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PIAA Baseball: Northern Lebanon Sets New Standard With State Appearance

In 2022, the Northern Lebanon Baseball Team won seven games.  On Monday, they found themselves traveling to Washington & Jefferson College to play District 7 Champion Hopewell in the first round of the PIAA State AAAA Playoffs.  Already having made history as the first group of Northern Lebanon Vikings to make States in baseball, they were hoping to add to the magic by stopping the Hopewell Vikings who shocked the WPIAL by making a run to the title after entering as a 14-seed.

What the Northern Lebanon Vikings found when they met the Alquippa-based Vikings was a defensive duel on an artificial turf field.  To prepare for the surface, Coach Travis Thome’s bunch held a Saturday practice on Hamburg’s turf.  This strong defense would keep Northern Lebanon in the game, but slick fielding that shut down their ground ball game ended up being the difference.

Getting the start on the mound for Northern Lebanon was freshman Adrian Gonzalez.  He entered the game with a 4-3 record and a 3.49 ERA, having struck out 39 in the 48.1 innings of work.  He also pitched three complete games over the course of the season and is widely considered one of the best underclassmen in the Lancaster Lebanon League.  However, turning to a ninth grader in the biggest game in school history is a bold move.

Gonzalez rose to the occasion and settled in right away, putting away Hopewell in the first inning.  Over the course of the next two innings, Hopewell was able to get a run in each to secure a 2-0 lead.

After four innings, Gonzalez had allowed the two runs on seven hits.  He struck out one batter and did not issue any free passes.  He was very efficient in throwing only 54 pitches to the 19 batters he faced.  A large part of this was the defensive effort behind him.

In the fifth inning,  sophomore Brian Bicksler would hold Hopewell scoreless in one inning of relief.  Junior Dylan Fegley entered the in the sixth, with Hopewell adding an unearned run by the end of the frame.  This gave Hopewell a 3-0 lead.

Unfortunately, the strong pitching and defensive efforts were met with the same on the other side of the field.  Hopewell limited Northern Lebanon to ground balls, which they flawlessly fielded on the smooth playing surface.  The visitors were able to muster four hits on the afternoon, but they did not come in the bunches that are needed to score runs.  Giving credit to Hopewell, Coach Thome said, “We hit a lot of ground balls, the shortstop made all of the plays.”  In fact, their shortstop Zach Gigliotti did account for eleven outs without making an error.

For Northern Lebanon, DJ Byerly, Dylan Fegley, James Voight, and Brian Lowen each had a hit.

This 3-0 loss in the first round of States, although difficult, gives the NL Vikings a chance to reflect.  Thome said that he is, “Proud of the season and how far we came in just a year’s time.”  He credited his players with their preparation in putting themselves in the position to be successful in achieving seventeen wins.  With that said, Thome sees it as an opportunity to reset what is the standard.  Thome went onto say, “Next year the expectation is to exceed what we did this year.”

Having just been hired in December prior to the start of this season, Thome will now have a full year to prepare his players for what is next.  The Vikings graduated (last Friday) and will miss four starters – Jared Ecenroad, Brian Lowen, DJ Byerly, and James Voight –  but will be returning a plenty of talent when they take the field next season.  If Coach Thome has his way, one should expect to be reading about this team well past this point in 2024.


Box Score


Coverage from previous Northern Lebanon playoff games can be found here:

Northern Lebanon Baseball Shuts Down Bermudian Springs, Earns State Berth

District Playoff Baseball: Lucky #7s Annville-Cleona, Northern Lebanon Score Upsets

Viking Baseball Notches District Win Over West Perry


One final note which serves as a thank you to Coach Thome for being willing to share information about his program throughout the season.  This has allowed us to share with you the progress of his athletes. 

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