Bulldogs’ storybook season ends
Northern Lehigh’s Lauren Hoffman rounds third base and races home with a run during Thursday’s state playoff game against Susquenita. For a photo gallery go to www.tnonline.com. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Northern Lehigh’s Madison Peters tries a slap bunt during Thursday’s state playoff game. BOB FORD/TIMES
LYONS – Kate Farber challenged her team.
The first-year Northern Lehigh softball head coach wanted to know one thing.
Could the Bulldogs hold their own?
Where some saw a rebuilding season, Farber found opportunity for her squad, one that was coming off a run to the Colonial League championship and a trip to the district semis.
After a remarkable postseason run that ended with a 12-2 loss to Susquenita in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals Thursday, Northern Lehigh showed once again it was up to the task.
“They proved to me that they can hang,” said Farber. “I started out by telling them that, because I played here, and I played in districts, I always tell them my stories and my experiences. And when I coached at Lower Dauphin, I tell them my stories and my experiences.
“And I told them, I don’t want to tell my stories anymore; I want to be able to tell your story, write your own story, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. I want to be able to tell the future of Northern Lehigh softball, the team that I coached in 2019.”
The Bulldogs (11-14) were the underdog for much of their unprecedented postseason run. But they overcame the odds at every turn, winning a district title as the No. 3 seed with a sub .500 record, before rallying for a win in a state play-in game later that afternoon.
It was momentum that carried over into a mercy rule win over Philadelphia Academy Charter on Monday in the first round of the state tournament.
“Their resiliency and their fight is what stands out the most to me,” said Farber. “The day we won the district title, we had to turn around less than 45 minutes later and play another really good team, on a really hot day, in an emotional situation.
“I think that that day really proved to me more than any other day the true resiliency that they have.”
Northern Lehigh battled against District 3 champion Susquenita (19-6) at Lyons Park.
Julia Wanamaker singled home Lauren Hoffman with two outs to put the Bulldogs up 1-0 in the top of the first inning. After Halie Krasenics was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Alley Handwerk delivered an RBI single to plate Paige Craddock, running for Brianna Schuck, who singled, to put Northern Lehigh ahead 2-0 with two outs and the bases still loaded.
But Blackhawks pitcher McKensie Casey settled in. Casey got a groundout to work out of trouble, and retired the side in order in each of the next three innings.
Susquenita’s offense provided plenty of run support the rest of the way.
The Blackhawks went through the order in the bottom of the first, scoring five runs.
Mandi Armstrong’s RBI single scored Madi Morrett to cut Northern Lehigh’s lead to 2-1 with the bases loaded and no outs.
Lilly Feltenberger’s (2-for-2, two runs scored) two-run double scored Taylor Portzline and Evin Fisher, giving Susquenita a 3-2 lead with runners on second and third and still no outs.
Mariah Massie’s (3-for-3) RBI double scored Armstrong to make it 4-2. Feltenberger scored from third on wild pitch to up the Blackhawks lead to 5-2 before the end of the inning.
“I was impressed with the way we came out firing,” said Farber. “I thought the pitcher (Casey) was most certainly something we could handle. I knew that we were either going to hit the ball and they were going to fall, or we were going to hit it right to somebody. Unfortunately, it seems it was more the latter of the two.
“Hats off to Susquenita because they made the plays when they needed to, and they kept us right where we were at.”
Massie’s two-run double scored Portzline and Fisher to push the Blackhawks lead to 7-2 in the bottom of the second.
After Massie drove in her fourth run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, No. 9 hitter Elaina Gates delivered a bases-clearing triple to put the Blackhawks up 11-2. Gates later scored from third base on a wild pitch to put the mercy rule into effect and end the game.
A two-out infield single from Madison Peters in the top of the fifth snapped Casey’s run of retiring 11 straight.
Though this season ended earlier than they would have liked, the Bulldogs — with just one senior (Katie Yesik) — are ready to be in this position again next season.
“We’re definitely not done,” said Schuck. “Next year we’re going to come back even harder. Coach’s motto was, ‘Can you hang?’ We’re going to hang next year.”
MOVING ON … Susquenita will face District 3 runner-up Brandywine Heights Monday in the semifinals. The Blackhawks beat Brandywine 7-2 for the D-3 title on May 28.
BUILDING BLOCKS … Freshman Kendall Heiney entered the game with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the second inning for Northern Lehigh. Heiney settled in after Massie’s two-run double, working back-to-back 1-2-3 innings over the next two frames. Heiney, along with junior starter Alicia Horn, who has been exceptional this postseason, should give the Bulldogs a nice 1-2 punch in the circle next season.
No. Lehigh 200 00 - 2 4 0
Susquenita 520 05 - 12 10 1
Casey and Fisher; Horn, Heiney (2) and Schuck. W - Casey. L - Horn.