KUTZTOWN, Pa. – A late comeback effort came up short and the West Liberty University softball team dropped a 4-2 decision to East Stroudsburg here Friday in the final elimination game of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region Tournament on the campus of Kutztown University.
The disappointing setback brought down the curtain on another spectacular season for Coach Herb Minch’s two-time defending Mountain East Conference champion Hilltoppers (37-17) while the Warriors (29-15) advanced to Saturday’s championship round against defending regional champion West Chester.
West Chester had outlasted West Liberty, 6-2, earlier on Friday in a showdown between the final two unbeaten teams in the double-elimination tournament.
The Hilltoppers had opened the tournament on Wednesday with a 7-0 shutout win over East Stroudsburg as Makenzie Amend and Riley Bennington faced the minimum in twirling a no-hit gem. It was a different story on Friday, however, as the opportunistic East Stroudsburg squad jumped out to a quick early lead as the Black and Gold struggled to get its offense on track.
The Warriors got a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the first for a 1-0 advantage and took advantage of a WLU fielding miscue to add an unearned tally in the second, putting the Hilltoppers on the wrong end of a 2-0 tally.
East Stroudsburg’s “small-ball” strategy continued to pay dividends as the eastern Pennsylvania squad used a suicide squeeze to open up a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth.
West Liberty finally got something going in the top of the sixth, loading the bases with one out. Sidney Little delivered an RBI single to left to put the Hilltoppers on the board but ESU pitcher Leigh Ann Jenkins – a University of Charleston transfer – worked out of the jam with no further damage.
Little’s RBI single cut the lead to 3-1 but the Warriors got that run right back in the bottom of the frame with another perfectly executed suicide squeeze, allowing Jenkins to take a 4-1 lead to the seventh.
The Black and Gold didn’t go away quietly. Kat Donzella trimmed the deficit to 4-2 with a one-out opposite field home run over the right field fence and Katie Beeman followed with a two-out single to bring the tying run to the plate.
Annie Paterson bounced a ground ball up the middle but a diving stop by the second baseman and a back-handed flip to the shortstop got the force at second for the final out of the game.
Jenkins, who had thrown nearly 40 pitches over the final two innings of ESU’s win against Kutztown earlier in the day, came back to throw a whopping 121 pitches in the complete game win against the Hilltoppers.
West Liberty rapped out five of its seven hits in the final two innings. Donzella had a single to go along with her seventh-inning home run while Conner Assif also had a multi-hit game with a pair of base knocks.
NCAA D2 Atlantic Region Tournament
(at Kutztown, Pa.)
East Stroudsburg 4, West Liberty 2
West Liberty 000 001 1 – 2 7 2
East Stroudsburg 110 101 x – 4 6 1
WLU: Bennington lp (3SO, 3W), Amend (4) (1SO, 0W) and Donzella. Donzella HR, S, rbi; Assif 2S; Little S, rbi
ESU: Jenkins wp (4SO, 1W) and Houser. Nies D, S; Spencer 2S, rbi; Houser D