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Shepherd advances to softball regional

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | May 21, 2021

Shepherd University junior Sarah Lamper pitches a ball during a recent game. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Shepherd’s regular season softball record had enough luster to get it a bid to the Atlantic Regional that was scheduled to begin yesterday in Kutztown, Pa.

Despite being eliminated in the conference tournament when stopped by West Chester, the Rams still showed an overall record of 26-12 and were awarded the No. 2 seed in the six-team Regional, which is a double elimination event that will send the survivor to Denver for the national championship tournament to be contested from May 27-31.

The Rams will be entering Regional competition for the sixth time in school history. There are eight Regionals, each with six teams giving the national field 48 teams.

The Atlantic Regional is a double elimination tournament that was scheduled to open yesterday in Kutztown (the host team as designated by the NCAA).

Kutztown, as the No. 1 seed, and Shepherd as the No. 2 seed both received first-round byes. Kutztown’s first tournament game came yesterday when it was to face the winner of the East Stroudsburg (26-14 record) and West Liberty (35-15 record) game. Shepherd was slated to open its tournament play yesterday when it played the winner of West Chester (30-14 overall) and Claflin (8-1 record) game. Play is scheduled to be completed and a Region winner declared on Saturday.

Kutztown, Shepherd, West Chester and East Stroudsburg are all from the Pennsylvania State Conference, West Liberty represents the Mountain East Conference and Claflin comes from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

Those three conferences sent their champions to the Atlantic Regional with automatic bids.

The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds received byes into the second round.

Shepherd has already played every team in the Regional except Claflin, splitting a late-season doubleheader with West Liberty, before dropping two of three games against West Chester early in the PSAC tournament.

Pitchers Sarah Lamper, Katie Laign, Cheyenne Van Pelt and Hannah Ruffner will be pressured to hold in check the offenses of the teams the Rams see. Laing has 10 wins, Lamper was 8-5, Van Pelt had a 3-3 record and Ruffner was 5-0. Teams usually don’t run around the bases with abandon in the Regionals. Runs and hits are harder to find and defenses are stingier.

Shepherd isn’t likely to score as many runs and neither are the other teams. Pitching can often mean more than it did in the regular season. Should the Rams have to settle for fewer runs per game than it managed in the regular season, its defense will need to be efficient.

Still leading the tournament-bound Rams in batting average is Nicole Purtell at a lofty .450. Cameron Davis has a .398 average and a team-leading 10 home runs and 46 RBIs. The other .400 hitter is Isabella Forte at .403.

If runs are at a premium, then every batter in the lineup becomes equally important. None of them can consistently fail to deliver when batting with runners in scoring position.

There are plenty of glittering batting averages — Leann Brown at .364, Allison Baker at .339, Ashley Burger at .317, Hannah Beeler at .302 and Tori Seymour at .282, but many of those averages were dimmed in the late season by West Liberty and in the PSAC tournament.

Alex Mantz (.289 average), Olivia Reese (.237 average) and Kylie Condon (.236 average) could all be asked to come up with a key hit in a one- or two-run game.

The games come quickly and could see the Rams play twice in a day, so any injuries are magnified, the same as with any hitter on a tear or one going into a slump.

Few are there who expect Claflin to win this tournament, but a Regional championship by any of the other five teams would not be a surprise.