Lower Mac advances to Region 2 Tourney
The Lower Macungie Legion team had to battle a long, hot road, but its come through the other side. The Mustangs have earned both a shot at the Lehigh Valley League playoff championship and a spot in the Regional 2 playoffs.
Lower Macungie clinched both spots with a 4-2 win over upstart Fullerton Monday night at Parkland High School. Lower Mac came in as the three-seed in the tournament, while Fullerton was ranked seventh and had to survive a play-in game against Salisbury to even gain a spot in the postseason.
To get into the league championship game, Lower Macungie had to beat Emmaus and South Parkland in the early rounds before falling to North Parkland in the double-elimination tournament. The loss to North Parkland came early Sunday afternoon and was a 4-3 loss in 10 innings.
Lower Macungie grabbed a lead twice against the Buffaloes, only to have them rally from behind, including in the bottom of the 10th inning. The loss sent the Mustangs to the loser's bracket and a second game on a hot Sunday, this time against South Parkland with the loser of that game being eliminated.
George Smith went 4-for-4 with two doubles and three runs scored as Lower Macungie scored early and beat South Parkland 8-5. While Smith handled things at the plate, Joel Bartoni battled on the mound, throwing a complete game while allowing just six hits.
After the disappointing loss earlier in the day, Mustang head coach Jeff Smith wasn't quite sure what to expect from his team, but was happy with how it came out strong, scoring four first-inning runs against South Parkland.
"That [scoring early] was huge," he said. "That, I think, was the turnaround for us, because I wasn't sure how their morale was going to be and we were way beyond pep talks. This has been a long road, so I think that helped us tremendously. Our spirits perked up and we were ready to play."
The win over Fullerton was also hard fought, but a three-run second inning helped.
Trey Hinkle came on in relief of Teja Venigalla in the fifth inning, with Lower Macungie up 3-2. Hinkle came with runners on first and second and nobody. He proceeded to strike out the next three hitters to end the threat.
"I was a little nervous going out there," said Hinkle. "I was facing the heart of the order - two, three and four - and they're really good hitters. Once I got through those three, I knew for a fact that we were going to win this game."
Jeff Smith has trusted the right arm of Hinkle a lot down the stretch and would have preferred not to have to go to him as early as he did against South Parkland, but felt it was necessary.
"I didn't want to put him in when I did, but I'm a believer in mojo and it had shifted the other way," said Jeff Smith. "A couple of the players were hesitant, but I get the last call, and it worked out."
Lower Mac got a big insurance run in the fifth. With bases loaded and two out, Eric Sipp hit a groundball to short and busted down the line. The result was a close play at first, with Sipp beating the throw and allowing Hinkle to score from third on the play to put Lower Macungie up 4-2.
"At first, I didn't feel like I had it, but I just busted my [behind], because we really needed that run and it proved to be big," said Sipp. "That gave us a little cushion, and having Trey on the mound, the best pitcher in the game, I had all the confidence in the world in our team."
With the added cushion of a two-run lead, Hinkle went on to throw the final two innings, striking out three more hitters and not allowing a baserunner.
After facing North Parkland to determine the LVL playoff champion, Lower Macungie will play in the Region 2 Tournament, which begins on Saturday at Freemansburg.