BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Junior Becca Bliss fired a two-hit shutout and junior Kristen Mitchell and freshman Cassie Waggy drove in runs as the Lehigh softball team won its second straight Patriot League Tournament title with a 2-0 win over Army Saturday at Kaufman Field. Bliss ties a Patriot League record with her tenth shutout of the season as Lehigh captures its 12th tournament title and seventh in the last nine years.
With the win, Lehigh improves to 40-17 on the season, the program’s fourth 40-win season and it’s first since 2006 as the Mountain Hawks get set to make their eighth NCAA regional appearance. Army’s season ends at 37-21.
Bliss earns tournament MVP honors for the second straight year after throwing 14 scoreless innings against the Black Knights. She was joined on the All-Tournament team by Mitchell, senior Julie Fernandez and junior Liz Lucas. With Bliss’ two wins over Army and Thursday’s two hit shutout by freshman Emily Bausher against Lafayette, Lehigh became the first team to not allow a run in Patriot League history to not allow any runs in tournament play.
“When you have a situation where your two pitchers don’t give up a run, it’s tough for the other team to win,” explained Lehigh head coach Fran Troyan. “Emily set the tone in the first game with a two-hitter and ten strikeouts and Becca proved that she wasn’t going to be out done and she threw a couple of shutouts. It was a coin flip between the two of them because we felt comfortable with either one. We gave the nod to Becca because she’s a junior and has the championship experience.”
Early on Bliss and Army freshman Morgan Lashley matched zeroes as Bliss limited the Black Knights to a two-out Rachael Duval single in the second, while Lehigh had two runners on and less than two outs in the second and fourth innings but could not score.
Freshman Emma Capetz led off the bottom of the fifth with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior Tenley Halaquist. Mitchell then ripped a line drive down the left field line for a double that brought Capetz home with the first run of the game.
“Emma started things with a clutch hit and then Tenley was able to move her over,” Mitchell said. “I just went after the first pitch and it happened to be a good one to hit. It felt really great. Becca was phenomenal today and we just really pulled it together.”
“If makes you feel really good because she’s not the best softball player we’ve ever had but there’s nobody that works harder than she does,” Troyan added. “She has improved so much since she’s been here. When you see great things happen to great people it makes you feel great inside.”
Army picked up its second hit when Ali Cleinmark led off the sixth with a single but after a sacrifice moved her into scoring position, Bliss got April Ortenzo to foul out to Lucas behind the plate and Reanna Johnson to line out to Mitchell in right field to end the inning.
Lehigh extended its lead in the sixth as senior Jen Colquhoun drew a leadoff walk. With one out Lucas doubled to left center, putting runners on second and third for Waggy, who brought pinch runner Kristin Taft home with a sacrifice fly to left.
The Black Knights refused to go quietly, putting the tying runs on base in the top of the seventh. With two outs and a runner on first, Bliss walked Duval on a 3-2 pitch to put the tying run on, but the junior right hander caught Clara Navarro looking with a curveball on the outside corner to end the game.
Bliss improved to 19-6 on the year with the victory, allowing just the walk and two hits while striking out five. She now has thrown 24 consecutive scoreless innings in Patriot League tournament play over the last two seasons. In her last ten appearances this season, Bliss is 9-0 with a save and a miniscule 0.12 ERA. She has allowed just six runs (one earned) in 59 innings during that span while striking out 34 and walking six.
Everything was working again,” Bliss said. “I threw a lot of drops and got a lot of ground ball outs. That can put a lot of stress on our defense but they held things together so well. The chemistry on the field was good and everything worked out.”
“With this team we’re pretty good at everything,” Troyan said. “The pitching is great, but Becca has not been a strikeout pitcher. We needed to play great defense behind her and we’ve done that. It has been a total team effort.”
Lehigh will now await the NCAA selection show to find out where it is headed for regional tournament competition. The sites and pairings will be announced Sunday night at 10 p.m. EDT on ESPNU, available on Service Electric cable dial position 174.