Simpson's blast lifts No. 4 softball past Penn State Berks in NCAA regional opener

SALISBURY, Md. – Sophomore Molly Simpson delivered a three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning Friday afternoon at the SU Softball Field to lift the No. 4 Salisbury University softball team to a 5-2 win against Penn State University Berks in the NCAA tournament opener for both teams.

Simpson, who had belted four home runs entering the day, came to the plate with the game tied at 2-2. She had a pair of runners on with junior Rebecca Hoey getting on thanks to a one-out walk before being pinch run for, and senior Molly Gigioli reaching on an error by the Nittany Lions (29-8).

Simpson took the first pitch before turning on the 0-and-1 offering from Penn State Berks starter Casey Hafer. The moon shot to left-center field was never in doubt, breaking the deadlock.

"We have this drill that coach loves, and I love it too, it's called fuzzy narrow, where you look out in the distance, and you focus in on the pitcher's hip and then you just see a ball and crush it," Simpson said. "That's what I did. I just did a fuzzy narrow and stared at those trees out there, and focused in on the pitcher's hip."

The shot made a winner of Salisbury junior Rachel Johnson, who surrendered just three hits in the contest, striking out 14 along the way.

The Sea Gulls (36-3) got the scoring started in the second inning. Sophomore Paige Knussman led off the frame with an infield single and advanced to second on classmate Katie Sebbane's sacrifice bunt.

Hoey flew out to right field, moving Knussman to third before a Penn State Berks error allowed Salisbury to take the early lead. When junior Angela Malgieri lifted a ball into the left center-field gap, Jenna Heffner, the Nittany Lions' center fielder, ran under the ball, but could not make the play, giving the Gulls the 1-0 lead.

Salisbury doubled the edge in the fifth inning when Johnson, in just her fourth at-bat of the year, sent a ball to the right-center field gap. Heffner nearly ran the ball down, but it was just out of her reach, allowing Johnson to cruise into third standing with a lead-off triple.

Three batters later, Johnson was able to cross home on sophomore Kim Dorsey's sacrifice fly to right field for the 2-0 edge.

The Nittany Lions would draw even in the top of the sixth inning. After an infield single by Colleen Hoge, Hafer was able to put a charge into the first pitch she saw from Johnson for a two-out, two-run home run to left field.

Johnson would strike out the next batter, to end the inning, setting up Simpson's heroics in the bottom of the inning. Johnson closed the game by striking out the side in the top of the seventh, finishing off her 16th complete game of the year.

"We got one under our belt," Salisbury Head Coach Margie Knight said of the win. "I'm happy, I think this will take a little of the edge off, and we'll come back and hopefully we'll find some more green tomorrow with our bats."

The Sea Gulls advance into the winners' bracket of the regional, taking on William Paterson University in Saturday morning's first game, as the Pioneers defeated Manhattanville College, 2-0, in Friday's first contest. Saturday's first pitch is scheduled for 11 a.m.; the winner moves on to Sunday's regional championship game, the loser will play again Saturday, at 4 p.m.

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