DuBois, Pa. - The Lady Lions got off to a great start in the 2019 United States Collegiate Athletic Association Softball National Championships. The seventh seeded Hazleton squad strung seven runs together in the first inning against fellow PSUAC competitor Penn State Brandywine on their way to a 9-1 win in round one of the tournament.
Round 1: #7 Penn State Hazleton 9, #10 Penn State Brandywine 1 - Final 5 Innings
Senior Samantha Varela got the start for Hazleton and ran into trouble in her first start in over two weeks. Varela issued three walks to Brandywine in the opening frame, allowing their PSUAC rival to get on the board first via an RBI fielder's choice by Rachel Cherubini. Fortunately for the Lady Lions, Varela would stranded runners at second and third base, striking out the six hitter to limit Brandywine to a 1-0 lead.
Brandywine had their own pitching issues which quickly spiraled into a big inning for the Lady Lions. A pair of walks sandwiched around a bunt single by sophomore Lexi Kessler (Bangor, Pa.) quickly loaded the bases with no outs in the inning. After a ground ball out kept the bases loaded, Hazleton reeled off three straight singles although the Lady Lions were only able to manage three scores on the knocks. But with two outs, Hazleton finally broke through for multiple runs. A hard ground ball up the middle by sophomore Kylee Sutton (Easton, Pa.) brought in a pair of runs and following a walk to Hazleton's 10th hitter of the inning, Lexi Kessler slapped a base hit to center field. Kessler's line drive scored two more runs for Hazleton before Brandywine cut down a runner trying to advance to third base.
Nursing a 7-1 advantage, Varela began to settle down in the circle turning a shaky start into a gem. Over the next three frames, the senior faced just 12 batters, limiting Brandywine to just two hits over that stretch. After posting a zero in the top of the fourth, Hazleton mounted a two rally in the bottom half of the inning. With one on and two out, a walk to freshman Cassandra Passamonte (Bushkill, Pa.) extended the inning and put a runner in scoring position for junior Jerrika Chorba (Bloomsburg, Pa.). Chorba fought off several pitches until getting one she liked, lining the ball passed the third baseman allowing freshman Madision Clark to score easily from second base and extend the lead to 8-1.
Hazleton needed just three outs and one run to end the game and that's exactly what ensued. Varela stranded one runner in the top half and when her turn came up in the bottom of the fifth, the senior made at the plate as well. Freshman Jaclyn Hess (Bangor, Pa.) doubled to the right center field gap and a fine bunt by Kessler left runners at the corners with just one away. With a chance to end it, Varela shut the door on Brandywine, pulling a ground ball through the third base hole in the infield to plate the ninth Hazleton score and end the game via the mercy rule.
Lexi Kessler led all hitters in the game with a 3-for-4 performance, driving in two runs while scoring once. Three other Lady Lions finished with multiple hits including Varela (2-for-2 / RBI), freshman Caitlyn Ashelman (2-for-3 / RBI) and Chorba (2-for-3 / 2 RBI). After walking three batters in the first inning, Varela silenced the Brandywine bats to allow just two hits and two walks over the final four innings of action. Varela picked up her 11th win of the season, striking out five hitters in the process and advancing Hazleton to a second round matchup with the Lynx of NHTI.