman. “They’ve had our number. They’ve definitely had our number. But if you look at the scores, they’ve always been close games, and finally we got that monkey off of our back.”
DISTRICT HISTORY ... This year’s game marked the third season in a row that Tamaqua and Northwestern have met in the district playoffs. Tamaqua won the two previous meetings, winning 11-1 last year and 4-3 in 2017. Tamaqua also beat Northwestern 10-6 during the regular season. Before their two previous district playoff games, the teams were in different classifications.
THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART ... Northwestern should have known by Thursday evening who they would face in the 4A finals, but the game between third-seeded Bethlehem Catholic and No. 2 seed Blue Mountain was pushed back to today because of storms late in the day. After they find out who they play, the Tigers will have another wait on their hands because the championship game isn’t until Tuesday, with the game time and site yet to be determined.
Tamaqua 002 120 20 - 7 12 1
Northwestern 103 030 01 - 8 14 1
Shellhammer, Clifford (6) and Frederick; E. Akelaitis and A. Akelaitis; W - E. Akelaitis. L - Clifford. HR: Tamaqua - Chinchar (3rd, one on); Northwestern - Mitman (1st, none on).