Northern Lehigh captures District 11 title
Northern Lehigh senior Katie Yesik (right) celebrates with teammates as she lifts up the District 11 Class 2A championship trophy. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Alicia Horn of Northern Lehigh unwinds with a pitch against Schuylkill Haven. Horn allowed just one run and struck out 20 in an extra-inning victory. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
ORWIGSBURG — Northern Lehigh pitcher Alicia Horn orchestrated so many incredible escapes that Houdini would have been jealous.
Through nine innings of shutout softball — over a two-day span — Horn worked out of one jam after another.
Finally, in the bottom of the 10th inning — on her 212th pitch of the game — Horn recorded her 20th strikeout to finish off a magical performance and secure the District 11 Class 2A title for the Bulldogs.
Northern Lehigh’s improbable 2-1 victory over Schuylkill Haven, in a game that began on Wednesday before resuming in the fourth inning on Friday, was the school’s first district softball title since 2001 — and no one played a more pivotal role than Horn.
“It’s almost like Alicia likes the pressure,” said Northern Lehigh first-year coach Kate Farber. “Every time she was in a tough situation, every time they got runners on base, she executed and made great pitches.
“I don’t know how many threats she ended by getting a huge strikeout, but it seemed like almost every inning.”
That’s probably because it was almost every inning.
The Hurricanes had at least two runners on base in eight of the 10 innings — and six of them ended with Horn strikeouts.
“We gave ourselves opportunities,” said Schuylkill Haven coach Garry Adams. “Credit their pitcher. She really seemed to bear down when she needed to.
“She gave us trouble with the way she spun the ball. It was really cutting in on our batters. We haven’t really seen someone who does that.”
Northern Lehigh needed all of Horn’s magic because it struggled offensively against Haven pitcher Cari Yeager. Through nine innings of shutout ball, Yeager allowed just three base runners.
“I was disappointed with our bats for most of the game,” Farber said. “The one good thing was that for the most part, we were putting the ball in play.
“I just kept telling the girls that if we can keep doing that, something good would eventually happen.”
It took awhile, but something good eventually happened for the Bulldogs in the 10th inning when the International Tiebreaker Rule went into play.
Starting the inning with a runner on second base, Northern Lehigh hit some balls that finally found holes.
Lauren Hoffman’s RBI single down the right field line was the first big blow. One out later, Julia Wannamaker singled up the middle to make it 2-0.
“Lauren’s hit was so important,” Farber said. “When she knocked that run in, it seemed to take a big weight off of everyone’s shoulder and then Julia was able to build on that with her hit.
“Lauren loves those type of situations. She has had so many clutch hits for us this season. She is somebody you want up there when you need a big hit.”
But Haven wasn’t going to go down easy.
Starting with a runner on second, the Hurricanes used a sacrifice bunt, a walk and an RBI single by Cheyann Johnson to cut the lead to 2-1 and put the tying and winning runs on base with just one out.
But Horn did what she had done so often during the contest, striking out the Hurricanes’ next two batters — and stranding her 16th and 17th base runners of the game.
“I’m confident in myself,” Horn said. “So if I get in trouble, I always believe I can get out of it. I like those types of pressure situations.
“I consider myself a strikeout pitcher, but today was definitely the best game of my career as far as strikeouts are concerned.”
And how did the final one of her 20 strikeouts feel?
“Just amazing,” Horn said. “To get the final out of a district championship game with a strikeout is like a dream come true. I’m so happy for my teammates, our coaches, everyone.
“We’ve come so far as a team and now to cap it off with a championship is just incredible.”
Farber said that despite the Bulldogs’ 7-13 regular season record, she knew that this was possible.
“We play a very difficult schedule against a lot of big schools with great softball programs,” she explained. “I’ve talked to our girls all year about continually making small improvements.
“I really felt when we started playing some schools that were the same size as us, the competition we played this year would benefit us. I think that’s what is happening. I can see the improvements we made, and now we are turning those improvements into victories.”
With just one senior on the roster, there could be a lot more of those victories in the future. For now, however, Farber was content to celebrate the biggest one of her young coaching career.
“I feel like I’m on the top of the world,” she said.