The Gannon University softball team, fresh off its first Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament championship, will open play at noon Thursday in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional by taking on Seton Hill at Culpepper Field in Buckhannon, W. Va.
The Knights, seeded No. 3 in the tournament with a 29-12 record, are appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time and the second time since joining the PSAC. They have never won an Atlantic Regional championship.
Gannon earned the automatic NCAA bid by taking the PSAC Tournament crown last week, defeating West Chester, 5-3, in the championship game.
Madi Beining, who went 3-0 on the mound with a 0.98 ERA in four games, was named the PSAC Tournament most valuable player.
Saturday’s championship battle with West Chester was scoreless until the third inning when PSAC West Freshman of the Year Kaity Stocker crushed her 10th home run of the season. The assault continued in the following inning on Autumn Smith’s RBI ground out to bring Kristina DeMatteis home. Taylor Wilp also scored Lisa Szajn on an infield base hit to put the Knights up, 3-0.
The Knights and Rams held each other scoreless until the final inning when Rachel Tanilli blasted a two-run homer. In the bottom of the seventh, West Chester rallied with two runs on a double down the right field line.
After a wild pitch scored another run, Beining ended the game with a strikeout.
Lock Haven was on a 14-game win streak until Friday when the Knights snapped that streak with a 7-3 win in the semifinals.
The Knights had a hitting frenzy as nine players registered hits. In the second inning, Gannon got back-to-back solo home runs from Smith and Wilp. Gannon took a 6-0 lead in the third as Wilp drove home DeMatteis and Tanilli.
Nicole Bush capped the run with an RBI double. Lock Haven scored three runs over the remaining innings, but Gannon tacked on a seventh run in the fourth to seal the 7-3 win.
The second round of play marked Gannon’s first battle against West Chester in the tournament. The Knights opened strong, taking a 3-0 lead on DeMatteis’ double down the right field line. Following suit in the next inning Martinez drove Smith home and then Stocker doubled to bring home Martinez, making it 5-0.
The Rams were able to score two runs with one each in the fourth and sixth innings, but Gannon found another in the fifth inning and went on to a 6-2 victory.
The Knights’ opening-round matchup against Bloomsburg proved to be their tightest matchup, as they had to hold off a late Huskies rally to claim a 4-3 win.
Stocker drove home the Knights’ first run with a double, but Bloomsburg tied the score in the third. Gannon added three more runs in the fifth inning, getting a sacrifice fly from Martinez to score Bush, an RBI single from Stocker and an unearned run.
Bloomsburg’s Maggie Hall and Kalynn Wheeland knocked in runs to cut the margin to 4-3 but Beining got Marissa Shelhamer to ground out to DeMatteis with runners on second and third to end the game.