The West Virginia Wesleyan softball team will open the NCAA regional tournament with a matchup versus Mercyhurst on Thursday (May 12) at North Campus Field in Kutztown, Pa. The Lady Bobcats and Lakers are paired with the Atlantic Region number one seed Kutztown and Fairmont State. The pod will compete in a double-elimination tournament for a spot in the super regionals held next week.
Returning to the Big Dance
This is the first NCAA tournament appearance for the Bobcats since the 2018 season. The Lady ‘Cats are making their 19th appearance in the NCAA regional tournament under the direction of head coach Steve Warner.
Regular Season Success
With a 23-7 regular season record, the Lady Bobcats finished with the best record in the Mountain East Conference. It marks the 20th time under the Warner era that Wesleyan has won the WVIAC/MEC regular season championship.
The Lady Bobcats have won at least 30 games in seven of the last 10 seasons of competition, with the 2020 and 2021 seasons being abbreviated due to the pandemic. WVWC rattled off 36 wins in 2022.
Entering the NCAA regional, Warner has totaled 1,131 career wins. Warner is in his 30th season at the helm of WVWC softball and owns the third-most total victories out of all active Division II softball coaches. He surpassed Kathy Welter during the 2022 season and currently ranks 8th in all-time victories in NCAA Division II history.
Location, Location, Location
Wesleyan went 14-6 in games played at Culpepper Field. The Lady Bobcats posted a 10-2 record in away games and are 12-8-1 in neutral site contests.
Going the Distance
Senior pitcher Hannah Hudson has pitched 23 complete games this season, the 11th most in the country. Hudson was awarded MEC Pitcher of the Year and named to the Schutt Sports/NFCA Player/Pitcher of the Year Top 25. Hudson’s 1.55 ERA ranks 31st in the nation and her 175 strikeouts rank 33rd among all NCAA pitchers.
Supplying the Power
After being sidelined due to an injury in 2021, Buckhannon native Alli Robinson clubbed 14 home runs and 16 doubles in her first full season donning a Lady Bobcat uniform. Her 1.310 OPS was the highest percentage in the conference. Robinson’s 60 RBIs led the MEC and are the 13th highest total in the NCAA. Robinson was selected for First Team All-MEC honors.
Sophomore outfielder Grace Hightower has a .407 batting average through 53 games. Hightower’s 77 hits are the most out of any player in the MEC and is the seventh-highest total in the country. The left-handed hitting leadoff hitter received First Team All-MEC recognition.
Shining at the Conference Tournament
Hightower collected eight hits and scored six runs in five games at the conference tournament in Salem, Va., and was named to the MEC All-Tournament Team. Joining Hightower on the all-tournament team was Destiny Alvarado and Abigail O’Shields. Alvarado roped six hits and knocked in four RBIs. O’Shields was the winning pitcher in two games and recorded 14 punch outs through 12 innings of work. O’Shields no-hit Charleston in five innings at the second game of the MEC Tournament.
The Lady Bobcats carry eight seniors on its roster and feature several key contributors on the field. Starting third baseman Molly Osborne hit at a .300 mark in her senior campaign. Speedster Center fielder Lauren Niglio led the Lady Bobcats with 10 stolen bases and hit .295. Senior backstop Kiley Turner has cut down 50 percent of base stealers (9-18).
First baseman Morgan Norris finished the regular season with the third-highest batting average for the Bobcats (.338). The freshman from Gilbert, Ariz., totaled 15 doubles, one triple and a pair of home runs in her first season wearing the Orange & Black.
Gracie Payne has made 17 starts in the WVWC lineup in her first season. Payne has hit at a .316 clip and has knocked in 11 RBIs. Lewistown, Pa., native Alyssa Souders has 11 hits in 20 games. The freshman cranked a home run in the Lady Bobcats’ final game of the conference tournament versus Fairmont State.
Right fielder Taylor Swartz has made an impact in the Lady Bobcat lineup. The Pomeroy, Ohio, native lifted eight home runs in her junior season. Swartz’s 36 RBIs is the second-most in the WVWC lineup.
The Dagsboro, Del., sibling duo of pitcher Abigail O’Shields and catcher Savannah O’Shields have made eight starts together in the WVWC lineup. The O’Shields sisters have surrendered just nine earned runs in 53.0 innings, good for a 1.19 ERA this season.
Wesleyan has faced both Mercyhurst and MEC member Fairmont State during the 2022 season. WVWC head coach Steve Warner collected his 1,100th career victory on March 7 versus Mercyhurst in Florida. Molly Osborne’s sacrifice fly was the lone run scored in the contest two months ago.
The Lady ‘Cats have split their four matchups versus the Fighting Falcons. WVWC swept a doubleheader at Culpepper Field during the first weekend of conference play. Fairmont State edged the Lady Bobcats twice in Salem at the MEC Tournament to earn the automatic bid to the national tournament.
The Lakers finished the regular season with a 32-14 record. Mercyhurst won three games in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Tournament, defeating Shippensburg, Shepherd and Bloomsburg. The Lakers were defeated by Kutztown in the PSAC Championship by a score of 7-4.
Junior Allison Dejidas provided offensive power in the Laker lineup. Dejidas totaled 20 extra base hits, including eight home runs. Leadoff hitter Madison Fry has hit .505 in 31 games. Fry has hit above .400 in all three seasons with Mercyhurst. The Lakers hit .306 as a team.
In the circle, the Lakers feature two sophomore pitchers who have combined for 29 complete games. Morgan Hilty has posted a 1.91 ERA in 131.2 innings pitched. Osceola, Ind., native Mikaela Schramski has recorded 126 strikeouts in 141.2 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting .242 versus Schramski.
Mercyhurst is led by head coach Leanne Baker. Prior to Mercyhurst, Baker was the head coach at Southern Vermont and is a native of Pinehurst, Mass. Baker played softball at Edinboro prior to her coaching career.
Kutztown is the number one seed in the Atlantic Region and is ranked 20th in the NFCA DII Top 25 Coaches Poll. The Golden Bears have an overall record of 37-13 and went 12-4 in PSAC play.
Senior infielder Kate Ostaszewski is the top Kutztown hitter. Ostaszewski hit .367 with 17 extra base hits and 39 RBIs. The Golden Bear offense lifted 42 home runs as a team. Sophomore outfielder Brianna Hughes totaled 10 home runs, the only Golden Bear to reach the double-digit mark. Hughes’ 1.085 OPS was the highest by any Kutztown hitter.
Kutztown’s pitching staff is headed by Bridget Bailey. Bailey went 22-5, recording six shutouts and 165 strikeouts in 182.1 innings pitched and a 1.96 ERA.
Judy Lawes is in her 35th season in charge of the Kutztown softball program. Entering the 2022 season, Lawes had accumulated 1,025 victories, which is the fourth most among active Division II coaches.
Scouting Fairmont State
The Fighting Falcons went undefeated in the MEC Tournament to punch their ticket to the regional tournament. Fairmont State is 22-24 overall and went 14-18 in MEC games.
Emily Riggs has done damage at the plate for Fairmont State. Riggs OPS of 1.176 was the third highest in the MEC. The Bridgeport, W.Va., native powered 12 doubles, 10 home runs and 45 RBIs in her sophomore campaign.
Caitlyn Kassay and Shelby Reed have split starts for Fairmont State. Kassay leads the Fighting Falcons with 83 strikeouts. Reed has accumulated 65 punch outs in 99.1 innings pitched. Reliever Ally Maddy has made 18 appearances while holding opponents to a .223 batting average.
The Fighting Falcons are led by John Light, who is in his sixth season leading Fairmont State softball. Light has guided four teams to the MEC Tournament and is making his first NCAA regional appearance.
Thursday, May 12
Game #1: #1 Kutztown vs. #8 Fairmont State, 11 a.m.
Game #2: #4 Mercyhurst vs. #5 West Virginia Wesleyan, 1:30 p.m.
Friday, May 13
Game #3: Game #1 Winner vs. Game #2 Winner, 10 a.m.
Game #4 (Elimination Game): Game #1 Loser vs. Game #2 Loser, 12:30 p.m.
Game #5 (Elimination Game): Loser Game #3 vs. Winner Game #4, 3 p.m.
Saturday, May 14
Game #6: Game #3 Winner vs. Game #5 Winner, 1 p.m.
Game #7: If Necessary
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced Friday that 2,377 cases of COVID-19 are currently active in the Mountain State. That’s an increase of 121 since the last report. Locally, reported active