Knipe bunt scores lone run of game lifting Kutztown to 1-0 victory
SALEM, Va. -– Senior shortstop Brianna Knipe laid down a bunt to score Maria Isgro from third that lifted Kutztown to a 1-0 victory against Humboldt State Friday afternoon in the second round of the NCAA Division II National Softball Championship at the James I. Moyer Sports Complex.
Kutztown won its 13th consecutive game including all 11 in the postseason as both teams entered Friday evening's game with an extended winning streak. Kutztown snapped Humboldt's (53-14) 18-game winning streak and handed the Jacks their first postseason loss of the season.
“Our girls just never gave up and that is what it is all about at the NCAA championships,” head coach Judy Lawes said. “I'm really proud of our team and hope that we can keep this success rolling.”
Sophomore pitchers Dominique Ficara and Mary Kociencki shut down the most powerful team in Division II history. Not only did Kutztown become the third team this season to shut-out the Jacks, KU controlled a team that set the Division II record for home runs in a season (113).
“Dominique is a down-ball pitcher for us and I think that threw them off towards the beginning,” Lawes said. “Mary came in for us in the fifth inning and changed it up with her hard throwing. We have a lot of confidence in both pitchers and as long as this is working, we are going to stick with it.”
“It feels great to get the win because we played extremely hard and left everything out on the field,” senior catcher Katie Lynch said. “I thought we did a great job of staying the course throughout the game. We knew that Humboldt could hit the ball hard, so we did a good job of throwing some changeups and keeping the ball low.”
Isgro led off the fifth inning with a walk on four pitches to bring senior Nicole Henninger to the plate. She attempted to sacrifice Isgro over to second with a bunt, but her bunt went to the first base side past the pitcher and second baseman to advance Isgro to third. The next at-bat, Knipe dropped down a sacrifice bunt for a 'squeeze play' that went towards the first base side and scored Isgro from third to give Kutztown a 1-0 lead.
“I saw that the second baseman was playing the line pretty tight so I tried to lace the bunt in the gap to the first baseman's right side,” Henninger said of her bunt single that put Isgro in scoring position. “Thankfully it was just far enough out of the reach of the pitcher not to get to it.”
The defensive play for Kutztown was top notch, despite committing three errors. Henninger made some sharp plays in at the 'hot corner' with some back-handed plays and not allowing runners to advance on groundballs. Knipe kept the ball in front of her all afternoon, and made a fine backhanded play in the first to get out the runner at second as well as the 'Jeter-esk' diving play to end the game. Kutztown caught a Humboldt base runner in a rundown in the fourth inning as Knipe faked a throw to first to stop the runner in her tracks and tag her out.
Humboldt's leadoff runner reached in the sixth on a throwing error by the Kutztown shortstop that bounced in the dirt slightly outside the reach of the first baseman. The next batter hit a hard single to right field to put the game-tying run at second base. Kociencki forced a fly out to right field, a groundout to second base, and a groundball back to her to get out of the jam and maintain KU's 1-0 lead through six innings.
“I knew it was going to be tight and I had to hit all of my spots,” Kociencki said. “I knew though, that my defense was going to be behind me and they would take care of anything that got past me.”
The Jacks drew a leadoff walk to start the seventh as KU decided to intentionally walk Chrissy Stalf, Division II's leading home run hitter this season with a single-season record-tying 28 bombs. The next batter hit a hard groundball to third as Henninger picked it up, tagged third and fired the ball to first as Colleen Smith made a brilliant scoop out of the dirt for the double play. Knipe made a spectacular over-the-shoulder, diving grab in shallow center field to end the game and secure the 1-0 victory.
Like in Thursday's opening game against Grand Valley State, Ficara threw the first four innings as she picked her seventh consecutive winning decision. She allowed three hits in her four innings in the circle. It is Ficara's 20th win of the season that ties her for seventh in Kutztown history for wins in a single season.
Kociencki relieved Ficara in the fifth and allowed one hit in the final three innings. It was her third save of the season, tying the school-record for saves in a season with two other Kutztown players.
Noteably, Lynch extended her school-record with her 18th hit-by-pitch of the season. It is a single-season school-record and ties teammate Jackie Hetzler's 21 for the all-time career record at Kutztown.