READING, Pa. — The Penn State Berks softball team had to do things the hard way as it worked back from the loser's bracket with three wins on May 5 to claim its fifth North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) championship in six years. The team had three separate pitcher's earn wins on the day, with each performance as impressive as the last one.
Berks topped Wilson College, 8-0, in five innings to start off the day. The team then had to beat Keuka College twice, which it would go on to do by scores of 12-3 (five innings) and then 5-0 in the winner-take-all seventh game of the tournament.
Brianna Smith was named the NEAC Tournament MVP after putting on a hitting clinic all weekend. In six postseason games, the freshman batted .684 (13-for-19) with two doubles, one triple, one home run, six runs scored and eight RBI. As usual, Smith also played solid defense at first base.
Berks opened the day with an 8-0 victory over Wilson College. Becca Faust, making her first start in the circle since March 29, turned in a superb effort to earn the victory. The junior right-hander had a complete-game shutout with just three hits allowed and one strikeout. Faust gave up a second inning double, which was the only runner to get in scoring position the entire game for the Phoenix.
The tone was set early when Wilson's leadoff batter reached on an error, but was quickly erased from the path after senior catcher Ashley Malek picked her off first base. Faust received more help from her fielders in the third, after Carley Smith caught an infield fly and doubled up the runner on first base to end the inning.
Brianna Smith, who had an RBI single in the bottom of the first, added a 3-run homer in the third to give the Nittany Lions a 4-0 lead. Hunter Hart provided an RBI single in the fourth and Malek drove in a run early in the fifth. The game came to an end when Heather Rissell smacked a two-run double deep to center field to give Berks the 8-0 win.
Brianna Smith finished 2-for-2 with four RBI, while Hart and Rissell were both 2-for-3.
In the second game of the day, Jess Rozick got a second crack at the Wolves in as many days. The junior right-hander scattered four hits and allowed three runs (two earned), while striking out four batters to win her 13th game of the year.
Berks, who was the designated away team, went to work in the top of the second with six runs scored. Sophia Cinti and Rozick both had singles and were both moved up on a sacrifice by Rissell and scored on a single by Hart. Brianna Smith had an RBI double, Malek drove in two with a double, and the final run scored when Faust reached on an error. Brianna Smith recorded two more RBI with a single in the third to make it an 8-1 game. The Nittany Lions put up four more runs in the top of the fifth on a RBI groundout by Cori Dickinson, triple by Malek, single by Faust, and double by Cinti.
In the final game of the afternoon, Berks handed the ball to Val Miller. The junior left-hander did not disappoint as she earned her second complete-game shutout of the season. Miller surrendered just four hits and walked one batter. She has not allowed a single run over her last 20.2 innings pitched and has lowered her ERA to 1.98.
Berks loaded the bases with three singles in the top of the first and Malek scored Hart from third with a sacrifice fly to center to go ahead 1-0. Carley Smith turned an inning-ending double play in the bottom of the first to keep the Wolves offense quiet. In the second inning, Hart doubled to right center to score Rozick from first base for a 2-0 lead.
Keuka loaded up the bases with just one out in the bottom of the second. But Miller fielded a comebacker and fired home for the second out and escaped the inning by forcing a grounder to Faust at second base.
The Nittany Lions tacked on another run in the third when Cinti grounded out to third base to score Brianna Smith, who led off the inning with a single. Cinti added two more runs for Berks with a single to right field in the fifth.
The Wolves got the leadoff batter on with a single in the bottom of the third, but Miller retired the next 11 batters then gave up a single with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. In the bottom of the seventh, Miller got a line out to Carley Smith on the first pitch of the inning. She then got the second out when Hart made a long run and catch right at the left field foul line. The final batter hit a low liner that Carley Smith snagged before it could land.
The entire team celebrated around Miller in the middle of the infield as the fans yelled and poured onto the field to take pictures.
This was the third straight year that Berks and Keuka have met in the title game. The Wolves won the championship two years ago, but Berks has taken the crown each of the last two seasons.
The Nittany Lions will find out what regional they will go to and who their opponent will be during the NCAA Selection show on Monday at 1 p.m. Check back on the Berks athletics website for more information about the NCAA Tournament after information is released.