West Liberty softball drops NCAA opener in 15 innings

WEST LIBERTY — Fresh off its Mountain East Conference Tournament championship, the West Liberty softball team made its debut in the NCAA Tournament. Hosting the Atlantic 1 Regional, the Hilltoppers were paired up against a tough foe in No. 8 seed Lock Haven.

West Liberty had to battle back to tie the game, and what turned into a marathon battle, the Hilltoppers’ wheels fell off in the 15th inning. Lock Haven scored five runs in the frame to secure a 7-2 victory in the four-hour, five-minute opener Thuesday at the WLU Softball Complex..

The Hilltoppers will take on Concord in the loser’s bracket 1:30 p.m. today while the Bald Eagles will face Shepherd in the winner’s bracket at 11 a.m. The Rams defeated the Mountain Lions, 10-2 in the second game of the tournament.

The winner of the West Liberty and Concord game will face the loser of the Lock Haven and Shepherd matchup at 4 p.m.

“It was a heckuva game there for a while,” West Liberty (37-17) coach Herb Minch said. “We battled back after being down 2-0, got in it, but couldn’t get over the hump. You got to give them and (Bekah) Slattery some credit. I think she threw about 250 pitches in the game. When you have something like that, you’re up against it. But we hung and we battled and battled.”

Slattery, who was named the Atlantic Region Pitcher of the Year, pitched all 15 innings for the Bald Eagles (32-17-1) as she fired 14 strikeouts.

She also supplied a single and double at the plate.

“She’s a special kid,” Lock Haven coach Kelly Shannon said. “We’re certainly lucky to have her. She’s gotten better as her years have gone on and she’s just out here in her senior year doing what she can do to try and do something.”

Lock Haven batted through the order in the 15th inning, and was able to loaded the bases with its first three batters thanks to two walks and a hit batsman. Rachel Gricoski stepped up and was walked that plated which proved to be the game-winning run. An Amanda Criss RBI single followed by a wild pitch put the score at 5-2. Madison Mathes then got in on the scoring as she supplied a RBI single of her own.

Faith Ceely put a cap on the scoring as she tallied another RBI single for Lock Haven.

The Bald Eagles were also able to strike in the early going as Becca Caputo belted a run-scoring single in the top of the first inning. Gricoski extended the lead in the third with a one-run triple to put the score at 2-0.

West Liberty, though, did not call it quits. The Hilltoppers trimmed the deficit in half in the bottom half of the fourth as Kaitlyn Stress supplied a RBI single that score Haley Collett, who singled two batters earlier.

The Hilltoppers were looking to get more as Kelly Mullins was walked and Allie Cook was hit by a pitch to loaded the bases. Slattery, though buckled down and secured a strikeout to end the threat.

That was one of the Hilltoppers’ misfortunes on the day, ending the inning with the bases loaded. It also happened in the second and sixth inning. In total, the Hilltoppers left 17 runners on base.

“We couldn’t capitalize with it,” Minch said. “We had hitters coming to the plate to do it and everything else with those bases loaded. It’s happened a lot for us this season, but it didn’t happen right now, of course. But, again, give her (Slattery) the credit. She’s a heckuva a pitcher. It tough to win games when you leave that many runners on base.”

West Liberty was able to make it a 2-2 stalemate in the sixth. Anna Patterson led the inning off with a single. Mullins then walked followed by a Cook single. With its lone successful time to plate a run with the bases loaded, Kate Meloun supplied a RBI single to tie the game. Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, the Bald Eagles retired the next two batters to deny any more damage,

And after the sixth inning, the Hilltoppers were held to a lone hit by Stress in the 15th.

“That’s the exciting part of it, a little hindsight, maybe our first year we’re better off going down the road and playing it, not to say there was any distractions, it was a great atmosphere. I think everybody enjoyed it,” Minch said. “We just came out on the short end of the game. That’s all that happened. Being a new experience for all of us, from our side of things, it was a great atmosphere.

“I told them we got to come back (today) and live for another day here and see what happens.”

Stress and Meloun both supplied two singles and one RBI for the Hilltoppers. Sydney Bennington also had two hits.

Criss led the offensive attack for the Bald Eagles with three singles.