Lions rally to capture eastern division tiebreaker over Brandywine

Sam Varela awaits a pitch.
Sam Varela awaits a pitch.

Leesport, Pa. - The Lady Lions trailed Penn State Brandywine late in Wednesday's PSUAC eastern division tiebreaker game at the Big Vision Sports Complex outside of Reading, Pa. until a five-run, sixth inning surge turned the tides in favor of the Hazleton squad. Junior Jerrika Chorba (Bloomsburg, Pa.) sparked the rally with her 100th career hit which led to a 10-8 comeback win for Hazleton. With the win the Lady Lions win the eastern division regular season crown, earning a free pass to the final four, double-elimination tournament in DuBois, Pa. on Sunday, May 5. 

Wednesday's tiebreaker game was a true back and forth event that came down to the wire. Hazleton nabbed a quick 3-0 advantage right out of the gates as freshman pitcher Madison Clark (Emmaus, Pa.) emptied the bases with her first home of the season, a three run shot down the left field line. But Clark's bomb failed to hold up as Brandywine came right back to top Hazleton with a four run inning of their own. Clark issued two walks early in the second frame and both came back to haunt her. With two on and two out, a single by Brandywine's Haley Grossi cut the lead to two, turing over the lineup to Arian Segich who promptly sliced a ball off the left field fence. The speedy Segich cleared the bases and cashed in herself with an inside the park home run, giving Brandywine a 4-3 lead. 

Brandywine returned the favor in the bottom half of the second inning, walking in a run to even the game at 4-4 before both squad went silent in their next two at-bats. All that changed in the fifth stanza as Hazleton went to senior Samantha Varela (Hazleton, Pa.) to finish out the game in the circle. But the crafty veteran struggled to find the zone early and three walks coupled with an error gave the lead back to Brandywine. Hazleton traded a run for their first out of the inning and a key strikeout by Varela gave Hazleton the chance to exit the frame trailing by just two scores, although Brandywine had other intentions. Rachel Cherubini came to the plate, lining a single through the middle, scoring two runs on the play, extending the advantage to 8-4 before the Lions retired the side. 

Despite the turnaround, Hazleton had three trips on offense remaining and the Lions wasted no time to start cutting into the Brandywine cushion. After a tough start to her pitching duties, Varela erased one run with a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth inning and stranded two base runners to blank Brandywine in the top of the sixth inning. Chorba led off the frame with her landmark single and a base hit to left center field by sophomore Nicolette Kessler (Bangor, Pa.) kept the momentum going. With the bases loaded, freshman Jaclyn Hess delivered and RBI single with a line drive through the middle, paving the way for the game's biggest moment. After fighting off several good pitches, sophomore Lexi Kessler smoked a tailing line drive over the the left fielder, allowing three runs to score and giving Hazleton a 9-8 lead. 

The first six batters of the inning reached base safely allowing the Lions to grab their first lead since the first inning. Hazleton traded a double-play for an additional insurance run before the pivotal sixth inning ended, giving the Lady Lions a two run advantage heading into the final frame.

The seventh inning started out on the wrong foot but quickly turned around for the Lady Lions. After the lead-off hitter reached on an error, a clutch catch on a fouled bunt attempt by freshman backstop Cassandra Passamonte (Bushkill, Pa.) changed the inning completely. Varela struck out the next hitter and a routine ground ball was all it took to retire the side and complete the comeback victory. 

Hazleton was out-hit 8-7 by Brandywine but made the most of their opportunities to capture the number one seed in the east. Lexi Kessler ended the game 1-for-4 with three RBI on the game winning double along with two runs scored. Sam Varela finished 1-for-2 with two RBI and two runs scored while Maddy Clark went 1-for-4 with three RBI and a run scored coming the on first inning home run. Varela picked up her 10th win of the season via the come from behind effort, allowing two earned runs in three innings of work. 

Next up: The Lady Lions advance to DuBois to compete for a PSUAC championship and will face the number two seed from the western division when play resumes following finals week on Sunday, May 5.