KUTZTOWN, Pa. – Taylor Swartz’s sacrifice fly error was the difference in the West Virginia Wesleyan (37-16-1) softball team’s NCAA Atlantic Region opening round victory over Mercyhurst (32-15) on Thursday at the North Campus Field in Kutztown, Pa.
Swartz’s RBI scored Lady Bobcat left fielder Grace Hightower in the top of the 7th inning that put the Bobcats ahead 3-2. Hannah Hudson would finish the complete game in the bottom half of the inning and kept the Lakers off the board to advance WVWC.
The Lady Bobcats had chances in the early innings. Swartz led off the second inning with an infield single to second base. The next hitter, Morgan Norris, reached first on a fielder’s choice error and Swartz scampered to third base. Swartz was cut down at the plate on a bunt attempt and the Lady ‘Cats were held scoreless in the second inning. In the bottom half of the inning, the Lakers advanced a runner to third base with two outs. Hudson induced a bounce out to Norris that ended the inning. Both teams went down in order in the third inning. The Lady Bobcats and Lakers were scoreless after three.
Alli Robinson drew a four-pitch walk to start the fourth inning. Swartz moved her to second on a sacrifice bunt. A wild pitch moved Robinson to third with one out. After a Norris walk, the freshman from Arizona swiped second base. The Lady Bobcats were unable to capitalize with runners in scoring position and left two runners on base. Hudson pitched a scoreless fourth inning and the game remained 0-0.
Wesleyan broke through in the fifth inning. With one out, Lauren Niglio smoked the Lady Bobcats’ first extra base hit. Hightower advanced Niglio to third with two down after a bunt. Molly Osborne came through and belted a double to left center that gave WVWC their first run of the game. Mercyhurst scored an unearned run in the bottom half of the fifth inning to keep the score knotted up after five.
Swartz reached first on an error to begin the sixth inning. Norris moved Swartz with a sac bunt and kept the line moving for pinch hitter Alyssa Souders. Souders kept her postseason clutch hitting going and smoked a double that scored Swartz and put the Lady ‘Cats back on top. Destiny Alvarado followed with a double to right and Souders moved to third. The Lady Bobcats were unable to score additional runs and held a 2-1 lead after five and a half innings. The Lakers responded once again and tied the score at two after six innings of play.
Hightower led off the final inning and legged out an infield single. A Mercyhurst error gave the Lady Bobcats runners at first and second with no one out. Robinson laid down a bunt and advanced Hightower and Osborne in scoring position. Swartz lifted a deep fly ball to left field and plated Hightower to give the ‘Cats their third lead of the afternoon. WVWC was up by one run entering the last half inning.
Mercyhurst pinch hitter Kacie Irwin knocked a hit through the right side to start the seventh inning. The Lakers attempted to move Irwin to second. Osborne caught the bunt for the first out and kept the runner at first. Irwin stole second and gave a scoring opportunity for the Lakers with one out. Hudson got a flyout that put WVWC one out away from the win. The Lakers would not go away, and the next batter roped a single to center field. Niglio threw the ball back into the infield quickly to keep Irwin from scoring the tying run. Hudson delivered a strikeout and escaped the jam to give the Lady Bobcats a 3-2 win.
Six different Lady Bobcats recorded base hits. Four WVWC hitters (Osborne, Souders, Alvarado and Niglio) hit doubles, while Hightower and Swartz both had an infield hit. Osborne, Swartz and Souders all had one RBI.
Hudson was effective in the circle and kept the Lakers from crossing the plate. The MEC Pitcher of the Year allowed just one earned run and struck out two hitters on 103 pitches.
The Lady Bobcats will continue regional play Friday in a dual versus the Atlantic Region’s number one seed Kutztown at 10 a.m. in Kutztown, Pa.