Aston, Pa. - Hazleton's return to postseason action was short-lived following their 2-1 defeat to Penn State Schuylkill in the first round of PSUAC playoff action. Hazleton led 1-0 for five and a half innings but Schuylkill was able to produce late runs to tie and ultimately walk-off the third seeded Nittany Lions in the seventh and final inning.
Sophomore James Conza (Bushkill, Pa.) led off the game with the first of three hits on the day, ultimately making his way to third base with one out in the first inning. Conza was stranded for one hitter until freshman Nick Ciszak (Kunkletown, Pa.) beat out an infield hit to plate the game's first score and give Hazleton the lead. The game would remain 1-0 for over five innings of play. During that time, Hazleton continued to threaten the Schuylkill defense, but the Lions failed to convert several scoring opportunities and wind up going 0-7 with runners on base for the duration of the game. Despite the lack of offense, Hazleton maintained their slim cushion with solid work from senior Colin Stauffer (West Hazleton, Pa.) from the mound. Stuaffer put zeros on the board through the first five innings despite trouble in the third inning and a bases loaded jam in the fourth.
The tide would turn in the sixth inning however and Schuylkill would be the benefactor. A lead off double by Schuylkill's Steele Fekette translated into a crucial game tying score. Fekette maneuvered his way to third on a ground ball out and a fly-out to center amidst heavy winds left no chance for Hazleton to cut down the tying score at home plate. Stauffer would finish the inning with no addition trouble but exited the game with a no decision after a gritty performance on the mound for Hazleton.
The late tying run shifted the momentum completely in Schuylkill's favor. Hazleton went down in order in the top half of the seventh inning for just the second time all day and were now forced to hold Schuylkill scoreless to extend the game. That would not be the case as sophomore Eric Nothstein (Palmerton, Pa.) took to the hill for the Lions and immediately ran into trouble in relief work. A walk, an error and a hit batsman would load the bases for Schuylkill with no outs in the inning. Schuylkill's Jake Leininger would come to the plate looking for something to hit out of the infield and give the home team a chance to extend the season. Leininger, who pitched a terrific game himself for seven innings, delivered in the pivotal spot by flaring a ball to right field for the game-winning knock to advance the Schuylkill squad to round two of the playoffs.
Top performers: A tough loss for the Hazleton Nittany Lions would look in control for the bulk of the afternoon. Conza led all hitters in the game with a 3-for-4 effort at the plate including Hazleton's lone tally on the afternoon. Ciszak finished 2-for-2 with an RBI while sophomore Mason Goida (Lansford, Pa.) added a 2-for-4 effort. The trio combined for seven of Hazleton's eight hits in the game. Stauffer took the no decision, tossing six innings of one run ball on five hits, four walks and five strikeouts.
Next up: Hazleton's 2021 season comes to an end, but the Lions are trending in the right direction and the vast majority of the roster returning in 2022. Stay tuned for news on conference and national awards in the coming week as we wrap up the 2021 baseball season.