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Nikki Cuccio’s HR helps Adelphi return to World Series

Adelphi softball teammates celebrate after their 4-1 win

Adelphi softball teammates celebrate after their 4-1 win over Southern New Hampshire University in Game 2 of the NCAA Division II East Super Regional at Adelphi University on Thursday, May 12, 2016. Adelphi swept the best-of-three series to advance to D2 College World Series. Credit: James Escher

Nikki Cuccio’s towering home run wasn’t just high, it was Rocky Mountain High.

The freshman catcher’s first career home run capped a four-run rally and helped seal a trip to Colorado for the Division II World Series as Adelphi defeated Southern New Hampshire, 4-1, Thursday to sweep the best-of-three Super Regional. It’s Adelphi’s second straight trip to the World Series, an eight-team, double- elimination tournament.

“As corny as it sounds, “Adelphi coach Bree Nasti said, “it’s a dream come true.”

“It feels earned. I think no matter how good you are, it’s tough to win out in postseason. The enormity of it is something that’s not lost on us.”

The Panthers have thrived this season by stressing quality and lengthy at-bats that force the opposing pitcher to work. That approach has helped create a deep, disciplined, and dangerous lineup anchored by Brenna Martini, who set single-season program records this year in home runs (14) and RBIs (61).

Wednesday’s rally began with a nine-pitch at-bat that Nasti called the “epitome of what we look for in at-bats.” With Adelphi trailing 1-0, Stephanie Staiano led off the top of the fifth and fell behind 1-and-2 in the count. She then worked the count full, fouled off two pitches, and lined a double to left.

“I needed to do whatever it took to get on base so we could start a rally and be successful,” said Staiano, an East Meadow native. “I knew whoever came up after me was going to knock me in and get the job done.”

Lauren Sandelier did just that, tripling to right-center to even the score at 1. Mineola’s Christina Palmenteri then hit a grounder that was thrown away, allowing Sandelier to score for a 2-1 lead. Cuccio — who, in the first game on Wednesday, had the go-ahead hit in a 1-0 win — then crushed a home run to left-center.

“Maybe not the hardest I’ve ever hit it,” she said, “but definitely the highest.”

Lindsay Mapes allowed five hits and walked one in a complete game. Lindsey Bolduc’s RBI double in the third gave New Hampshire a 1-0 lead. Adelphi centerfielder Krista King, of Franklin Square, then fielded a single and made a perfect throw to hold the runner at third. Mapes struck out Sarah Lavallee looking to end the inning, the first of 10 straight batters she’d retire.

With two on and no outs in the seventh, Fallon McCarthy caught a line drive to first and stepped on the bag for a double play. Mapes then induced a flyout to send Adelphi (34-20) back to the World Series.

“We didn’t get where we did last year or this year by taking anything for granted,” Mapes said. “This year we fought through some things to get to this point. So it’s an honor and a privilege to go back.”

Might they do a little sightseeing while in Denver?

“Yes,” Mapes said. “We’ll be sure to see those mountains.”

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