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Legion advances past Birches Legion advances past Birches
Legion advances past Birches Legion advances past Birches

Legion advances past Birches

Thursday, July 13, 2017 by TJ Engle tengle@tnonline.com in Sports

Extra innings are nothing new to both Birches and Northampton legion teams.

Last Wednesday night saw Game 2 of a best-of-three series turn into an extra inning game.

This time however, Northampton only needed one more extra frame to score a 5-4 win over Birches to advance to the next round in Northampton County (NORCO) Legion playoff action.

Northampton manager Mike Bodnar expected nothing less against Birches, especially playing on the same field where a regular season meeting extended longer than seven innings.

“We have played them three times,” Bodnar said. “Once in the regular season and now twice in the postseason. We played 10 in the regular season game against them (at Saylorsburg Playground) and took them right to the end again.

“We had a close game the other day (a 4-2 win on Tuesday in Northampton for Game 1) and a close game today. It’s just they’re a good team. They will give you a fight each time you play them.”

For the first four innings, it looked as if Northampton starter and Catasauqua player Rodney Berger, Jr. wouldn’t really need extra innings to score a win. However, after throwing four innings of perfect ball and retiring the first 13 batters he faced, the Birches’ Connor Pandolfo ruined any chance of a no-hitter with a single up the middle.

Pandolfo found his way into scoring position at third base, moving over on an error and a fielder’s choice. Soon enough, Evan Bond tied the game up at 1-1 with an RBI-single.

While Birches’ starter Brett Hardy recorded all three outs in the top of the sixth inning, via a 1-3 putout on a bunt attempt, and striking two Northampton batters out, he finally earned some assistance from his offense in the bottom half of the inning.

With one out, CJ Peechatka started things off with a single. Peechatka stole second base, but Hardy ended up striking out making it two outs.

Brent Beck reached first base on a throwing error, which plated Peechatka with the go-ahead run, 2-1. Pandolfo followed with his second hit of the game to put Birches’ runners at first and second.

Northampton then turned to relief and Birches’ Matt Konopke drew a walk to load the bases. Ben Smiley reached on another Northampton miscue, it allowed Beck to score giving Birches a 3-1 lead.

“That’s the way we have been all year,” said Birches’ manager Al Foust, of his team scoring late in games. “We have been a slow starting team. We score our runs late.

“I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it goes.”

Things looked good for Birches with the thoughts of forcing a decisive game three in Northampton, but the visitors thought different. Jared Angerman delivered an RBI-single and Ian Luberti recorded a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 3-3 in the top of the seventh.

Birches couldn’t answer in the bottom of the seventh and the game went into extras.

With two outs and runners in scoring position, Northampton’s CJ Gantz delivered a blast to deep right field, a two-run triple giving the visitors the lead and an insurance run to make it 5-3.

Birches answered, but only to pull within a run as Brett Hardy scored on a Konopke sacrifice fly.

“We have a lot of new kids from last year,” said Foust, who’s program won the NORCO Legion championship last season. “Most of this whole team can come back next year. But, to tell you the truth, I didn’t really expect to make the playoffs, but they came through in the end and I couldn’t have asked for more of them.

“Northampton’s a good team and we gave them a run for their money two days in a row. A break here and there and we could have won.”