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Bulldogs rally past Palmerton in CL semifinals

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    Palmerton’s Baylee Guedes (12) looks for a call on a close play at second base. Alicia Horn is the Northern Lehigh runner. Scan this photo with the Prindeo app for a video. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published May 16. 2018 02:32PM

ALLENTOWN — Most people at Patriots Park on Tuesday night probably thought that Colonial League softball chairperson Becky George was nuts.

After a torrential downpour that included a tornado warning, she believed that the park’s grounds crew could turn the field — that was looking more like a lake — back into a playable softball field.

After over an hour of work, and close to a three-hour delay overall, George and her new best friends were able to salvage one of the two scheduled semifinal games.

Thanks to a seventh-inning rally, the Northern Lehigh Bulldogs are glad that they did.

Northern Lehigh scored a pair of runs in its final at-bat to escape with a 4-3 walk-off victory over Palmerton.

The win puts the Bulldogs in the league final for the first time since 2010.

Watching the game, Northern Lehigh coach Bob Hicks never figured his team was going to be heading home to await the start of district play next week. He’d seen this act before.

“This was the third or fourth time this year we had a comeback like that,” noted Hicks. “We’re never out of it.”

With threatening skies on the horizon, Palmerton came out to get two first-inning runs with the help of three Bulldogs errors.

The Blue Bombers Lexi Merkel hit the first batter of the game, but then settled in to retire the next three hitters. By that time, the rain had started to fall – lightly at first – and the umpires, knowing what was coming, ordered the players off the field.

Nearly three hours later, the game would pick up right where it left off.

Palmerton tacked on a third run in the top of the third inning. Leadoff batter Avery Neipert doubled and two batters later, Lailah Altemose lifted a fly ball that went just deep enough to score Neipert from third.

After that run, No. Lehigh pitcher Kaitlin Hoffman would buckle down and allow just two walks the rest of the way.

Northern Lehigh broke through for its first run in the third inning when Hoffman doubled and scored on a base hit by Paige Hude.

Three Palmerton errors led to a fifth-inning run for the Bulldogs that cut the lead to 3-2.

The Bulldogs were down to their last out in the bottom of the seventh before a dramatic rally pulled out the victory.

Hude lined a single to center to get things going and Shyanna Williams followed with a double to drive in Hude to tie the game.

“I kind of saw a pattern; she was throwing first-pitch strikes,” said Williams. “I was going in there and figured the first pitch was going to be a strike and I just wanted to hit it. I wasn’t looking for anything big, just a single, but I ended up hitting it really hard and that was a big bonus.”

An already long night looked like it might get longer with the teams on the verge of extra innings, but after an intentional walk to Lauren Hoffman, Olivia Toth singled to left to drive home Williams with the winning run.

“I was thinking ‘Well, now is my shot, I can hang with it,’” said a smiling Toth.

After leading until there were two outs in the seventh, the loss was especially difficult for Palmerton, which had beaten Southern Lehigh to reach the semifinals and were looking to pull off the upset of second-seeded Northern Lehigh.

“Our girls stayed loose and got some food during the long delay,” said Palmerton coach Bob Hoch. “It’s just a shame we couldn’t push another run or two across when we had the opportunities.”

TRY AGAIN ... Tuesday was supposed to be a doubleheader with Salisbury and Bangor playing the second game. When the rains hit, the decision was made to postpone that game until Wednesday and focus on getting at least one game in. The Palmerton and Northern Lehigh game didn’t end until near 9 p.m., so the decision turned out to be a good one.

SWING AND A MISS ... Palmerton’s Merkel struck out 13 batters in the game, while Northern Lehigh’s Hoffman struck out eight.

Palmerton 201 000 0 - 3 4 3

No. Lehigh 001 010 2 - 4 8 4

Merkel and Frantz; K. Hoffman and Toth. W - K. Hoffman. L - Merkel.

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