Changing The Narrative: The 2022 Penn State Softball Story
That’s how many times Penn State softball won during the 2021 campaign.
The Nittany Lions finished a dreadful season with a 7-34 record which was enough for last place in the Big Ten conference during a season in which they only played against conference opponents.
Adding to that, eight of those losses for the Nittany Lions ended via the mercy rule.
It also marked the first season for Penn State’s new coach Clarisa Crowell who joined the program from Miami (OH), where she had done a great job keeping that program a consistent winner.
Crowell led the Redhawks to MAC tournament appearances in all eight seasons leading the dugout, and was tasked with turning around a Penn State softball program needing a spark.
Penn State hadn’t won a Big Ten tournament game since 2017 and last sported a winning record the season prior.
While the 2021 season looked bad from a record standpoint, Crowell did manage to find a few bright spots on the Nittany Lion roster.
Pitcher Bailey Parshall was sharp in the circle during her third season, and catcher Ally Kurland led the team with five home runs.
Despite this, the overall expectation of the program was low heading into a new season.
Historically, Penn State has never been known as a softball powerhouse, having not made the NCAA Tournament since 2011 and never winning a conference title.
However, it sometimes doesn’t take much to change a narrative, and for the Nittany Lions, it only took one season.
The 2022 campaign surpassed all expectations as the Nittany Lions completely flipped the script compared to last season.
Penn State won over four times as many games compared to the year before finishing with a 32-22 record and headed into the Big Ten tournament as the No. 7 seed.
In the same Big Ten conference, the Nittany Lions struggled in during the 2021 season the blue and white were now racking off wins against some of the top teams in that conference.
This included two wins against the No. 3 seed in Illinois on the road and one against No. 4 Michigan, who now finds themselves in the Big Ten championship game.
Many factors played a role in the turnaround, but the main one could be the turnaround of the Nittany Lion offense.
A year ago, the leading Penn State hitter was Melody Coombs, who held a batting average of .238.
In 2022, four starters went well above that mark, and two, in particular, went beyond that to lead the offense.
Kurland continued her growth from the prior year and jumped up to a .303 batting average while leading the team in home runs with 16.
She was joined by a new member in the lineup with catcher Cassie Lindmark transferring to the program from Kentucky.
Lindmark went from recording three hits during the entire 2021 season with the Wildcats to leading the Nittany Lions with a .400 batting average while also hitting seven home runs as she made the All-Big Ten Second Team.
The duo of Kurland and Lindmark typically led off games for the blue and white, and when they weren’t getting on base, it was Parshall who excelled at keeping opponents off them.
Parshall took another huge step forward by collecting a 1.68 ERA with a 22-9 record on her way to the All-Big Ten First Team.
Against FIU earlier in the season, Parshall managed to throw a perfect game which was the first for the program since 2005.
Penn State rode its regular-season momentum into the Big Ten Tournament and faced No. 10 Indiana in the first round.
The last time Penn State made the tournament in 2019, it was the Hoosiers who defeated the Nittany Lions 4-2 in the first round.
Lightning didn’t strike twice for the Hoosiers.
In a tight game with several great defensive plays from both sides, first baseman Lexie Black finally broke the ice and recorded a walk-off hit in extra innings to give Penn State a 2-1 victory over Indiana.
While the Nittany Lions took an early lead on No. 2 Nebraska the next day, the Cornhuskers pulled away in the fifth inning and came away with a 3-1 win to end the Penn State run in what was the closest game in the second round.
Despite the loss, the Nittany Lions' accomplishments from this season could lay the foundation for what could lead to great things for the softball program.
Crowell took over a team with little history of past success, and during her second season was able to make major noise in the Big Ten.
The season may not even be over yet for Penn State as it has been considered a potential bubble team to make this year's NCAA Tournament.
While a tournament appearance would just be icing on the cake for this season, the Nittany Lions find themselves in a great spot for the future.
All but two players on the starting lineup are underclassmen and Parshall is set to return for one more year.
While the past may not have been pretty for the program, Penn State now looks to have the right pieces and the right leader in place to help capitalize on one of the biggest one-year turnarounds in the sport and turn it into the new normal.
Logan Bourandas is a third-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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Third-Year / Broadcast Journalism