Story first appeared on thelehighvalleypress.com on April 13, 2016 and in the April 14, 2016 edition of The Northwestern Press.
Senior Lydia Danner is a leader on the Northwestern softball team. Before battling rival Northern Lehigh on Friday, she, along with fellow upperclassmen teammates, rallied the team in hopes to increase confidence. After doing the talking, Danner did the walking, leading by example on the diamond.
The four-year varsity starter went the distance in the circle, tossed 101 pitches, and allowed just three hits while she struck out 12 batters as Northwestern Lehigh (3-2 overall, 3-1 Colonial League) blanked Northern Lehigh 5-0 in a Colonial League softball game.
“We were ready for this game,” Danner said after receiving the game ball from head coach Josh Zimmerman. “We had a rough start to the week and last week, but we had some talks with the team and got our energy up and ready to play.”
Zimmerman acknowledged the different attitudes he saw in his players from one week to the next.
“We talked to the girls this week and one thing we were lacking in our Palmerton game and some of our other games was heart,” he said. “The seniors kind of took that upon themselves and made sure we had high energy practices this week, even though some of [the practices] were in the gym. They made sure we were focusing on the small things with a lot of focus and detail.”
That enhanced preparation came to fruition during the Lady Tigers’ game against Northern Lehigh as they battled the Lady Bulldogs and the elements. Winds were blustery and the temperatures resembled a late-season football game last Friday in New Tripoli.
None of that bothered Danner though as she shut down Northern Lehigh’s lineup, scattering three hits, and allowing only six baserunners in the contest.
“It felt great,” Danner said. “We all got our energy up together. We had two hard practices the last two days and we had each other’s backs. To have my team back there and supportive coaches was great.”
Danner also received support from the Northwestern offense. Junior Brooke Wehr used her legs in the bottom of the first to score an early run. Wehr got a two-out single then stole second base on the next pitch. She cruised to third on an over throw and was awarded home plate after the throw to third sailed out of play.
The only other offense in the game came by way of four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning for Northwestern. The Lady Tigers scored all of them on just two hits as both Avery George and Jess Badman reached base after being hit by pitches while Wehr reached base on a walk. They were brought home by the bats of Ellen Smith and Emily Akelaitis, both of whom knocked two-RBI singles in that half inning.
“It’s easier for a pitcher to go out there with some confidence when she knows she isn’t doing it all by herself,” Zimmerman said. “She had the offense to back it up today. Even when (Northern Lehigh) got runners on, the defense wasn’t panicking. Katie Bowers had a heck of a double play. They all were there to back her up. It was nice to see us bounce back like that.”
The mix of a productive offense, solid defense, and shut-down pitching got the job done for Northwestern against Northern Lehigh. Zimmerman knows his team is going to need to do the same every game coming up, with a daunting stretch of divisional opponents ahead.
“We are in the middle of a gauntlet right now,” he said. “We just looked at the schedule today and we have Palmerton, Northern Lehigh and Bangor. It is tough in this division and we have the bulk of it right now. The girls are staying focused. Hopefully we can use this as a springboard moving forward and go on a little bit of a run here.”
Following that rough stretch, the ladies host Moravian Academy on Thursday at 4:15 p.m., battle Palisades on Saturday at Pates Park at 1 p.m., and visit Catasauqua on April 18 at 4:15 p.m.