Lady Lions split on Day 1 of PSUAC Championships

Nicolette Kessler at the plate.
Nicolette Kessler at the plate.

DuBois, Pa. - Amidst steady rainfall, the Lady Lions kept their playoff hopes alive on day one of the PSUAC Championship at Heindl Field. After a 5-4 loss to third seeded Penn State DuBois, Hazleton rebounded in an elimination game to top Penn State Beaver 10-2 and remain in contention for a title.

Game 1: #1 Penn State Hazleton 4, #3 Penn State DuBois 5

Despite playing on the artificial surface, both squads faced tough wet conditions on Sunday. After three scoreless innings, the Lions jumped on top for a 4-0 lead but gave five scores back to DuBois in their next at bat. Down the stretch, Hazleton left six runners stranded in the final three innings to exit with their first loss of the double elimination tournament. 

Both pitchers struggled with their command early on but it was DuBois who cracked first in the fourth inning. Hazleton had just one hit to that point in the game but strung together two singles and an error to load the bases with no outs. Junior Jerrika Chorba (Bloomsburg, Pa.) lined a single to left field to break the 0-0 tie an kickstart a big inning. The Lady Lions tacked on a score on a wild pitch and with two outs, a clutch double by sophomore Lexi Kessler (Bangor, Pa.) extended the advantage to 4-0 over DuBois. 

Althought the Lions retired the lead-off hitter in the fifth, the weather clearly began to affect the Hazleton pitching. Freshman Madison Clark (Emmaus, Pa.) walked two out the next three hitters and with the bases loaded, DuBois' Kayleigh MacTavish smoked a line drive to right that cleared the bases. Clark would exit the game following the play, but senior Sam Varela (Hazleton, Pa.) couldn't slow the rally, allowing back to back doubles that gave DuBois a 5-4 lead over Hazleton. 

Over the next three innings, the Lions has several chances to tie or move ahead, although in each case came up empty. Hazleton worked three walks to load the bases with one out in the sixth inning only to see a rare strikeout by Varela and long flyout by Clark end the inning. Hazleton got two aboard in the final frame but failed to push the tying run across the plate, falling short via the strike out. 

Hazleton out-hit Dubois 7-5 however four errors by the Lady Lions and an uncharacteristic ten walks sealed their fate in the this one. Freshman Caitlyn Ashelman (Macungie, Pa.) led the Lions with a 2-for-4 effort at the plate with Kessler and Chorba driving in the runs. 

Game 2: #1 Penn State Hazleton 10, #1 Penn State Beaver 2 - Final/5 Innings

The rain tappered off as game two got underway and although Beaver drew first blood, the Hazleton offense was determined to keep the championship hopes alive. The Lady Lions scored 10 unanswered runs to support Madison Clark who made her second start of the day. In total, five Lady Lions supplied the offense with multiple hits leading to a flurry of scores in the teams' first two trips to the plate. With a 9-2 cushion, Clark shut down the Beaver hitters in the final four innings and Hazleton tacked on a score to envoke the mercy rule. 

After a sloppy first game riddled with walks and errors, Hazleton got off to a similar start in the elimination round against Beaver. Clark retired the first two batters of the game but a walk extended the inning allowing Beaver's Michelle Cisco to drive in the game's first score with a double over the Hazleton right fielder. Cisco would attempt to steal third base on the very next play and continuing the trend from game one, a Hazleton miscue led to an easy score that put Beaver up 2-0. Clark walked the next hitter but excaped any further damage with a groundout to second base to end the inning. 

The tide turned in the bottom half of the inning when Hazleton surged for five scores. Freshman Jaclyn Hess singled to leadoff the game and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Beaver caught Hess leaning after a pitch to the following hitter, but like Hazleton before them, tossed the ball through the infield on the pick off attempt, allowing Hess to score all the way from second base. After a walk to Lexi Kessler, Hazleton reeled off four straight hits, three of which cashed in runners and chased the Beaver starter from the game. Five runs would score after the first six hitters of the frame before Beaver retired the bottom third of the order. 

Hazleton blanked the visitors in the top of the second and cashed in four more runs in the bottom half of the inning. The Lions made Beaver pay for a pair of errors on back to back plays. A dropped fly ball and an errant throw tacked on a sixth score for the Lions and paved the way for the red hot Ashelman. With two on and one out the hard hitting outfielder slapped her second double of the game to drive in both Varela Clark and extend the advantage to 8-2. A third miscue in the infield should have ended the inning and once more the Lions took full advantage. This time it was Chorba inflicting the damage, smoking a double to the gap in right field. By the innings' end Hazleton left the frame with a seven run advantage. 

The Lady Lions clung to the big lead as Clark settled in through the final three innings. The freshman scattered three hits but zero free passes and unlike Beaver, Hazleton locked in defensively to keep putting zeros on the board. Needing just one score to close out the win. Hazleton collected three straight hits in the fifth including a lead off double by sophomore Kylee Sutton (Easton, Pa.) and a walk off single to right by sophomore Mackenzie Joy (Hazleton, Pa.). 

Hazleton registered 14 hits to avoid an abrupt end to the season. Ashelman continued her tear with two doubles and three RBI while freshman Cassandra Passamonte (Bushkill, Pa.) backed her up with two hits and a pair of runs driven in. Clark ended the game with one earned run allowed on six hits in five innings of work to secure her first career playoff win. 

Next up: Hazleton stays in the hunt with the win over Beaver and gets a shot at redemption on Monday morning. The Lions will face off with Penn State DuBois who fell to Brandywine in the nightcap game on Sunday. First pitch slated for 11:00 a.m. at Heindl Field.