WYOMISSING, Pa. — The Penn State Berks softball team took down Penn College, 3-2, on Saturday afternoon (May 4) at Hintz Athletic Field to win its third straight North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) title and sixth overall in the last seven years. Brianna Smith was named the NEAC tournament MVP after batting .889 (8-for-9) with one double, one home run, three runs scored, and two RBI.
Many of Smith's teammates were just as worthy for the MVP hardware. Val Miller earned two wins in the pitcher's circle, including the championship-game victory versus Penn College. Jess Rozick picked up a win on Friday, while earning a save and driving in two runs against the Wildcats in the title-clincher. Becca Faust batted .750 (6-for-8) with five RBI and Maddy Davidson hit .500 (5-for-10) with two runs scored.
Miller struck out the opening batter of the game looking, but issued a pair of walks to the next two batters. The senior left-hander caught the next batter looking and finished off the inning with a strikeout swinging in the first inning. Smith had a hit for Berks in the bottom of the first, but Kassidy Svenson forced three ground outs in the inning.
Penn College was set down in order in the top of the second and the Nittany Lions' (31-8) offense went to work in the bottom half of the inning. Cori Dickinson led off with a walk and Faust followed with a single up the middle. Heather Rissell put down a great bunt and beat the throw to first to load up the bases. The Wildcats (24-15) got a force out at home plate to keep the bases loaded, but Rozick laced a double to the right center gap to drive in Faust and Rissell. Svenson escaped further damage with a ground out and strikeout to leave runners stranded on second and third.
In the top of the third, Shayla Bickel had a leadoff bunt single. Miller struck out the next batter, before a groundout to first advanced Bickel to third. Kylie Shreiner, who had an RBI double in yesterday's game with Berks, looped a single in front of the right fielder to bring in a run and make it a one-run game at 2-1. Miller got another strikeout to end the inning.
The Nittany Lions answered back with a run in the bottom of the third. Smith led off with a double off the fence in center field and was lifted for pinch runner Ashley Berry. Sophia Cinti put down a sacrifice bunt to move Berry to third base with just one out. Dickinson lined a ball to left field that was hit too hard to score Berry. Faust hit a sharp grounder up the middle that the short stop made a diving stop on, but she did not have a play, which allowed Berry to score from third on the hit.
The Wildcats got off to a strong start in the top of the fourth when Taylor Brooks reached first on a bunt single and advanced to second when the throw sailed wide. Miller remained calm, forcing a line out to Dickinson at third for the first out. She then got a ground out to Faust at second base, which allowed the runner to move up third. Brooks was stranded there, however, as Miller induced another grounder to Faust at second.
Miller opened up the bottom of the fourth with a single through the right side and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Svenson got the next batter out and reliever Kyla Benner forced a pair of pop outs to get out of the jam.
In the top of the fifth, Bickel led off with a line a single up the middle that went in and out of Miller's glove. She moved up a base on back-to-back ground outs, before a walk put runners on the corners with two outs. Gillian Sinnott singled up the middle to bring in Bickel from third and shrunk the Berks lead to 3-2. Miller tallied her sixth strikeout of the game to end the inning.
Berks had bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the fifth, but Morgan Heritage came on to pitch and got a pop up and strikeout to escape the mess.
Rozick came on to pitch in the top of the sixth, but fell behind 3-0 in the count to the first batter of the inning. The senior right-hander worked back with a pair of strikes looking before forcing a pop up to Smith in foul ground. Rozick then got a strikeout swinging and strikeout looking to close out the inning.
The Nittany Lions stranded two more runners on base to keep the Penn College deficit at one run going into the top of the seventh. But a determined Rozick would make that one run stand as she struck out the first two batters swinging and caught the last batter looking to end the game.
Rozick and Smith hugged in front of home plate and their teammates quickly mobbed them to celebrate the victory.
For the second day in a row, Miller matched her career-high in strikeouts with six. She scattered five hits and allowed two runs in 5.0 innings of work en route to picking up her 14th win of the season. Rozick earned her first save of the season with two perfect innings of relief. Rozick struck out five of the six batters she faced and the lone person to make contact popped out in foul territory behind home.
Smith finished 3-for-3 and her double in the fifth led Berks scoring what proved to be the winning run. Faust was 3-for-3 with one RBI and one run scored, while Rozick went 1-for-2 with two RBI. Rissell and Miller had a hit each for Berks.
With the win, Penn State Berks automatically qualified for the NCAA tournament and will take on Brandeis University at 2 p.m. on Friday, May 10, in Ithaca, New York.