May 4, 2013

Softball Walks Its Way to First-Ever Championship

Juniata Box Score
Catholic Game One Box Score
Catholic Game Two Box Score

SELINSGROVE, Pa. – A bases-loaded walk from Alyssa Cantalini (Kitchener, Ontario/St. David Catholic Secondary) in the bottom of the eighth inning of the 2013 Landmark Conference Softball championship game propelled the Susquehanna women's softball team to its first-ever Landmark Conference title while earning the team an at-large bid to the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

SU (37-7) surpassed its previous program record in wins (34 in 2010) and earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.

The Crusaders entered Saturday needing to win three games and they did just that with a 4-0 win over No. 3 seed Juniata and back-to-back 3-2 wins over Catholic in the final two games of the weekend. The team will learn its first-round opponent on Monday morning as the NCAA releases its tournament bracket.

Against the Eagles (11-18), Cantalini went 2-for-3 with one run scored while Bridget Rafter (Highlands, N.J./Henry Hudson Regional) drove in two runs on one hit. Starting pitcher Ashley Cole (Carle Place, N.Y./Carle Place) tossed the complete-game shutout, giving up just four hits over her seven innings of work.

The game was a pitchers' duel for the first five innings as it remained knotted at 0-0 through the top of the sixth. The bottom of the sixth was a different story, though, as SU put together a four-run inning thanks to four hits and one Juniata error. That error led to the game's first run and a 1-0 Susquehanna lead before Amanda Neveroski (Toms River, N.J./Toms River North) drove home the inning's second run and Rafter came through with a two-RBI double to left field for the 4-0 Crusader lead.

Cole retired the side in order to keep the Crusaders in the title hunt.

SU then faced Catholic with the Cardinals needing just one win to clinch the championship. Unfortunately for Catholic (20-20), Susquehanna won 3-2 with RBI hits from three different players. Cole pitched the first 5.1 innings and picked up the win after giving up only five hits and two runs, none earned. Morgan Lewis (Newtown, Pa./Council Rock North) tossed the final 1.2 innings and got credit for the save.

SU jumped on the board early with a two-run first inning with Brittany Devlin (Furlong, Pa./Central Bucks East) driving home a run with a single through the left side. Rafter came up with a two-out RBI single to shortstop to make it a 2-0 Susquehanna advantage.

It remained a 2-0 ballgame until the bottom of the fifth when the Cardinals knotted the game at two-all on a fielder's choice and a sac fly.

It only took Susquehanna a half inning to respond as the Crusaders scored the go-ahead – and ultimately game-winning run – in the top of the sixth courtesy of an Anna Heggenstaller (Liverpool, Pa./Greenwood) RBI double that plated Neveroski who had reached on an inning-opening walk.

Lewis worked out of trouble in the bottom of the sixth and left one Catholic runner stranded in the seventh to send the game to a winner-take-all game seven.

It took an extra inning in that game seven for SU to come away with the win but it was well worth the wait. Cantalini came up with the game-winning RBI on her eighth-inning walk-off walk with Rafter and Lauren Gilbert (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Cumberland Valley) driving in the other two Crusader runs.

Lewis started the game and gave up only two runs in 6.1 innings of work. Sarah Hoffman (Laceyville, Pa./Wyalusing Valley) tossed the final 1.2 innings and despite surrendering the game-tying runs, got credit for the win after Cantalini's game-winning walk.

It was a scoreless ballgame through the first four innings before SU plated two runs in the bottom of the fifth thanks to a Rafter RBI double and Gilbert's RBI single.

The Crusaders held on to that 2-0 lead until the top of the seventh when Catholic decided it wanted to play extra innings. The Cardinals scored two runs in their half of the sixth and Susquehanna stranded a base runner in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings.

Hoffman worked around a leadoff hit and a walk to keep it 2-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth. Susquehanna opened the bottom of the eighth with a walk, a bunt single and a walk to load the bases for Cantalini who worked a walk to hand the Crusaders the trophy and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  

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