Big 7th leads to a deciding 5th
Northampton’s rally forces winner-take-all matchup with Limeport
Perhaps the large contingent of cowbell-ringing Limeport Bulls fans were disappointed with what happened Thursday night, but if you love the game of baseball you’re probably pleased.
That’s because a three-run uprising in the top of the seventh inning by the Northampton Giants paved the way to a 6-3 win to even the Blue Mountain League championship series at two games apiece and sets up a winner-take-all Game 5 at 1 p.m. Saturday at Northampton’s Lisetski Field.
Pat Kregeloh’s third hit of the game and second double drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh and he was able to trot home on Steve Sulcoski’s long two-run home run over the fence in left as the Giants struck for their three biggest runs of the season.
Those two big hits decided what had a been a hard-fought pitcher’s duel between two of the BML’s best — Northampton ace Justin Aungst and Limeport’s Cooper Michael.
“It took until the last inning to put some good runs up on the board … but as a team we fought and I got good defense again and it was a good team win,” said Aungst, who picked up his second win of the series with both coming at Limeport. “We’ve been pretty evenly matched all year long, so it’s fitting we’re going to a Game 5. We did last year and it went in their favor. Hopefully it swings to us this time.”
The Giants (28-9) have a chance to secure their first title since 2014 if they can swing the bats as they did in Game 4 when they collected 10 hits.
No one had a hotter bat than Kregeloh, a Pleasant Valley High School and Shippensburg University product.
After Tuesday’s Game 3 loss, Northampton manager Ed Wandler talked about his team needing to get production from the guys who produced all year. He also talked about not worrying about hitting home runs and just focusing on solid contact.
Kregeloh must have been listening to his skipper. He rose up when it was most needed.
“They have a good pitching staff with smart pitchers who know how to pitch you,” Kregeloh said. “You can’t take a pitch off. You have to battle through the entire at-bat and hope they make a mistake over the plate.”
Likewise, the battle extends to all areas of the game.
“You have two very good teams battling against each other and this is what we expected,” Kregeloh said. “We have to come out and fight every single game. If we take a pitch off here or there, they’re going to capitalize on it, so we have to play the full seven innings and 21 outs and focus on the task hand.”
Kregeloh’s double to deep right plated Jake Wloczewski who began the inning with a single.
Sulcoski capped the uprising with his no-doubt-at-it blast.
“Steve was sitting fastball and jumped on one,” Kregeloh said of Sulcoski. “He has been putting together good at-bats the whole series. He had been barreling balls up and had little to show for it. It was good to see him get one.”
Twice earlier when Northampton scored to take the lead, Limeport came right back to tie it in the bottom half of the inning.
But after Kregeloh and Sulcoski’s big hits, Aungst, who finished with a fivehitter, retired the Bulls 1-2-3 in the seventh.
Asked if he could go for any length of time on Saturday, Aungst said: “We’ll see about that. I’m starting to get down to my end. But we’ll see how I feel.”
Limeport, meanwhile, will regroup and remain confident in going for its fourth title in five years. Every time the Bulls (27-10) have won the championship they did so in a Game 5, including last year’s deciding victory at Northampton.
“We are used to Game 5s,” Limeport player-manager Mike Cudwadie said. “Until this year, we had never played a semifinal or finals that hadn’t gone five games. But I think Friday being a day off is a good thing. There was a lot of emotion in this game and it got sucked out in the seventh inning tonight. But you have to clear your mind and come back and focus. What else can you ask for but a Game 5 and the chance to win another title?
Northampton Giants pitcher Justin Aungst delivers to the plate against the Limeport Bulls during Game 4 of the Blue Mountain League Championship Series.
Steve Sulcoski follows through on a pivotal two-run homer for the Giants.