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LYNCHBURG, Va. – Senior righthander Sierra Hyland struck out 10 Weber State hitters to complete her third career perfect game Monday evening as the Cal Poly softball program opened NISC Championship Round loser's bracket action with a 9-0, six-inning, elimination-game victory versus Weber State. Playing consecutive games against elimination, however, Cal Poly saw its postseason run come to a close with a 3-0 loss in the loser's bracket semifinal to host program Liberty.
Cal Poly (38-21), which closed the year with the program's third highest win total in 23 Division I seasons, finished fourth in the inaugural National Invitational Softball Championship. The Mustangs reached the six-team, double-elimination championship round by winning the May 16-18 Region I tournament in Stockton, Calif. Cal Poly posted a 3-0 record at the regional without allowing a run. Cal Poly, however, dropped its Sunday championship round opener to Lamar and would have had to win five straight to capture the NISC title.
Liberty (43-24), meanwhile, advanced to Tuesday evening's loser's bracket final against either Kennesaw State or Lamar – both of which are unbeaten in the tournament and face each other in Tuesday's winner's bracket final.
Hyland – who equalized the Big West Conference career pitching appearances record at 161 versus Liberty – was named to All-NISC Team alongside junior shortstop Chelsea Convissar and sophomore right fielder Crimson Kaiser. Aside from her perfect game, Hyland posted a 3-1 postseason record, compiled a 1.55 ERA in five tournament appearances and struck out 32 in 31.2 innings. Convissar led Cal Poly with a .500 (8-for-16) batting average while Kaiser hit .474 (9-for-19) and led the Mustangs in hits.
During Monday's second elimination game versus Liberty, Hyland conceded her first hit of the night with one out in the top of the first inning as Flames second baseman Amber Bishop drove a solo homer over the left field wall.
Beginning with the final out of the first, however, Hyland – who struck out the side in the second – retired 12 of the next 14 Liberty batters and didn't allow another hit until Flamers first baseman Autumn Bishop doubled with two down in the top of the fifth.
Cal Poly, meanwhile, was kept to a solitary single through the opening three innings until Convissar and Hyland led off the bottom of the fourth with successive base hits. Freshman first baseman Hailey Martin followed with a sacrifice bunt to place two Mustangs in scoring position. Cal Poly senior left fielder Courtney Tyler then popped out to Liberty shortstop Sarah Robertson, whose momentum carried her into short left field. With Robertson's back turned on the play, Convissar tagged up to home plate. On Liberty's appeal, however, Convissar was judged to have departed third base early and the Flames escaped the fourth inning with their 1-0 lead.
Back in the circle, Hyland stranded the Liberty bases loaded in the top of the fifth and left two on in the sixth. Bishop, however, lined her second solo homer of the night to right center with one down in the top of the seventh. Hyland was eventually lifted in favor of junior righthander Lindsey Chalmers and Liberty made it 3-0 with two out in the seventh through first baseman Deidra See's run-scoring infield hit.
Cal Poly's best chance to break through late occurred in the sixth as Heyward was hit to lead off before moving to second through a Convissar sacrifice. In her 631st and final career at-bat, however, Hyland popped out and Martin flew out to end the threat.
During Monday's opening victory versus Weber State to stay alive, Hyland – who threw the first perfect game in Liberty Softball Field history – retired all 18 Weber State hitters she faced and threw 71 percent of her 79 pitches for strikes. She struck out the Weber State side in the second inning, struck out two Wildcat hitters in an inning twice more and went to a three-ball count just twice and a full count only once.
With her fourth strikeout of the evening versus Weber State catcher Molly Horne, Hyland established a new Cal Poly single season strikeout record, eclipsing her own previous mark of 263, set as a freshman in 2014.
Hyland's 10-strikeout game was her eighth double-digit strikeout performance of 2017 and 30th such effort of her career.
Monday's feat marked Hyland's sixth career game without allowing a hit and first perfect game since delivering an 8-0, five-inning win against Creighton on Feb. 11, 2017. Hyland also tossed a perfect game on March 29, 2014 to defeat CSUN, 1-0.
Offensively, Cal Poly handed Hyland the lead before she threw her first pitch. Weber State starting righthander Kirtlyn Bohling (22-13) struck junior third baseman Stephanie Heyward with her first delivery of the evening before Convissar and Hyland successfully laid down consecutive sacrifice bunts to place two Mustangs in scoring position. Three batters later, senior left fielder Courtney Tyler singled off the glove of Wildcats third baseman KyRae Kogianes to bring home Heyward.
Offensively, Cal Poly doubled its lead in the top of the third as two Weber State errors placed two Mustangs in scoring position before Hyland doubled to right field to score Heyward. The Mustangs then ran their lead to 3-0 in the fourth as Heyward drove a single into right field to plate Kaiser.
The Wildcats, who'd committed 73 errors entering the game, produced two more in the fifth. Kaiser was the beneficiary this time, lacing a two-out single into left field that scored Tyler and junior Amanda Sandoval for a 5-0 Cal Poly advantage.
The Mustangs completed their scoring and placed the matchup in run-rule territory in the top of the sixth as Hyland and Martin each produced two-run singles to push Cal Poly's lead to 9-0.
Hyland returned in the bottom half of the sixth to strike out Kogianes and force a pop up from Wildcat second baseman Sadie Blacker before striking out pinch hitter Katelyn Robinson on five pitches to complete the perfect effort.