Hazleton evens up series with wins over Brandywine

Varela high fives her teammates in between innings.
Varela high fives her teammates in between innings.

Drums, Pa. - After a pair of road losses to the defending Penn State University Athletic Conference champions on Thursday, Hazleton bounced back with two wins on their home field against Brandywine. Hazleton gave up late rallies to fail in the first two meetings of the year but squashed Brandywine's comeback efforts of Saturday with quality pitching and defense to win by scores of 6-5 and 5-1, squaring the season series at two game each. 

Making history on the day was Hazleton's Samantha Varela (Hazleton, Pa.) who secured her spot as Hazleton's all-time leading hitter. With a line drive passed the shortstop, Varela picked up her 156th knock adding to the list of accolades as the Lions all-time home run leader and all-time leader in runs batted in. 

Game One: Penn State Hazleton 6, Penn State Brandywine 5

Brandywine took a 2-0 lead right out of the gate with back to back two-out doubles by Alyssa Sullivan and Fiona Warren, but freshman Madison Clark (Emmaus, Pa.) settled in nicely from the rubber for Hazleton. Following the early hiccup, Clark allowed just three hits from the second frame through the fifth inning, allowing her squad to get back in the mix. 

Hazleton did exactly that. A bases loaded walk to freshman Jaclyn Hess (Bangor, Pa.) in the second inning cut the lead in half and in the bottom half of the third, Hazleton made Brandywine pay for a costly error. After getting the first two hitters on base to start the third inning, Brandywine would have exited the frame if not for an infield error that loaded the bases. For the second straight inning, Hazleton tacked on a score with a free pass, this one tying the score at 2-2 but unlike the previous at-bat, the Lions followed the walk with timely two-out hitting. Sophomore Kylee Sutton (Easton, Pa.) lashed a single to right center scoring and pair of runs, turning it back over to Hess who dropped in a flare to right field to give Hazleton a 5-1 advantage after three innings. 

Sophomore Lexi Kessler (Bangor, Pa.) slashed a single to left field in the fifth inning to score a key insurance run for the Lady Lions and with a 6-2 cushion on after five innings and as it turned out, they would need every last score to pull off the win. Brandywine got the first two hitters aboard in the sixth inning and with runners at second and third base and one out, the visitors strung together back to back singles, cutting the deficit to just two runs. Clark's clutch pitching retired the side with a pop up and key strikeout that stranded a pair of Brandywine runners, but in identical fashion, Clark would run into trouble in the top half of the final inning. 

With runners at the corners and no outs, senior Samantha Varela entered the game in relief of Clark, needing to strand Brandywine's Alexandra Szpindor who stood at first base as the tying run. Brandywine had all the momentum until a bizarre double-play led to their undoing. Varela struck out the next batter on a wild pitch allowing the runner from third to score but as Hazleton threw the ball around the infield, Szpindor attempted to go from first to third on the play. A fine throw by Jaclyn Hess cut down the runner at third base and suddenly Hazleton had two outs with the bases empty. Varela induced a ground out to the next hitter, closing the door on game one by the score of 6-5. 

Hazleton out-hit Brandywine 11-9 in the game and were led Kylee Sutton who finished a perfect 2-for-2 with a walk and two RBI. Junior Jerrika Chorba added two hits in four trips to the dish and scored two runs while Jaclyn Hess ended the game 1-for-2 with two RBI and two walks. Madison Clark picked up the win for Hazleton, throwing six solid innings. Clark allowed four earned runs on nine hits and one walk while striking out six. 

Game Two: Penn State Hazleton 5, Penn State Brandywine 1

Varela's save of game two propelled her to success from the circle and at the plate in game two. A double by the senior paved the way for Madison Clark to drive in the game's first score and after Brandywine tied the game in the top of the third frame, Varela clubbed a two run shot to centerfield to put the Lions back on top 3-1.

The senior was equally impressive from the circle in this one, allowing just five hits and one unearned run in the complete game effort. Although she ran into trouble in the top of the fourth frame, Varela and defense stranded all three runners to keep the two run cushion and never looked back. After eliminating a Brandywine rally in the top of the sixth inning via line out double play, Hazleton broke the game open in the bottom half of the inning. Brandywine turned a double-play of their own to clear the bases but Hazleton responded with four straight base hits to plate two insurance runs. Line drive singles by Chorba and sophomore Nicolette Kessler (Bangor, Pa.) inflicted the damage to give Hazleton breathing room at 5-1 over Brandywine.

Varela registered Hazleton's only multi-hit effort although eight Lady Lions picked up base knocks in the win. Lexi Kessler (Bangor, Pa.) led Hazleton with two runs scored while going 1-for-3 at the dish along with freshman Caitlyn Ashelman who added a hit and a run scored in game two. 

Next up: The Lady Lions are off until Wednesday, April 10 when they will travel to Penn State Mont Alto for a non-league double-header with the squad from the PSUAC western division. First pitch slated for 2:00 p.m.