Softball splits conference battle at Schuylkill

Linsey Fisk receives a pitch behind the plate.
Linsey Fisk receives a pitch behind the plate.

Schuylkill Haven, Pa. - Seeing their first action in two weeks, the Nittany Lions traveled to Schuylkill Haven, Pa. on Saturday for the first conference matchup of the 2021-22 season. Facing an experienced Schuylkill squad with nine games in the books already, Hazleton got the offense churning for the first time this season, tallying 17 scores on the day. Hazleton was two outs shy of a pair of wins against their PSUAC rival, but a late rally in game two by Schuylkill relegated the Nittany Lions to a two-game split. 

Game 1: Penn State Hazleton 12, Penn State Schuylkill 10 - Final - 7 Innings

There was plenty of offense to go around in game one for both squads as the pitchers and defenses faced challenging weather on Saturday. Hazleton led wire to wire and scored in every inning except for the sixth but Schuylkill was hot on their tails in the bottom half of each frame. The Lions posted 11 runs in the first five innings of the game, led by freshman Ashley Wilson (East Stroudsburg, Pa.) who hit a three-run blast in the fourth inning, part of an eight RBI game for the first-year player. Wilson's production was accompanied by five additional Lions who registered multiple hits in game one including a three-hit game for sophomore Jess Lepore (Telford, Pa.). Wilson's final tally of the day came with Hazleton leading Schuylkill 11-10 in the seventh inning. Freshman Tori Rabuck (Tower City, Pa.) tripled with one out in the final frame, paving the way for Wilson to tack on the insurance score. Wilson complied with a fly out to shallow right field, plating Rabuck for Hazleton's final score of the game. 

Working in relief duty for Hazleton, sophomore Rebecca Baum (Stewartstown, Pa.) fended off a pair of Schuylkill singles in the bottom of the seventh inning, retiring three straight hitters to secure the win for the Lions and earn the save in the process. Baum entered circle in the sixth inning for senior veteran Cassidy Lentz (Lehigh Valley, Pa.) who was challenged by the tough line up of Schuylkill but managed to get the outs when she needed them to keep Hazleton out front. Lentz finished the game allowing 10 runs on nine hits and 6 walks, striking out a pair of hitters for her first win of the season. 

Game 2: Penn State Hazleton 5, Penn State Schuylkill 6, Final - 7 Innings

The pitching and defense picked up for both squads in game two but once again it was Hazleton to strike first and command the lead for the majority of the contest. A pair of doubles by freshman Athena Matenkoski (Drums, Pa.) and Jess Lepore gave the Lions their first score of the game and Rabuck followed two batters later with her third extra base hit of the day to plate Lepore. A costly error by the Schuylkill outfield allowed Rabuck to score before the third out was record giving the Lions a 3-0 advantage. After retiring the side in the bottom half of the inning, Hazleton went right back to work in the top of the fourth. Senior Sadie Heiney (Palmerton, Pa.) led off the frame with a single and later scored on Matenkoski's second double of the game. Lepore followed with her fifth hit of the day, scoring the freshman from second base and giving Hazleton a healthy 5-0 cushion. 

Unfortunately for Hazleton, Lion's offense would come up empty in their final three at bats with Schuylkill's Sierra Santarsiero retiring nine straight batters to end the game. Meanwhile, the home squad chipped away at the Hazleton lead with single tallies in the fourth and fifth innings off Rebecca Baum, who started game two for Hazleton. A costly error in the Hazleton outfield was followed by back to back Schuylkill hits in the sixth inning that plated two more runs, inching the home squad closer to Hazleton who led 5-4 with just one out in the sixth. Senior Sky Esterly (Nazareth, Pa.) would enter the circle for Baum and end the threat in sixth inning for Hazleton but trouble quickly brewed in the final inning for the Lions. Esterly retired the first hitter of the inning but three straight singles by Schuylkill loaded the bases for Melanie Torrales. Hazleton was just a pitch away from ending the threat and escaping with the win, but a clutch double from Torrales spoiled Hazleton's plans for a series sweep. Two runs came in on the walk-off double, giving Schuylkill the win in game two by the score of 6-5. 

Next up: Gotta love March in Northeaster Pennsylvania. Poor weather has forced a cancelation of Hazleton's home opener with SUNY Broome C.C. and the Nittany Lions will hope to see the field on Wednesday, March 30 when the squad travels to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. to face Wilkes University for an evening double-header.