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 Friday, July 5, 2002

SPORTS

 C-5 


 

Playoff pictures coming into focus




Of The Morning Call


 

The weather is heating up hereabouts. Just ask players for one of the Lehigh Valley's 52 amateur baseball teams.

But if the fields they play on are cookin', so, too, are most of the league and divisional races as their postseason playoffs approach.

Here's a league-by-league sneak peek:

NORCO LEGION

Liberty High School's charge to the Class 3A state championship game brought a huge dose of excitement and exultation to Bethlehem baseball fans.

It also gave the Northampton County Legion League (especially three teams: Bath, Lehigh-West Bethlehem and The Jeffs) a huge migraine. With those three clubs faced with squeezing all 22 of their regular season contests into 25 days (and rainouts a constant threat), Norco made two moves to ease the pain: It extended its season by three days to July 16 and went to an eight-team double- elimination tournament playoff format.

In the past, Norco's playoffs involved three rounds of best-of- three series among its four division champs and four wild cards.

The playoff tourney is tentatively slated to begin July 19.

Through Tuesday, only The Jeffs (7-1-1) seem to have survived Liberty's long playoff run. Bath (4-7-0) and Lehigh (2-9-0) have struggled and must climb mountains to make the playoffs.

Defending champion Nazareth (10-2-1 for 21 points), Freemansburg (12-1-0-24) and The Jeffs (15 points with 13 games to play) look like the three pre-tourney favorites.

The North Division will be a race to the wire between Kemp Post (7-6-2-16) and East Stroudsburg (7-7-1-15). The East Division is a three-team wild goose chase among Wind Gap (7-6-2-16), Easton (7-8- 0-14) and Wilson (6-6-1-13).

In the South, Hellertown (8-6-0-16) will battle with The Jeffs and Freemansburg's Blue Barons. And, in the West, only Northampton (6-6-0-12) has a chance to challenge Nazareth.

Norco's top two tournament finishers will advance to the Region 2 Tournament from July 30-Aug. 3 at Quakertown. This year's state tourney is way out west at St. Mary's.

Norco notes: Perennial North Division champ Birches (3-12-0) has already been eliminated from playoff contention (a .500 record is a must, and they have only seven to play). In the league 16 years, Birches has never before missed the playoff boat.

The Jeffs and The Wanderers have been co-tenants at Northeast Middle School for 20-plus years. They'll play each other there for the last time on July 14. And The Jeffs' contest with Freemansburg a day later will be the last game ever on the field (exclusive of playoffs). Both teams will have to find new fields for the 2003 season; Northeast is being rebuilt, and construction there will eliminate the baseball field.

Hellertown manager Bobby Frey, a senior-to-be at Moravian, leads a double summer life. He also plays first base for the Blue Mountain League-leading Limeport Dodgers when his legion team is idle. Luckily, he's had only one conflict.

LEHIGH VALLEY LEGION

The LVL pared its schedule down to 19 games this summer and will finish its regular season Tuesday. Defending league champ North Parkland and South Parkland are deadlocked atop the South Division at 13-2. Lehighton is third at 10-5 but, with only four games left, has little chance to catch the Parklands.

Lower Macungie (13-3) has already clinched the South Division crown and a berth in the best-of-three regular season championship series (probably opposite one of the Parklands) July 14-16.

The two division champs will draw byes into the LVL's eight-team double-elimination tourney July 17-22.

While all that's going on, the league's other 12 clubs will meet in six best-of-three series, with the six winners joining the two division champs in the tourney.

The LVL will be allowed only one regional qualifier this year. So, in the event the regular season and tournament champs are not the same team, each winner will meet July 24-26 in a best-of-three playoff for the regional berth.

BLUE MOUNTAIN LEAGUE

The defending champion Limeport's Dodgers (15-3) and 2001 runner- up Hellertown (15-5) have picked up where they left off last season; They've been running neck-and-neck for the regular season title since the season opened.

In the last week, they've managed to put a little space between themselves and the three teams chasing the last two playoff berths - - Bethleon (12-8), Catasauqua (10-7) and Lower Nazareth (11-8).

Although the season is far from over (the teams have between 12 and 15 games remaining), the bottom four clubs (the MCS Cardinals (7- 10), the Polysteel Orioles (5-12), Martins Creek (5-14) and Northampton (3-16) are long shots at best to sneak into the playoffs, which will begin on or around Aug. 2.

TRI-COUNTY LEAGUE

The 13-team Tri-Co, which is up to 13 teams (from 12) and to 36 games (from 32), is looking at great races, both for the regular season title and the playoff bye that goes with it, and for the seven playoff berths.

As of Tuesday, only five games separated the first-place Lehigh Township Brewers (20-7) and seventh-place Cetronia (15-12). And neither the Northern Yankees (12-14), Upper Perk Chiefs (9-13), Jordan Creek Gators (10-16) nor the Lower Nazareth Cardinals (8-15) can be counted out yet -- although all four need to get hot pronto.

The Brewers roared from the starting gate with 13 straight wins. They've cooled off, going only 7-7 since then, but they're still hanging onto a one-game lead on defending champ Gabelsville (17-6).

The two hottest clubs in the TCL, however, are third-place Limeport (17-7) and fourth-place Tri-City (16-9). The Bulls, who began the season 5-7, have won 12 straight; the Fleetwings, at one time 8-9, have notched eight straight wins.

Amazingly, the 2002 Tri-Co winner could have as many as nine or 10 defeats -- although the expanded schedule would play a role in that.

All-Stars: The BML and Tri-Co All-Star game will be played at 7 p.m. next Friday at Limeport Stadium.

  

From The Morning Call -- July 5, 2002

Copyright 2002, The Morning Call