Entering Thursday’s doubleheader against Mercyhurst University, IUP had to win four of its six remaining regular-season games in order to clinch a berth into the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Tournament.

The Crimson Hawks exceeded that requirement.

Resuming play from a postponed game, the Crimson Hawks started the first game with a 6-4 lead in the top of the third inning. Pitcher Lauren Zola (freshman, hospitality management) finished out the game on the mound, allowing two runs over 4.1 innings to seal the 8-6 IUP victory.

While Zola was controlling the game from the circle, Taylor Mercurio (sophomore, political science) led IUP on offense with two hits, two RBIs and a run scored.

Brooke Darling (graduate, counseling) started Game 2 for the Crimson Hawks and tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing just four hits in route to a 6-0 IUP win.

“The pitching was outstanding,” head coach Bill Graham said.

IUP then traveled to face the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown for a chance to clinch a tournament berth. Darling and Zola were the only two pitchers IUP used in those games as well.

“They are our top two pitchers,” Graham said. “They are going to throw a majority of the innings.”

Zola took the ball Game 1 and led IUP to a 5-1 win with a complete-game.

With Darling taking the circle in Game 2, IUP continued to have defensive success. Darling pitched eight shutout innings, allowing Lauren Goetz (freshman, kinesiology, health & sports science) and Megan Gould (junior, education) to collect the go-ahead runs in the top of the eighth inning.

After winning four straight, the Crimson Hawks clinched a playoff spot and traveled home for Senior Day against Mansfield University.

“It was beautiful weather,” Graham said. “It was a little more relaxed after getting a spot in the conference tournament.”

Zola took the circle again for Game 1 and pitched another complete game while allowing one run in IUP’s 7-1 win. Seniors Allison Viguers (marketing), Amy Fairman (kinesiology, health & sports science) and Rachel Francis (psychology) all recorded hits.

IUP won Game 2, 2-1, completing its regular season on a six-game winning streak. Darling pitched another complete game, allowing one unearned run. She enters the postseason having allowed one earned run over her last 35 innings pitched.

“Our seniors contributed big time,” Graham said. “It’s a great lesson for the younger players.”

IUP faces California University of Pennsylvania in the first round of the PSAC tournament Wednesday.

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