Akron, Oh. - The United States Collegiate Athletic Association Softball National Championships begin on Monday, May 16th where the number six seeded Lady Lions will take on the number three seeded Lynx of the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Firestone Stadium at 4:00 p.m. The teams met in last year's tournament where NHTI used a four run seventh frame to top Hazleton by the score of 8-3 and send the Lions to the consolation round.
#3 New Hampshire Technical Institute
The number three seed enters the national championships with the top winning percentage in the USCAA, sporting a 24-2 overall record. The Lynx only losses came at the hands of the fifth seed in this year's tournament, College of St. Joseph's of Vermont. Vermont topped the Lynx in the season opener by a score of 2-0, then repeated the feat in the Yankee Conference Championship to bookend the NHTI season.
The Lynx may not be a power hitting club, but are more than adept at pushing runs across the plate. NHTI led the USCAA with a team batting average of .351 and ranked second in stolen bases with 82 swipes in 2016. A potent attack that led to 206 runs scored and a recipe for success when combined with the Lynx's dynamic pitching and defense. In 2016 NHTI led the USCAA with conference best 1.8 runs allowed per game, the best overall team earned run average of 1.12 and a mark of 9.64 strikeouts per game, the most of any team in the country.
NHTI is led by senior All-American Tori Lemay who led the country with a minuscule 0.64 earned run average and 167 strikeouts from the circle. At the plate, the Lynx are led by freshman infielder Danyel McNicholas who holds a team best .455 batting average and 26 RBI from the middle of the order. All-American senior Emma Gagnon follows close behind with a .446 average at the plate and leads the team with 15 stolen bases and 24 runs scored.
#6 Penn State Hazleton
The Lady Lions enter the national championships as one of the top slugging teams in the USCAA. Hazleton's combination of power bats and power arms led to a 23-14 overall record and found themselves in the top ten of the USCAA Coaches Poll nearly all season. Hazleton hit the second most home runs in the country with 26 long balls and the top slugging percentage of any team in the nation at .473. Their .342 batting average is second best only to NHTI and the Hazleton offense drove in 232 of their 286 runs in 2016, the third most scores of any team in the nation. The Lady Lions shut out opponents seven times this season, the fourth most of any team in the USCAA and their combined team earned run average of 2.81 was the third best mark of any team behind NHTI and defending USCAA champion St. Mary of the Woods. Despite losing five of their last six contests, four of the losses came by two runs or less to top Penn State University Athletic Conference or NCAA-3 opponents.
Hazleton is led in the circle by two-time USCAA All-American Kayla Rhome (Marysville, Pa.). Rhome tossed a pair of no-hitters in 2016 and ranked fifth in ERA with a mark of 2.01. Rhome struck 121 batters and finished the season with 14 wins, the fourth most of any pitcher in the country.
The Lady Lions potent lineup is eager to face the nation's top pitching and advance in the national tournament. Hazleton will send a myriad of top hitters to the box including All-Americans sophomore Vanessa Michael (Bloomsburg, Pa.), freshman Moriah Lynn (Berwick, Pa.) and sophomore Sara Stauffer (Mifflinburg, Pa.) along with PSUAC All-Conference first-teamer freshman Samantha Varela (Hazleton, Pa.) Michael led Hazleton and the country with 48 RBI and ranked fourth in the nation with seven home runs to go along with her .414 batting average. Lynn scored 41 runs in 2016 and led the nation with 54 hits, while Stauffer drove in 28 scores for Hazleton and led the team with nine stolen bases. Varela follows the trio in the clean-up spot where she hit six home runs and drove in 38 scores, the fifth most RBI in the USCAA.