Softball: Delaney Patella file photo

IUP freshman Delaney Patella delivered a clutch seventh-inning, two-run single in Game 2 of Tuesday's doubleheader against Clarion. The hit proved to be the game-winner and sent IUP to its 67th consecutive win over the Golden Eagles. Patella collected five RBIs on the day, giving her a team-leading 37 on the season.

The IUP softball team was in jeopardy of having a nearly two-decade long streak snapped on Tuesday.

The Crimson Hawks have not lost to Clarion in a softball game in more than 19 years, and after taking care of business in the opening game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, IUP entered the final inning of Game 2 trailing by two runs and just three outs away from disaster.

But just as they had done the previous 66 times the teams met, the Hawks found a way to pull out a win against the Golden Eagles. IUP erupted for seven runs in the top of the seventh to erase the deficit and score a 9-4 win, extending the Crimson Hawks’ mind-boggling winning streak over Clarion to 67 consecutive games.

The last time Clarion beat IUP was on April 6, 2004 when the Eagles swept a doubleheader in Clarion. The following day, IUP won both ends of the twinbill in Indiana and haven’t lost since. 

“That’s not something I’ve really thought about or the team even knows,” said fifth-year IUP coach Shawna Bellaud. “The [Golden Eagles] are a team that has started to come together, and we do not take them lightly.”

IUP's all-time record versus Clarion since the inception of the softball program in 1980 is 117-18.

Bellaud’s record against the Golden Eagles now stands at a spotless 10-0. In fact, none of the three most recent IUP coaches have lost to them, with Bill Graham going 36-0 between 2010 and 2018, and before that, Ali Ferrari going 8-0 in her two seasons in 2008-09.

Many of the games during this yearslong stretch of IUP dominance haven’t been particularly close. Just six of the 67 games during the streak have been decided by one run, and furthermore, only three games have gone to extra innings. Conversely, IUP has won 41 of the 67 games by five-plus runs.

The most recent of those didn’t come easy, though.

The Golden Eagles entered the seventh inning of Game 2 on Tuesday with a 4-2 lead, needing just three outs to end the skid. With their backs against the wall, the Crimson Hawks opened the top of the seventh with three straight singles to load the bases. Paige Truax (sophomore, criminology) followed with an RBI groundout that scored Jess Cekada (freshman, math education) and got IUP within a run, 4-3.

Delaney Patella (freshman, fashion merchandising), who has been the Hawks’ best hitter all season, stepped into the batter’s box next with two runners in scoring position and one out. Patella delivered with a clutch two-run single to give IUP a 5-4 lead, and everyone took a sigh of relief. Patella collected five RBIs on the day, giving her a team-leading 37 on the season.

The Hawks would add four insurance runs on run-scoring hits by Jaycee Haidze (freshman, biology), Jordan Sylvia (sophomore, nuclear medicine technology) and Allyssa Schmidt (sophomore, nursing). Haidze drove in Patella with a single to right field for a 6-4 lead, and Sylvia followed with a two-run double to left. Schmidt rounded out the scoring with an RBI single to score Sylvia.

“When one person hits, it’s contagious,” said IUP coach Shawna Bellaud. “We finally made adjustments.”

Elizabeth Kasper (sophomore, exercise science) closed the deal in the bottom of the seventh and IUP extended its win streak against Clarion to a remarkable 67 games. Kasper (3-4) pitched the final 3 2/3 innings, earning the win while giving up just two hits in relief of starter Tori Long (freshman, math education).

Long labored through 3 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on five hits, though she wasn’t entirely at fault for her shaky outing. The defense behind her made two errors, the second of which started Clarion’s four-run rally in the fourth inning.

Leading IUP’s offense was Madison Pikula (freshman, exercise science), who went 3-for-4 while scoring two runs, including the first marker of the game on an error in the first inning. Sylvia went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and Cekada was also 2-for-3 with a walk.

In Game 1, the Hawks had a much easier time and trounced the Golden Eagles, 10-1, in a mercy-rule shortened game. IUP used a pair of 5-run innings — the second and the fourth — to build a 10-0 lead before the game was called after the fifth inning. Scoring plays included two homers, two doubles and a single.

In the top of the second, Haidze knocked a two-run bomb to get IUP on the board first. A few batters later, Pikula smacked her first career home run, a three-run shot, to lift the Hawks advantage to 5-0. In the fourth, Patella hit a bases-clearing double for an 8-0 lead, then scored on a double by Lexi Dawson (sophomore, management). Cekada drove in IUP’s 10th and final run on a single.

Bella Bucy (junior, sports management) pitched a five-inning complete game, giving up four hits while striking out seven batters. Her only blemish was a solo home run to lead off the fifth inning.

The Crimson Hawks amassed 13 hits in five innings, with Pikula, Truax, Haidze and Sara Tailford (sophomore, special education) each going 2-for-3. Pikula and Patella picked up three RBIs apiece. Overall, the Hawks combined for 25 hits and 19 runs in the doubleheader, including three innings scoring five or more.

“[It] feels really good to bring home two road wins,” Bellaud added.

IUP has now won four of its last six games following a seven-game losing streak and have just four games left in the season. Needing to finish in the top five in the PSAC West Division to make the conference playoffs, the Hawks (24-21, 15-13) are currently in sixth place and on the outside looking in.

But they are certainly in the mix entering the final weekend of the regular season. With Seton Hill (19-7 PSAC West) all but locked into first place, IUP is in a five-team race for the final four playoff spots with Mercyhurst (17-11), Slippery Rock (16-12), California (17-13) and Gannon (17-13) and all the teams separated by two games.

The Hawks will play a doubleheader with last-place Pitt-Johnstown (11-27, 6-20) on Thursday followed by a twinbill with first-place Seton Hill on Saturday. In order to sneak into the postseason, IUP will likely need to win at least three of those games and hope that one of the teams ahead of the Hawks loses at least three.

While unlikely, crazier things have happened. Like a 67-game winning streak, for example.

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