Whitehall-Coplay Press

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018 by Steve andres Special to the Press in Sports

Casey Cunningham completed Whitehall’s comeback in a big way, sending a bomb over the right field fence for the walk-off win Saturday versus North Pocono to keep the Zephyrs undefeated.

The Zephyrs got down early as the Trojans took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. They answered with a run in their half of the frame to knot the score, but North Pocono, who added two runs in the third to make it 3-1, put two more runs on the board in the top of the fifth to make it 5-1.

Whitehall eventually tied it 6-6 in the bottom of the sixth when a Trojan pickoff attempt went awry, scoring Veronica Rodriguez.

Rodriguez had tripled to bring the Zephs within a run, but the inning ended on a strikeout, thwarting their attempt to get that elusive go-ahead run.

The Zephyrs had a chance to win it in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with one out. But once again they had trouble pushing that lead run across, hitting into back-to-back fielders choices to end the inning.

The game would now go into extra innings. Enter Casey Cunningham.

The senior made sure their first lead was the only lead they would need, taking an outside pitch and depositing it well beyond the right field fence for the 8-6 victory.

“Coach has been focusing all season on taking it to right, so I tried to look for the outside pitch,” said Cunningham. “I just saw that pitch and I really wanted it.”

North Pocono pitcher Courtney Zaic was able to shut the Zephs down in the early part of the game with Whitehall’s first-inning run coming on a fielder’s choice. Cunningham said that Zaic had a good rise ball and they needed to make some adjustments.

“I think that a lot of our 0-2 counts we were looking at that and not taking that pitch,” said Cunningham. “I feel like especially after our coaches brought it up, we really looked to find the right pitch on 0-2 and not go for any junk.”

The Zephyrs demonstrated their resiliency as they kept chipping away in the later innings. But the Trojans were making the comeback more difficult, adding an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth after the Zephs scored three runs to cut the lead to a run in the bottom of the fifth.

“We have a really young team so we really have to come together and communicate,” said Cunningham. “We didn’t get down or pity ourselves.”

While it’s still a young season, this was the first time the Zephyrs were behind in a game. Head coach Blake Morgan said their win was made possible by players sticking together.

“I think the biggest thing we talked about from the beginning is team and believing in each other,” said Morgan. “We really did not play well defensively today. We made a lot of mistakes, uncharacteristically, since we’ve been playing well defensively. And even when everything goes against you, and you’re willing to just keep fighting, fighting and fighting, then you’re usually hanging around to get a chance, and Casey made the most of our chance.”

Morgan said that most of the pitch patterns were outside to Casey Cunningham. He said that they’ve worked really hard to make sure their approach was to look outside, and then adjust to the inside pitch. In the bottom of the eighth he wanted to make sure they were hitting behind the runner because they wanted to advance the baserunner, and Casey “did a tremendous job,” something that all their players have bought into this season.

While the win stemmed from having a plan at the plate, Morgan acknowledged another important factor.

“More importantly was their heart,” said Morgan. “Each one of them kept fighting.”

The fifth inning proved pivotal as Rodriguez led off with a single. Rodriguez hit the ball hard all game, and Morgan said that she’s been making solid contact all season, but many of those balls have been right at fielders. Still, she’s kept a good outlook and had two big hits in the win. Logan Bortz followed with a double to score Rodriguez. After a wild pitch scored another run, Sam Molitoris’ triple made it 5-4, to close out the inning.

One of their younger players is Casey’s younger sister, Madison. Madison Cunningham, a freshman, pitches for the Zephs. She needed to work out of a few jams throughout the game, but made sure she kept her team within striking distance.

Casey said that her sister has a pretty strong attitude, noting she has lots of experience on the mound, just not at the varsity level.

“The moment hasn’t been too big for her,” said Morgan. “We need to play good defense behind her so she gets comfortable at the varsity level. But she goes and competes, and that’s all we can ask of her.”