Penn State to Meet No. 6 Seed ASU in NCAA Regional Championship Play
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. ¨C May 20, 2006 ¨C Penn State (39-16) set the season record for victories with its 9-2 win over Hofstra to continue on to NCAA regional championship play vs. No. 6 Arizona State Sunday, May 21, at approximately 1 p.m. The Lions will have to beat the Sun Devils twice on Sunday afternoon to continue on to the NCAA Super Regionals next weekend.
Penn State looked sluggish early vs. Hofstra, as Pride pitcher Kayleigh Lotti was able to strike out three Lion hitters in the first two innings. In the bottom of the first, the Pride got the day¡¯s first run on the board when a one-out walk followed by an Ashley Lane RBI-double gave Hofstra the 1-0 lead.
The Nittany Lions came alive in the top of the third inning, when with one out junior Meghan Wolfer (Northampton, Pa.) hit an infield single to reach base. A pop-up brought first team all-region Ashley Esparza (San Pedro, Calif.) to the plate with two outs. Well into the count, Esparza swung and connected with her second home run of the weekend off Lotti, a two-run bomb to dead center on a shortened swing. Entering the game batting .750 for the weekend with a home run, two doubles and four walks, Esparza¡¯s offensive tear continued with the Lions¡¯ go-ahead runs, her third and fourth RBIs of the NCAA regional.
With the Lions in the lead, the offense began to hit its rhythm as well as Lotti¡¯s offerings. Second team all-region shortstop Jen Acunto (Hollywood, Fla.) smacked a double up the middle and catcher Hollee Haines (Riverside, Calif.) ripped an RBI-single up the middle to make the score 3-1. A single through the left side from freshman Danielle Kinley (Carlsbad, Calif.) and a walk earned by redshirt-senior Leigh Murray (Fairfax Station, Va.) loaded the bases for Penn State with two outs, prompting a visit to the circle from Hofstra head coach Bill Edwards. Second baseman Kayce Zielinski (Arlington, Texas) drew the second consecutive walk of the inning from Pride ace Lotti, scoring another run for Penn State to make it 4-1. Courtney Oliver took to the circle for Hofstra, but the results were the same when first team All-Big Ten pick Jenn Reynolds (Clovis, Calif.) got to the plate and earned the third consecutive walk of the inning, scoring Penn State¡¯s fifth and final run of the inning as a pop-out to the next batter would signal the third out.
One out into the next half inning, shortstop Laura Sweeney hit a bloop single to centerfield that just barely dropped in front of a charging Murray. A strikeout got the Lions two outs, but a stolen base by Sweeney put the speedy Pride infielder in scoring position. Hofstra cut the lead by one when right fielder Ashley Lane hit a single that had some pop through the right side, scoring Sweeney to put the score at 5-2, Penn State.
Penn State¡¯s offense continued the tear that began the inning before with two outs, and added some insurance to their lead in the top of the fourth inning. Junior designated player Jen Williams (Stillwater, Okla.) looped a single into left field, and the Lions got runners on first and second when Esparza was hit by a pitch. Acunto hit a slow roller to the third baseman Tara Ulrich, who flipped to Sweeney. Sweeny dove for the base, but she was not in time as Williams slid for third safely, loading the bases. Haines recorded her third hit in as many at-bats on the day, scoring Williams from third with no outs. With the 6-2 lead, Penn State got another run when Kinley got her second hit of the day, the Lions¡¯ 10th. The bases still loaded, Esparza headed home on the crack of the bat, and slid safely to break-up the throw from second baseman Lisa Wambold, giving the Lions a 7-2 advantage with no outs.
A sacrifice fly to left field from Murray added another run on just one out in the top of the fourth and Zielinski drew her second walk of the day to load the bases again for the Lions. That signaled the second pitching change of the game as Melissa Hodge took to the circle for the Pride with one out and Lions on every base. A grounder to Ulrich hit off her glove and went foul, but she was able to recover in time to throw Haines out at home. A strikeout from Hodge, the Hofstra pitching staff¡¯s first since the second inning, ended the half inning but not before Penn State piled up an 8-2 lead.
In the top of the fifth, Williams tallied her second hit of the day, another looping single to the shallow outfield this time to left field. Esparza was hit by another pitch, moving Williams to second base. After a fly out to right field and another to left field, things got wild as the Pride tried to find the last out and get out of the inning. A passed ball got speedy second team All-Big Ten selection Williams to third base and a wild pitch on ball four to Kinley scored the Lions¡¯ designated player for the seven-run, 9-2 advantage that they would take into the bottom of the fifth inning.
Despite back-to-back singles from Chavez and Wolfer to start the sixth inning, Penn State couldn¡¯t up their run total to make the run-rule kick in, leaving the bases loaded again. The Lions¡¯ defense held the Pride scoreless through the last four innings to preserve the win.
Penn State piled up 13 hits in the victory, stranding 13 runners in an impressive show of offensive prowess. Esparza recorded her 10th win of the season, striking out five Hofstra hitters. Lotti took the loss for the Pride, her 10th of the year, and struck out three.
NCAA regional play at the Hempstead regional continues with Penn State vs. No. 6 Arizona State championship games, beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 21. The Lions have to beat the Sun Devils twice to earn the right to continue on to Super Regionals as ASU has not lost yet this weekend. On Saturday, Arizona State beat Long Island, 6-0, and then defeated Hofstra 2-0 with a two-run home run in the eighth inning to advance to championship play. The final game, if necessary, will be played Sunday 35 minutes after the conclusion of the first regional championship game.
The game can be heard on WBLF (970) and GoPSUsports.com.