KUTZTOWN, Pa. – The West Liberty University softball team continued to carve a swath through the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region Tournament here Thursday morning, pounding out 10 more hits in a 5-2 win against host and No. 1 seed Kutztown.
Coach Herb Minch’s surging Hilltoppers (37-15) will take on two-time defending champion and No. 3 seed West Chester (32-14) in Friday’s winner’s bracket final with the winner advancing to Saturday’s championship round. The Rams outlasted No. 2 Shepherd in a 9-7 slugfest on Thursday.
West Liberty threatened with multiple baserunners in the first and second innings on Thursday morning only to come away empty-handed thanks to some sterling defensive work by the No. 25-ranked Golden Bears.
The third time proved the charm, however, as WLU opened the top of the third frame with back-to-back walks before an Annie Paterson single loaded the bases with none out.
Conner Assif lined out to the first baseman but Sidney Little followed with a perfect squeeze bunt to bring Allie Cook dashing home from third with the game’s first run.
Kutztown got the second out of the inning on a force play at the plate off an infield grounder but Riley Conkle delivered a clutch 2-out, 2-run line drive single off the second baseman’s glove for a 3-0 Hilltopper lead.
The Golden Bears chipped away at the deficit with single tallies in each of the next two innings but winning pitcher Riley Bennington stranded the tying run on base in the bottom of the fourth to preserve the Hilltoppers’ 3-2 lead.
After Taylor Bonnett came out of the bullpen to hang goose eggs on the Kutztown side of the scoreboard in the fifth and sixth, the West Liberty bats went back to work in the top of the seventh.
Kat Donzella hit the first pitch of the inning into the right-centerfield gap for a double. A one-out single by Katie Beeman moved Donzella to third and Beeman promptly stole second to put runners on second and third with one out.
Paterson brought Donzella home with a sacrifice fly to left and Assif came through with a two-out RBI single to right, scoring Beeman and sending WLU into the bottom of the seventh with a 5-2 lead.
A one-out double and a walk put runners on first and second for the hosts. With the tying run at the plate, Minch brought Atlantic Region Pitcher of the Year Makenzie Amend out of the bullpen.
Amend, who had teamed with Bennington on a no-hitter against East Stroudsburg in Wednesday’s tournament opener, needed just seven pitches to strike out the final two batters and close out the win.
West Liberty posted double-figure hits for the second straight day with four Hilltoppers enjoying multi-hit games. Paterson and Donzella each raked out a double and a single while Conkle singled twice to drive in a pair of runs and Beeman added a pair of base knocks.
Bennington, Bonnett and Amend combined to hold Kutztown to just five hits while striking out six and walking three.
NCAA D2 Atlantic Region Tournament
(at Kutztown, Pa.)
West Liberty 5, No. 25 Kutztown 2
West Liberty 003 000 2 – 5 10 1
Kutztown 001 100 0 – 2 5 2
WLU: Bennington wp (2SO, 1W), Bonnett (5) (2SO, 2W), Amend (7) (2SO, 0W) and Donzella. Donzella D, S; Paterson D, S, rbi; Conkle 2S, 2rbi; Beeman 2S; Assif S, rbi; Little S, rbi
KU: Brugger lp (2SO, 3W), Harvey (4) (3SO, 1W) and Auvil. Reimel D, S; Walsh HR, rbi; Donato S, rbi