Hazleton rallies late to remain unbeaten at USCAA Championships

Hazleton's Mackenzie Joy stands at third base following an extra-inning triple on Monday night.
Hazleton's Mackenzie Joy stands at third base following an extra-inning triple on Monday night.

DuBois, Pa. - The Lady Lions overcame a four run deficit in the seven inning and tacked on a trio of runs in extra frames to vault past the number two seeded Lynx of NHTI in Monday night's second round matchup at the USCAA National Championships. Hazleton late surge put the squad up three runs heading in to the bottom of the eighth inning, allowing senior Sam Varela (Hazleton, Pa.) to wrap up the miracle win with a scoreless frame from the circle, advancing Hazleton to the quarter final round of the winners bracket. 

Hazleton got RBI doubles from Varela and freshman Caitlyn Ashelman (Macungie, Pa.) in the first inning to take a 2-0 advantage but NHTI responded in the bottom half of the first with a pair of doubles themselves to erase the Lions' cushion and claim a 3-2 advantage.  Hazleton seemed to have it going on at the plate against Lynx pitcher Taylor Gagnon but the NHTI hurler quickly settled into a grove. From the second inning through the sixth, Hazleton would collect just one hit off Gagnon, allowing the Lynx to steadily build a lead. 

NHTI tacked on single scores in the third, fourth and sixth frames to go ahead 6-2 heading into the final frame when things finally turned around for Hazleton. Sophomore Mackenzie Joy (Hazleton, Pa.) led off the seventh with a pinch hit single, followed by an infield single by the speedy Nicolette Kessler (Bangor, Pa.) and just like that, the Lady Lions were back in business. After a fielder's choice advance the runners retired Joy at third base, freshman Jaclyn Hess (Bangor, Pa.) broke the scoring drought with a line drive double to the left field corner, scoring Kessler and freshman Sky Esterly (Nazareth, Pa.) to cut the deficit to two runs. Sophomore Lexi Kessler (Bangor, Pa.) followed suit with an infield single to put the tying run on board for Varela with just one away. But following her 1st inning double, Gagnon shut down the Hazleton slugger and did so again in the seventh, however Varela's ground ball did advance the tying score to second base, setting up the play of the game.

Just one out away from closing out the game, NHTI's Gagnon induced what should have been a game ending ground ball, but in a twist of fate the Lynx, who committed zero errors on the night until that point, failed to complete the put-out at first base. Hazleton freshman Madison Clark (Emmaus, Pa.) reached safely on the play and as the ball bound for the fence, Kessler came around from second base to knot the score at 6-6. With momentum on their side, Varela entered the game in relief of Clark and promptly retired the side in order to send the game to extra innings. 

The Lions cashed in their get out of jail free card and made the Lynx pay in the bonus inning. With international rules in play, freshman Cassandra Passamonte (Bushkill, Pa.) singled to lead off the eighth putting runners at the corners for the dangerous Mackenzie Joy. Joy picked up right where she left off in the seventh, this time tripling to left field and giving Hazleton their first lead in nearly two hours of game time. Hess followed with her third hit of the game to extend the cushion to 9-6  and after notching just five hits through the first six innings, the Lady Lions miraculously turned on the offense for eight hits in their final two trips on offense to claim a firm grasp on the victory. Inspired by the turnaround, Varela made swift work of the Lynx in the eighth as Hazleton came away with the comeback win. 

Hess and Joy came away as the game's top performers, but their were clutch hits throughout the lineup, particularly in the final two innings. Hess ended the game 3-for-4 with a walk, three RBI and two runs scored, followed by Joy who's pinch hit single sparked the rally in the seventh and then drove in the game winning run in the eighth with the two RBI triple. Passamonte added a 3-for-4 effort from the plate while Varela finished 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored, adding the win in two innings of relief pitching.