SALEM, W.Va. – The West Liberty University softball team pulled out a pair of come-from-behind victories here Sunday to win its second consecutive Mountain East Conference Tournament championship at the James I. Moyer Softball Complex.
Coach Herb Minch’s Hilltoppers (35-15) needed to beat West Virginia State (29-14) twice on Sunday to win the double-elimination event and that’s exactly what the Black and Gold did. West Liberty stayed alive with a thrilling 3-2 extra-inning triumph in the opener before rallying to a 4-1 win in the winner-take-all finale.
Trailing 1-0 in the second game after a second inning solo home run by State’s Kasey Murphy, the Hilltoppers were knocking on the door in every inning before breaking through in the top of the fifth.
Riley Conkle singled to open the frame, moved up to second on a Kieran Johnson sacrifice and came home with the tying run when Tournament MVP doubled to the left-centerfield gap. An Allie Cook single and an infield grounder put runners on second and third with two out before Donzella delivered the play of the tournament.
With Makenzie Amend batting, Donzella timed the return throw from the catcher to the circle perfectly and sprinted for home. Caught completely by surprise, the pitcher was unable to get the ball back to the catcher in time and the WLU fans erupted as Donzella slid across with the go-ahead run.
Amend, who entered the game in relief of starter Annie Paterson in the fourth, took care of the rest. Just 48 hours after throwing the first no-hitter in MEC Tournament history, the hard-throwing righty shut out West Virginia State on just two singles over the final four innings to earn the win.
The reigning MEC Pitcher of the Year picked up five more strikeouts to set a new career strikeout record at West Liberty. Her 494 whiffs pushed her past former Hilltopper aces Tabi Mercurio and Amber Rankin, who had shared the previous record of 492.
The WLU bats weren’t finished yet. Donzella led off the top of the seventh with a single – her third hit of the game. An infield out and a Katie Beeman single put runners on first and third before Amend helped her own cause with a deep sacrifice fly to right that brought Donzella trotting home. An RBI single from Connor Assif made it 4-1 Hilltoppers and Amend took care of business in the bottom of the seventh to set off an on-field celebration.
Donzella finished with a double and two singles while Assif, Cook and Conkle each ripped out a pair of hits as West Liberty racked up a dozen hits in the championship game.
In the first game, Riley Bennington fired a 9-inning masterpiece in the circle and the WLU offense came up big when it counted.
The Hilltoppers jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead. Donzella led off the game with a double down the right field line and sprinted home on an infield error with two outs.
State scored two runs on three straight hits in the bottom of the fourth and had the bases loaded with one out only to see Bennington get the final two outs to limit the damage. Bennington went on to blank the Yellowjackets on two hits over the final five frames as the WLU offense tried to answer.
Beeman kept Hilltopper hopes alive in the top of the sixth when she roped a game-tying home run – her second circuit blast in as many days – over the left field fence and the game headed into extra innings.
Neither team scored until the top of the ninth when Paterson led off the inning with a solo blast over the wall in right-center and it was on to the winner-take-all championship game for the Black and Gold.
Donzella was an easy choice for Tournament MVP with Amend, Bennington and Beeman joining her on the MEC All-Tournament Team.
Mountain East Conference Tournament
(at Salem, Va.)
West Liberty 3, W.Va. State 2
West Liberty 100 001 001 – 3 5 1
W.Va. State 000 200 000 – 2 5 2
WLU: Bennington wp (4SO, 3W) and Donzella. Paterson HR, rbi; Beeman HR, rbi; Donzella D
WVSU: Murphy wp (9SO, 0W) and Rafuson. Ruth D, rbi; Rafuson S, rbi; Murphy D
West Liberty 4, W.Va. State 1
West Liberty 000 020 2 – 4 12 0
W.Va. State 010 000 0 – 1 4 0
WLU: Paterson (2SO, 1W), Amend wp (4) (5SO, 1W) and Donzella. Donzella D, 2S, rbi; Assif 2S, rbi; Cook 2S; Conkle 2S
WVSU: Thompson lp (2SO, 0W) and Rafuson. Phares D, S; Murphy HR, S, rbi