Akron, Oh. - Runs were hard to come by when two of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association's best hurlers took to the circle at Firestone Stadium early Monday evening where the number six seeded Lady Lions faced the third seeded Lynx of the New Hampshire Technical Institute. NHTI took a 1-0 lead in the bottom half of the first inning, but sophomore Kayla Rhome (Marysville, Pa.) and the Lady Lion defense held the Lynx scoreless for the next seven innings while attempting to push across a run against the USCAA's number one ranked pitcher, NHTI's Tori Lemay. Lemay allowed just three hits through the first four innings, but Hazleton tied up the ball game in the fifth inning which forced extra frames. With international rules in play, Hazleton advanced the free base runner to third base on a fly ball, and sophomore Kaitlyn Kaluzny (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) brought in the game winning run with a sacrifice fly to right field, giving Hazleton the opening round win over NHTI by the score of 2-1 in eight innings.
USCAA Softball National Championships Opening Round - #6 Penn State Hazleton 2, #3 NHTI 1 (Final, 8 Innings)
After stranding a Hazleton a pair of Hazleton base runners in the first inning, the Lynx got on the board first with three straight singles. With runners on second and third following a throwing error in the Hazleton infield, Danyel McNicholas executed a safety squeeze bunt single to plate the games first score and leave runners at the corners. Hazleton would strand both remaining runners to get out of the inning with just a 1-0 deficit.
Both teams went scoreless for the next three innings until Hazleton came to bat in the top half of the fifth inning. Kayla Rhome started off the inning with a free pass from Lemay, then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from junior Leanne Lagowski (Wrightsville, Pa.). Lemay misplayed a hard ground ball off the bat of freshman Moriah Lynn (Berwick, Pa.) to move Rhome to third and leave runners on the corners for sophomore Sara Stauffer (Mifflinburg, Pa.). The Hazleton center fielder hit a ground ball fielded cleanly by the third baseman and catching Rhome off the bag, With no safe place to turn, Rhome bound for home plate and forcing a throw from the Lynx infielder that failed to find the mark, scoring Rhome and tying up the game at 1-1.
Scoreless frames for both teams in the sixth and seventh innings meant free softball for the fans in Ohio and the Lady Lions made good in the top half of the eighth inning. With Moriah Lynn on second base, sophomore Vanessa Michael (Bloomsburg, Pa.) hit a towering ball to center field that was caught, but was plenty deep to advance to speedy Lynn to third base. With one away, Kaluzny lifted a ball to right field and once caught, Lynn darted for the plate, beating the throw from the NHTI outfield to break up the tie game and give Hazleton a 2-1 advantage.
Rhome walked the lead off hitter for NHTI in the bottom of the eighth inning, putting runners at first and second base with no outs, but like time and time again this season, the hurler and her defense found a way to strand runners. A hard bunt from the Lynx next batter found the glove of Lynn at third who wheeled and fired to running Kaluzny who beat the advancing runner to third base for the first out of the inning. Rhome induced a pop to Kaluzny to secure the second out and hold the runners, but the next batter would reach to load the bases. With the winning run on second base Rhome made her best pitch of the day, forcing a weak grounder back to the circle where she snagged the ball and tossed out the runner for the final out.
Seven of nine hitters for NHTI garnered hits in the game including a 2-4 performance from Emma Gagnon who also scored the lone Lynx run. Jenna Beaulieu also had a multi-hit game going 2-3 in the losing effort.
Tori Lemay pitched a brilliant game but was saddled with the extra inning loss, tossing all eight innings allowing two runs (one earned) on just five hits and striking out nine Lady Lions.
Moriah Lynn and Kaitlyn Kaluzny led Hazleton at the plate, both with 1-3 efforts off Lemay. Lynn added the game winning run in extra innings with the RBI going to Kaluzny on the sacrifice fly.
Kayla Rhome tossed her 16th complete game, this one an eight inning affair where she allowed just one run on nine hits. Rhome hit four batters and walked another but struck out three Lynx hitters and stranded 11 base runners to earn her 15th win of the season.
Hazleton will face the number two seed in Carlow University who holds a record of 28-12 in this season. The two squads will battle it out to remain in the winners bracket tomorrow in Firestone Stadium at 2:00 p.m.