.500 record has IUP’s playoff chances on the ropes

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Looking to remain in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Tournament hunt, the Crimson Hawks split two games against Clarion University and Bloomsburg University Friday and Saturday, respectively.

IUP (21-17, 8-8 PSAC) opened up its  doubleheader against Clarion with a  7-1 victory,  led by freshman pitcher Lauren Zola (freshman, hospitality management), who threw a complete game  while allowing only one run. She also recorded 12 strikeouts while allowing only three hits. That’s her first double-digit strikeout total of the season.

To open up the second game, IUP sent its other ace, Brooke Darling (graduate, counseling) to the circle.

Darling pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing only a single in the top of the second inning.

Not only did IUP benefit from a solid pitching performance, but the Crimson Hawks played a complete offensive game.

“We just kept scoring, just played a very solid game,” head coach Bill Graham said.

Bryanna Lonick (sociology) went 3 for 3 at the plate while recording two runs and two RBIs. This was her first three-hit game of the season.

The Crimson Hawks then traveled to Bloomsburg to face the PSAC Central-leading Huskies.

To open the doubleheader, IUP sent Zola to the mound.

Despite her 6.2-inning, seven-strikeout effort, IUP lost 4-3 due to a two-run walk-off double with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

IUP gave the ball to Darling for Game 2. The graduate student allowed just four hits total and one run in the bottom of the first inning, which proved to be the deciding run, as IUP was shut out by the Bloomsburg pitching staff.

Graham saw the sweep as a learning experience for IUP.

“The two games on Saturday were definitely playoff atmosphere,” he said. “We fought to the end. We gave them what I think was one of their hardest challenges in a while.”

IUP is still in the hunt for the postseason, and its dynamic pitching duo might just be enough to get the team to its sixth playoff appearance in seven seasons.

“[Darling and Zola] always give us a chance to win,” Graham said. “We think we can compete with anybody. We just hope the softball gods smile on us a little more.”

IUP will play eight games this week, including Senior Day against Mansfield University Saturday and a rescheduled game against Mercyhurst University, which IUP leads 6-4 through three innings, Thursday.

First, the Crimson Hawks will travel to West Virginia to battle Wheeling Jesuit University Wednesday. They will also travel to the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Friday.