Hazleton falls two games to none in conference championship

Jess Lepore makes a play at shortstop.
Jess Lepore makes a play at shortstop.

State College, Pa. - After a convincing loss on Sunday in Dubois, Pa. to Penn State Brandywine by the score of 13-2, Hazleton battled for seven innings at Nittany Lion Park in State College on Monday, May 9. Game two went the distance but in the end, Hazleton fell to Brandywine in the final inning of play, losing game two and thus the championship series by the score of 3-2. A pair of hits in the top half of the seventh inning by Brandywine's Jess James and Payton Landis broke the tie in game two and Hazleton went down swinging in the bottom half of the inning to close out the championship with Hazleton falling in consecutive games to the seven-time defending champions. 

Game 1: Penn State Hazleton 2, Penn State Brandywine 13 - Final, 5 Innings (Heidl Field - DuBois, Pa.)

Despite the lop-sided final score, Sunday's championship opener was close for three and a half frames. Brandywine opened the game with a three-run burst on offense, using three hits an error and walk to take the early lead. Even with the early slip up, Hazleton remained in contention with senior hurler Cassidy Lentz (Germansville, Pa.) on the rubber. Lentz shut down Brandywine in their next two at-bats, allowing the Lions to chip away at the defending champs' cushion. In the top of the third inning, Hazleton broke onto the scoreboard with back to back, two-out hits by sophomores Jess Lepore (Telford, Pa.) and Rebecca Baum (Stewartstown, Pa.) and Hazleton trimmed the deficit to just one run and inning later with senior Sadie Heiney (Palmerton, Pa.) cashing in Hazleton's second run of the game after a pair of Brandywine errors left runners at the corners. 

Hazleton was within reach of the top-seeded Brandywine but in the bottom of the fourth inning, momemtum swung right back to the defending champions. A lead-off home run sparked a big inning for Brandywine who went on to tack on five runs in the frame. Brandywine collected four hits and took advantage of three Nittany Lion errors in the inning to inflict the damage and force Lentz out of action. Brandywine used that momentum to shut down the Lions offense in the top half of the fifth and went right back to work offensively in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases with no outs. Hazleton navigated their way to a force out at the plate but a misplayed ball in the outfield allowed Brandywine to extend the lead to 9-2 with the bases loaded. Once again, Hazleton threw out the lead runner on an infield grounder and were just one out away from escaping major damage until Brandywine's Meghan Ferry blasted a two-out grand slam to end the game via the mercy rule. 

Hazleton was left wondering what could have been but the flurry of offense from Brandywine combined with some ill-timed defensive misuces were enough to end this one quickly. Hazleton finished the game earning just three hits in the loss while Brandywine exploded for seven hits in their final two at bats. 

Game 2: Penn State Brandywine 3, Penn State Hazleton 2 - Final, 7 Innings (Nittany Lion Park - State College, Pa.)

Following Sunday's disappointing finish, Hazleton responded in tremendous fashion and gave themselves a number of opportunities to force a third game on Monday afternoon. Unfortunately for Hazleton, the Lions would come up a hit short in game two, leaving several runners stranded in the one-run defeat to Brandywine. 

Brandywine's Meghan Ferry tacked on her fifth consecutive RBI of the series and her second straight home run to kick off the scoring in game two. This time a solo shot off Rebecca Baum, but Baum snuffed out the remaining hitters to limit the damage to a single score. Baum and the Nittany Lions responded immediately in the bottom of the first frame, notching a pair of hits and a using a Brandywine error to load the bases with one out. Freshman Ashley Wilson (East Stroudsburg, Pa.) generated a run on a productive out to tie the game but Hazleton failed to cash in big with multiple runners aboard. 

Both squads would come up empty until Brandywine retook the lead in the top of the fourth inning, and did it with just one hit in the stanza. Brandywine utilized two walks and a bunt single to load the bases before a third walk to Gianna Terpolilli plated the second score of the game for Brandywine. Baum and the Nittany Lion defense did a terrific job to escape the inning trailing just 2-1 but every run proved crucial in game two. Hazleton remained behind until the bottom of the sixth when the Lions matched the score. Sophomore Linsey Fisk led off the frame by reaching third base on a costly throwing error from the Brandywine defense. Ashley Wilson followed with a single to right center field to score the tying run and Hazleton had a pair of chances to score Wilson from scoring position but came up empty. 

In the final inning, it took just two hits from Brandywine to reclaim the lead. Jess James doubled to right center with one away and with two outs in the inning, Payton Landis cashed in James from second base on a flair over the infield. Hazleton responded in their final at-bat with a pair of hard-hit balls, but in both cases they found the gloves of the defense who shut down any attempt at rally and retired the side in order to capture the title. 

Next up: Hazleton drops the series two games to none but a fine effort in game two gives the program great momentum to build on for future seasons. The Lions finished the regular season and the playoffs combined with a 12-7 record since April 15 after starting the year 5-10. That run helped earn the Nittany Lions a berth in the USCAA National Tournament next week in DuBois, Pa. where Hazleton (9 seed) will square off the Miami-Hamilton (8 seed) in the opening round of the tournament. First pitch will take place on Monday, May 16 at Heindl Field in DuBois, Pa. at 10:00 a.m.