Game One: Bucknell 3, Lehigh 1
Game Two: Bucknell 3, Army 2
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Bucknell softball team played two must-win games on Friday and came from behind to triumph in both, earning a spot in the Patriot League Tournament championship game for the first time since 2010. After suffering an eight-inning loss to the No. 2 Boston University Terriers on Thursday afternoon, the third-seeded Bison bounced back in spectacular fashion on Friday, knocking first-seeded Lehigh out of the tournament with a 3-1 win before eliminating fourth-seeded Army with a 3-2 victory. Bucknell improved to 23-25 overall with the pair of triumphs and earned the right to square off against Boston University on Saturday for the conference title and the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a great day of softball,” said head coach Bonnie Skrenta, “but it was also a really hard day of softball. Lehigh and Army were fighting just as fiercely as we were, and both games came down to every last pitch. Winning twice under that type of pressure is so exciting and I could not be prouder of our players for uniting for such an impressive team effort. So many of them stepped up to make clutch plays throughout the day and that is what made the difference in the end.”
Junior Cydnee Sanders had another impressive day for the Bison, who out hit their opponent in both contests. Sanders was 2-for-3 in both games and drove in one RBI against Lehigh, but reached base on a fielder’s choice in each of her other two at-bats. The 2014 Scholar-Athlete of the Year is now 8-for-10 in Patriot League Tournament play, but her strong efforts have been complemented by the heroic plays of her teammates. Junior Kristen Zahn had a pair of hits in both of Friday’s games, while sophomore Amanda Fazio was outstanding in the pitcher’s circle and at the plate. Freshman Jacee Almond continued to shine in her rookie campaign, recording two hits and a run against Lehigh before hitting an RBI-triple to lift Bucknell to the win over Army.
Lehigh took an early 1-0 lead in the first game of the day, scoring on a sacrifice fly in the top of the first inning, but Bucknell responded immediately, as Zahn singled up the middle to drive in senior Mallory Lyons and knot the score at 1-1.
The score of the contest remained unchanged through the top of the fifth inning, with both pitchers dueling it out and each squad’s defense working overtime, but the Bison were able to break through in the bottom of the stanza. Almond opened up with a triple to right field and Sanders drove her in with single up the middle. Freshman Carolyn Wan, who entered the game as a pinch runner, added an insurance tally, reach on an error to put Bucknell up 3-1.
Fazio allowed two hits in the final two innings, but the Mountain Hawks were unable to advance past second, giving the Bison the 3-1 win and sending them into the day’s fifth game.
Freshman Lara Bean started the first contest in the circle, giving up two hits and the only run before Fazio came in to relieve her. The sophomore earned her fourth win of the season against Lehigh, giving up just three hits in seven innings while striking out three and walking none.
After a short break the Bucknell took to the field for its second game of the day, a contest that pitted them against the defending conference champions, Army, for a berth in this year’s title showdown. The Black Knights, who defeated Lehigh on Thursday before falling to Boston University in Friday’s first game, wasted no time in getting on the board, scoring two runs on three hits in the bottom of first.
Sophomore Dana Nielsen came in to pitch in the top of the second, containing Army, and the Bucknell offense capitalized in the top of the fifth, tying things up. Fazio reached on an error and a perfectly executed double by senior Courtney Conover sent her to third, allowing a sacrifice fly by Almond to bring her home and put the Bison within one. Lyons drove in the tying run on the next at-bat, bringing in senior Kasey Segiel, who ran for Conover.
The Black Knights threated in their next two at-bats, but as the teams headed into the seventh the score was still tied at 2-2. Fazio recorded a single to get on base, and Almond came through once again, knocking down her second triple of the day to bring in the winning run. Three straight outs in the bottom of the stanza sealed the victory, setting up another Bison-Terrier showdown on Saturday.
All three of Bucknell’s sophomore pitchers contributed to the second win of the day, with Fazio pitching an inning to start the contest before Nielsen and sophomore Cindy Cherness each did a stint in relief. Nielsen allowed four hits while striking out two and walking two in 4.2 innings, while Cherness earned the win as the closer, giving up nothing and striking out one.
Bucknell will have to beat Boston University twice on Saturday to earn the 2014 Patriot League title, and the first game of the day is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. If the Bison come out on top they will take on the Terriers again at 2:35 p.m. Live stats and a free Patriot League Network broadcast will be available for both contests.