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Derr spins All-American season for Kutztown Lady Golden Bears finish 3rd in NFCA poll
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Sam Derr has delivered double-digit strikeout games and clutch base hits in her standout softball career.
But up until recently, there was one thing that she had never produced.
A walk-off base hit.
That, however, changed in a very big way on May 17 in the NCAA Division-II World Series in Louisville, Ky.
With 3rd-ranked Kutztown University facing defending champion University of California-San Diego, and Derr locked in a scoreless pitcher’s duel against Camille Gaito, the 2010 Warwick grad helped her own cause with a walk-off single to left in the bottom of the 12th inning, lifting the Lady Golden Bears to a 1-0 win over the 24th-ranked Lady Tritons.
"I’ve had games where I’d go 4-for-4 or 3-for-3 and it was really nice. But nothing beats a walk-off hit," Derr said, "especially in a World Series where it matters so much and you knock the defending champs down to the loser’s bracket. I mean, that’s huge … (Later), we just kinda celebrated and said, ‘Hey, we have one more game to get to the championship and this is it.’"
Unfortunately, KU fell a little bit short, as they dropped back-to-back games to top-ranked Valdosta State University in the semis.
The Lady Golden Bears suffered their first World Series loss in a 3-1 decision to the Lady Blazers on Friday, May 19. One day later, KU fell behind 3-0, then rallied back to 3-2, but Valdosta pulled away with a five-run sixth to end Kutztown’s magical season at 52-7.
"Both games were very good," Derr said. "They were definitely a really great team. I think it was evenly matched."
Although Kutztown’s players were naturally disappointed, Derr and her teammates are still able to look at the big picture. While setting a program-record 52 victories, which included a 33-game winning streak, they led Kutztown to its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division-II World Series. The Lady Golden Bears also achieved its highest mark in school history by reaching second in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top-25 poll. At season’s end, they were third in the final NFCA poll.
"It was a dream come true," Derr said. "Just getting to the World Series was an experience in itself, but the fact that you could say that you went to the final four in the entire country, that’s amazing. You can’t beat that. It’s a dream come true, really."
Derr, who finished the season with a 30-5 record, was certainly a huge part of Kutztown’s success. Her 30 wins and 0.89 ERA represent single-season pitching records at KU, and her 13 shutouts tied her for first place in the Kutztown record books. Overall, in 40 appearances this spring, she pitched 227 2/3 innings and recorded 108 K’s while holding opponents to a .183 batting average, and she batted .376 (second-best on the team) with 38 RBI’s (fourth-best) and 20 runs.
Obviously, people noticed, as Derr was named the 2012 Daktronics Ron Lenz All-American Pitcher of the Year, Daktronics All-Atlantic Region and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year.
"I thanked my defense because honestly, I don’t get a lot of strikeouts, and they were the reason that I had the stats that I did, that I got the wins I did, and all the credit goes toward my defense and the entire team," said Derr, who has a two-year record of 51-14 with the Lady Golden Bears. "It was a great honor … but it was really a team effort."
They definitely needed a team effort to bounce back from a disappointing appearance in the PSAC playoffs. After clinching the East Division crown, they went just 2-2 in the PSAC dance and were ousted with a 9-1 loss to Lock Haven University.
"That was one of our biggest goals, obviously, to win the PSAC Championship and we didn’t," Derr said. "So on the bus ride home, it was really awkward, really sad, (we were) really frustrated. But we kinda talked about it, we definitely tried to figure out what was going on, what was going wrong with all of us and everything and we wanted to definitely make a statement then in Regionals."
Make a statement they did. The Lady Golden Bears swept the three games they played in the NCAA Atlantic Regional, defeating Winston-Salem State University 1-0, West Virginia State University 3-0, and IUP 5-2 to punch their ticket to the NCAA Atlantic Super Regional. Derr recorded two of those wins with a 1.00 ERA.
"It was definitely, we had to pick it up then or we would have just been going home with nothing," Derr said. "We started hitting the ball a lot better and all of us started taking better at-bats. I was rested, our other pitcher (Mary Kociencki) was rested, and we just kinda got into a groove then once Regionals started."
That groove hit a speed bump, though, against West Virginia Wesleyan College in game one of the best-of-three Super Regional, as Kutztown dropped a 2-0 loss.
"A lot of us, we were just like, ‘Oh crap, this is it,’" Derr said. "On Saturday, we had to win twice."
On top of that, they had to do it without Derr, who was unable to pitch due to battling the flu. But Kociencki got the decisions in the Lady Golden Bears’ 1-0 and 5-1 wins, helping them advance to the World Series.
"I just kept telling Mary, ‘Keep going, keep going,’" Derr said, "and it was awesome for her as a freshman to definitely step up and know the pressure situation and still come through."
Derr then came through in the World Series, as KU shut out 16th-ranked Augustana College 4-0 and outlasted UC San Diego 1-0 in a 12-inning thriller on Derr’s walk-off hit.
But Valdosta State eventually ended Kutztown’s run on its way to the national title.
Still, the Lady Golden Bears could be poised for more success in 2013. Although they graduate third baseman Kelly Fitzgerald and first baseman Heather Hannum, they bring back Derr, Kociencki, outfielders Morgan Booth, Jackie Hetzler and Maria Isgro, shortstop Brianna Knipe, catcher Katie Lynch (of Lampeter-Strasburg), and Nicole Henninger, an All-American in 2011 who redshirted this season due to an injury.
"That will be huge (getting Henninger back)," Derr said. More DERR, page B-3