Kutztown comes back to top Grand Valley State, advances to first title game
SALEM, Va. -- Kutztown earned a 7-2 come-from-behind victory against ninth-ranked Grand Valley State on Sunday afternoon to advance to the NCAA Division II Softball National Championship game on Monday at the James I. Moyer Complex.
The Golden Bears (37-21) have won 14 games in a row and will be playing in their first national championship game in school history. Kutztown is 3-0 in the NCAA championships this season and remains undefeated in postseason play at 12-0.
Kutztown will play Central Oklahoma (50-11) on Monday. Both teams are undefeated in the NCAA championships as Monday's game will be a winner-take-all single game. Neither team has won a national championship in their program's history.
“[Sunday] was a strange game, but I'm happy we came out on top,” head coach Judy Lawes said. “We hit the ball hard, played good defense, our pitching threw well and we are just so excited to be going to the championship game.”
The top two hitters in the Kutztown lineup accounted for four of the team's seven hits in the victory. Leadoff hitter Jackie Hetzler went 2-for-4 with the go-ahead RBI double in the second inning as fellow junior Morgan Booth went a perfect 2-for-2 with two RBIs.
In the circle, sophomore Dominique Ficara picked up her 21st win of the season and eighth consecutive winning decision. She pitched 5.1 innings as only one of her two allowed runs were earned.
The Golden Bears advanced one round further than they did last year. In Kutztown's first trip to the NCAA championships last season, it went undefeated leading up to the semifinals, but went on to drop two games to the eventual national champion Valdosta State. This year, however, Kutztown did not stray from taking advantage of its opportunity at a national title.
“When it's your first time here, you don't really know what to expect,” Lawes said. “We knew this year that we wanted to go one step further [than last year] and reach the national championship. Experience at this level can only help you.”
Mary Kociencki relieved Ficara with one out in the sixth and managed her way through the remainder of the game. She let up one hit in the final 1.2 innings with a strikeout.
An infield throwing error came back to bite the Golden Bears against the leadoff hitter in the top of the first inning. A wild pitch went on to score the runner from third later that inning to give the Lakers a 1-0 lead.
Kutztown gained the lead in the second inning with a pair of two-out RBI doubles. Freshman Danielle Sienko ripped a double the other way to right-center field to score Knipe from first and was knocked in the following at-bat on an RBI double from Hetzler in the left-center field gap.
“Starting as a freshman, Danielle [Sienko]'s double [on Sunday] and her play this postseason has been huge for us,” Lawes said. “She did a good job of getting ahold of an outside pitch and I think her at-bat really loosened our team up at the plate and got us relaxed so we could go up and start to swing the bat a bit more.”
“[Sunday] I was a lot more relaxed up at the plate,” Hetzler said. “Seeing everyone else hit the ball well really builds up your confidence to keep the momentum going for the rest of the team.”
The Golden Bears extended their lead to 5-1 with three runs in the fourth. KU loaded the bases with a walk by Lindsey Kelley and a pair of bunt singles by Hetzler and Booth. With one out, senior catcher Katie Lynch drove a two-run single past a diving right fielder to give KU a 4-1 lead.
An illegal pitch by the Grand Valley State pitcher, one of three called in the inning, plated Kutztown's fifth run to score Booth from third. Booth also drove in a two-run single to right field with two outs in the fifth inning to extend the lead to 7-1.
Grand Valley State's Sara Andrasik was tabbed with her fourth loss of the season as she let up four runs while striking out five batters.