Schuylkill Haven, Pa. - The Nittany Lions showed up in force on Saturday, slugging their way to two wins in the round robin portion of the Penn State University Athletic Conference softball playoffs. Hazleton held off two late rallies by Penn State Fayette to win the day's first contest 11-7 and broke away late in game two to best Penn State Schuylkill 7-4. The two wins put Hazleton in the driver's seat for Sunday's completion of round one of the postseason, allowing Hazleton the advantage of needing just one win to advance to the conference finals.
Game 1: Penn State Fayette 7, Penn State Hazleton 11 - Final 7 Innings
Hazleton poured on the offense early in this one, notching six runs in the first inning of the ball game. Hazleton got four RBI base hits in the inning including back to back doubles from sophomore Rebecca Baum (Stewartsville, Pa.) and freshman Tori Rabuck (Tower City, Pa.) followed by singles from freshman Ashley Wilson (Cresco, Pa.) and Macy Schnatter (Stroudsburg, Pa.) while taking advantage of a pair of Fayette errors to go up six in the early stages of play. Hazleton went up by as many as eight runs with single scores in the next two frames but Fayette would storm back into contention with seven runs off Hazleton's Rebecca Baum in the middle innings. A single score by Fayette in the fourth inning paved the way for a big rally in the fifth. There, Fayette used a Hazleton error and a free pass by Rebecca Baum to start the rally. Fayette's Cassidy Uphold and Lauren Mastowski followed with back to back singles, scoring three runs to trim Hazleton's lead to 8-4 before Baum retired the next three hitters in order.
Despite the hiccup on the defensive side, Hazleton bounced right back in the bottom of the fifth, using a pair of errors from Fayette to extend their lead to six runs. Tori Rabuck came up with the lone hit in the fifth inning for Hazleton her single to left field was enough to plate Schnatter and senior Sadie Heiney (Palmerton, Pa.) and answer Fayette's charge. Hazleton would need everything they could get as Fayette continued to bring the offense in the sixth. With two on and two in the inning, Uphold and Mastowski got to Baum once more, slashing back to back singles to get within three of the Nittany Lions. With the threat neutralized, Hazleton tacked on an insurance score courtesy of the Fayette outfield in the final inning, senior Cassidy Lentz (Germansville, Pa.) came into the circle for Hazleton, closing the door with little trouble to advance Hazleton to game to against Schuylkill by the score of 11-7.
Six Hazleton hitters notched hits in the game including a 3-for-4, three RBI effort by Rabuck. Ashley Wilson finished 3-for-4 with two RBI while Macy Schnatter ended the game 2-for-4 with an RBI and Sadie Heiney adding a pair of RBI in the win. Baum ran into trouble late in the game but tossed a solid game for the Nittany Lions for her first career postseason win. Baum finished the game allowing six earned runs on seven hits and four walks with one strikeout to go along with her 1-for-4, one RBI effort at the dish.
Game 2: Penn State Hazleton 7, Penn State Schuylkill 4 - Final 7 Innings
After closing out game one, Lentz was back in the circle for game two against Penn State Schuylkill and the senior was dealing early in the ball game. Hazleton gave Lentz an early lead following an RBI triple by sophomore Linsey Fisk but the Lions would fail to push across any runs in their next four trips on offense. Lentz held Schuylkill to just two base runners through three innings but Schuylkill tied and went ahead midway through the game, scoring single runs with two outs in both the fourth and fifth innings.
Trailing 2-1 in the top of the sixth, Hazleton came to the plate having had just two base runners since the first inning however things were about to change. A leadoff single by sophomore Jess Lepore (Telford, Pa.) turned into a game tying score with Fisk coming up with another big hit. Then with two outs, Fisk came around on a messy play by the Schuylkill squad, who committed a pair of errors on a ground ball. Lentz shut down Schuylkill in the bottom half of the sixth and Hazleton came up with four runs in the top half of the seventh inning to break away from the host, Schuylkill. Back to back lead off singles by Heiney and Lentz paved the way for a two RBI double with one out by Lepore. Rebecca Baum followed Lepore with a clutch home run, her second of the season, pushing the score to 7-2 in favor of the Lions. Two walks and an error by the Hazleton defense would force Lentz out of the game and put the outcome in question, but Baum would trade places with the senior and throw a pair of ground balls to the next two hitters. Schuylkill would make good on those plays to plate two runs but Hazleton would happily trade the scores for outs. Baum next deal to home plate forced a fly ball to end the game and send the Lions home in great position for Sunday.
Baum Lepore and Fisk all came up big at the plate for the Nittany Lions. Each player finished the game 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI each in the victory. Lentz allowed just four hits on the day, allowing three earned runs and striking out four batters in six innings of work to earn her sixth win of the season.
Next up: Penn State Schuylkill retired Fayette in the third game of the day so we'll have a rematch from 2:00 PM matchup to determine who will advance to the conference finals. Hazleton will need just one win on Sunday to advance while Schuylkill will need to knock off Hazleton in back to back matchups to remain alive for a PSUAC Championship. First game on Sunday is slated for 10:00 AM at Island Park in Schuylkill Haven, Pa.