16-0. That’s the magic number as the Lakeland Chiefs varsity baseball team heads into the district championship game this Memorial at PNC Field (first pitch is at 2:30 p.m.). No Lakeland team has gone undefeated in the regular season since the 1950s, and the Chiefs are looking to make it a perfect 17-0 as they play for yet another district title to add to their many others. Their opponent will be third-ranked Holy Redeemer high school. This year is both different and the same, for many reasons. Unlike all the years past, Lakeland has already clinched its spot in the state tournament due to the fact that this year, the first and second finisher in Division II get to go instead of just the champion. That fact alone has got to take some pressure off the perfect squad, who has only allowed two runs in their last six games, zero runs in the post-season, and etched a name in history with a no-hitter in the quarterfinals.
Lakeland has a fantastic line-up and bullpen, as they always seem to, and the magic is most definitely there this year. However, Lakeland is playing their post-season baseball yet again with heavy hearts as tragedy seems to strike the community at this time of year. To name a few, Lackawanna College freshman baseball player and graduate of Lakeland, Shane Rivenburgh, passed in a tragic accident last April, and just this past week, one of the players lost both his father and grandfather in a tractor trailer accident. Due to the most recent tragedy, the semifinal game was pushed to Friday instead of Thursday, and the sun came out full force as the Chiefs recorded the final out, fortifying all of the angels they have in their corner.
The events of the 2014 district championship game are not lost on those who were there or heard about it, as the senior catcher who had lost his father shortly after the 2013 season drove in the game-tying run, and kept the rally going for the go-ahead, and a miraculous catch at third based completed the underdog run.
As the Chiefs head into this game, their hearts will be heavy once more at the loss this family and community has faced less than a week ago, but teammates aren’t just teammates, they are family, and family can make it through any adversity thrown at them. 17 is the magic number this Monday, and there will, without a doubt, be many angels in the outfield.