Gannon makes PSAC playoffs for first time since joining league

It’s not often that an 0-2 performance in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoffs is cause for success, but in Gannon University softball coach Tom Jakubowski’s eyes, the record stands at 2-0.

 “Going into this year, we had two things we wanted to do,” Jakubowski said. “We wanted to go .500 and make the playoffs, and we did.”

With just four games left in regular season conference play, Gannon sat in fourth in the PSAC West with a 17-17 overall record and 4-8 in conference. In order to crack the top three and make the playoffs, the Knights had some work to do.

Gannon started the playoff push by traveling to Edinboro University to take on the Fighting Scots April 14 and quickly got to work.

After junior center fielder Jaleesa Sledge and sophomore shortstop Sam Scott reached base, junior third baseman Ashley Petrone doubled both players in to take a two-run lead. Sophomore catcher Tiffani Danks singled home another run in the first to provide the Knights with enough offense, as sophomore pitcher and PSAC strikeout leader Megan Dragon held Edinboro to two runs for her 14th win of the season.

After being spotted another first-inning two-run double by Petrone in the second game, Dragon looked to add to her win total, but ran into trouble. After inducing a groundout from Edinboro’s Marissa Pullo, Dragon gave up a solo home run to opposing pitcher Kari Falk. After allowing a single, Gannon put in sophomore pitcher Erica Bartholow, forcing Edinboro to keep a 2-1 lead.

Bartholow held the Fighting Scots to just four hits and one run over the next six innings, as the Knights offense scored in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings to complete the sweep with an 8-2 victory.

The wins pushed Gannon’s record to 19-17 and 6-8 in the PSAC West with just two games left against PSAC powerhouse California (Pa.) University April 15.  At 6-8 in conference, The Knights were tied with Slippery Rock University for the final playoff spot.

Cal just came off a sweep of Slippery Rock, and looked ready to hobble another bubble team’s playoff hopes in the first game after scoring four runs in the first two frames against Dragon. The Knights offense, after combining for 21 hits against Edinboro, could only muster two against the Vulcans, leading to a 7-0 defeat in the first game.

With a combination of timely hitting, and a little luck, the Knights kept their playoff hopes alive in the second game.

After an RBI single by sophomore designated player Sarah Rinks gave Gannon a 1-0 lead with runners on second and third and one out in the second inning, Cal gave the Knights a gift, allowing another run on a Vulcan error, giving Gannon another out to work with. Sledge capitalized on the miscue, pounding a 3-1 pitch out of the park for a three-run home run. The Knights would go on to score two more runs for a quick 7-0 lead.

Cal would respond with a four-run inning in the third, but couldn’t muster up enough offense to overtake the lead, as the Knights would tack on another run for an 8-6 win to push the Knights’ record 20-18 on the season.

At 7-9, Gannon sat in the final playoff spot, but still needed some help from the unlikeliest of sources: crosstown rival Mercyhurst College.

With Slippery Rock lurking behind Gannon at 6-8 in conference with two games left against the Lakers, the Knights’ playoff spot was still in jeopardy. However, Mercyhurst swept the doubleheader, ensuring Gannon’s first-ever spot in PSAC postseason play since joining the league in 2008-09.

According to Jakubowski, everyone contributed down the stretch for the Knights.

“We just really came together,” he said. “We had a real team effort. It was the result of a lot of young ladies that came together to get us in the playoffs.”

While the road to a .500 season took almost two months, Gannon only spent one day in the postseason after losing to Kutztown and Bloomsburg universities.

Errors plagued the Knights in a 9-1 loss to Kutztown Thursday. Dragon gave up nine runs in the game, but only three earned after a trio of defensive miscues doomed Gannon, something Jakubowski said that the team will have to improve on for the upcoming season.

“We just dropped three thrown balls that led to the unearned runs,” Jakubowski said. “We learned how far we have to go to be one of the better teams in the PSAC.”

The Knights’ woes shifted from defense to offense against Bloomsburg, as Gannon was held to just two hits in the team’s final game of the season, falling 4-0.

Despite the quick ousting, Jakubowski said he was pleased with how the year turned out.

“Just the fact that we got to the playoffs is great,” Jakubowski said. “We’re about a year ahead of schedule. The [postseason] experience will really help down the road.”

According to Jakubowski, every player should be returning next season. With so much experience coming back, Jakubowski said that after defeating the vaunted Vulcans and reaching postseason play, teams should look out for the Knights next year.

“Now people have to take us seriously,” Jakubowski said. “Gannon is a force to be reckoned with in the future.”

ALEX BIELER

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