Hilltoppers stave off elimination

WEST LIBERTY — West Liberty softball coach Herb Minch wondered how his team would respond following Thursday’s heartbreaking upset loss to Lock Haven in a 15-inning marathon.

His answer came in the fifth inning of Friday’s NCAA Division II Atlantic Region elimination game.

The Hilltoppers broke open a 2-2 tie with a four-run fifth as they lived to fight another day with a 6-2 victory over Concord at the WLU Softball Complex.

West Lib kept the momentum going in the nightcap as they jumped out to a 6-2 upper hand before darkness set in and the game was suspended in the fifth inning. It will conclude this morning at 10 a.m.

“That was the spark that got us going,” Minch said of the four-run fifth inning. “I was a little worried this morning about how we would respond based on the 15 innings we played (Thursday). That was a mental beating almost but we answered the bell.

“With (Concord) being a conference team it is kind of a rivalry and we knew what we were up against and what we had to do.”

Makenzie Amend started in the circle for WLU but was relieved by Taylor Bonnett after three innings and two runs given up.

Bonnett gave up two quick hits but then went on to retire the final 12 hitters of the game to help stave off elimination.

“She did that in the conference championship, too,” Minch said of Bonnett. “She just shut them down. We are waiting on them to make an adjustment. They were trying but it was too little too late I think.

“She is a tremendous asset and a weapon for us in the circle. It’s kind of a best kept secret all year type of thing. We will utilize that as much as we can I think.”

Katie Beeman got the offense rolling in the third inning as the sophomore outfielder belted a two-run home run over the left-center field fence to give the Hilltoppers a 2-0 edge.

“I was just trying to make contact and come back better than I did (Thursday) because I did not play my best (Thursday),” Beeman said. “So, I really wanted to help my team start off hot (Friday).”

She also delivered a RBI single in the suspended game as part of a five-run third inning.

“We finally got the bats rolling,” Beeman said. “We knew we had to come back stronger (Friday) because we knew if we lost we were done.”

After Beeman’s two-run blast, Concord didn’t stay down long.

Amber Stokes and Jenna Witt each blasted solo homers to left field in the third and fourth innings, respectively, to knot the score at 2-2.

Then, the West Liberty offense really came to life.

Kate Meloun led off the top of the fifth with a single and stole second. Sydney Bennington followed with a single and Beeman drew a walk to load the bases with one out.

Haley Collett supplied the back-breaker by lacing a two-run single to center field to break the tie.

Back-to-back errors allowed Collett and Beeman to each race home and create a 6-2 cushion.

If West Liberty can hang on to its 6-2 lead in the fifth inning against Lock Haven today, it will need to upend Shepherd twice to earn the Atlantic Region crown.

“Hopefully, we can finish this one off (today),” Minch said. “That way we can get squared up with Shepherd again and see what happens.”