Softball Drops Extra Inning Thriller to Northwestern
In a game full of offensive fireworks and many twists and turns, the Northwestern Wildcats (24-16, 8-5 Big Ten) prevailed to top the Penn State Nittany Lions (11-29, 2-13 Big Ten) 17-14, in an eight-inning thriller.
After Penn State starter Jordan Wheatley sent the Wildcats down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, Northwestern’s starter, Meghan Lamberth, ran into some control issues early on. After she hit the first batter and walked the next two, the Nittany Lions were quickly in business with the bases loaded and no one out. However, Lamberth managed to settle down and hold Penn State to just one run in the inning on a Reina Furuya RBI groundout.
With the Nittany Lions leading 1-0 in the bottom of the second, disaster struck for Northwestern. Penn State had its first two runners aboard, and Shannon Hutchinson laid down a sacrifice bunt to try to advance two runners into scoring position.
As third baseman Marisa Bast fielded the bunt, she thought about trying to throw out the lead runner at third, but after a long hesitation, decided to fire the ball over to second. She could have had the force-out, but the throw went wide and rolled all the way to the centerfield fence. All three runners, including the batter, easily came across to score on the play, as Bast’s throwing error enabled Penn State to jump out to a 4-0 advantage.
After the game, Penn State coach Robin Petrini said that although the play was an odd one, there wasn’t much that Northwestern could have done differently to prevent it.
“The responsibility of the middle infielders are to the corner bases, so the centerfielder has to cover second base, and if the ball gets by her, there’s no one home,” she said.
In the top of the third, Northwestern’s bats finally came alive against Wheatley. With the bases loaded and no one out, Mari Majam knocked in Northwestern’s first run of the game on a fielder’s choice, and Bast followed by blooping a single just over the head of the shortstop to make it 4-2. This prompted Petrini to remove Wheatley from the game, as she called upon Marissa Diescher to put out the fire.
Diescher looked to be in trouble after she walked the first batter she faced to fill the bases with one out. However, she responded by getting Anna Edwards to stare at strike three and by fanning Andrea DiPrima with high heat to tightrope out of the jam.
Just as the Nittany Lions looked like they would go down quietly in their half of the inning, with two outs and no one on base, Kasie Hatfield cranked a line drive just over the left field fence for her first round-tripper of the season, giving Penn State a 5-2 lead.
Diescher began the top of the fourth by walking three straight batters, and she was pulled from the game in favor of Rachel Myers. Myers retired the next two hitters and looked like she could see her way out of the inning.
With two outs and the bases still loaded, Bast hit one through the hole at short to bring home a pair of runs and make it 5-4. Next up was Amy Letourneau, and she crushed Myers’ pitch into the left-centerfield gap to knock in two more runs and give the Wildcats their first lead of the game.
However, Northwestern was not done quite yet. Edwards kept the rally going with an RBI double off of the left field fence to make it 7-5, and DiPrima finished off the six-run outburst with an RBI single to give the Wildcats an 8-5 lead.
Trailing for the first time, Penn State had an answer in the bottom of the fourth. Kailyn Johnson led off with a single, and Alyssa Sovereign reached as well after shortstop Anna Edwards lost a pop-up in the sun. Then, Reina Furuya made Northwestern pay for its defensive mistake by sending Kristen Wood’s pitch over the centerfield wall. The three-run homer was her third long ball of the season, and it knotted the score at 8.
In the top of the fifth, the roller coaster game continued with an emphatic response from the Wildcats. After the first two batters drew free passes off of Myers, Robin Petrini decided to call upon her ace, Macy Jones, who had thrown 88 pitches in last night’s 8-3 loss to the Wildcats.
“The plan was to try to see if our other pitchers could hold them down, but we knew that it may get to the point where we’d have to use her,” Petrini said.
Scharkey reached on a perfectly-placed bunt single to load the bases for Majam, and she delivered a single to left giving Northwestern the lead right back. Next, Bast popped one up to into very shallow left field, but shortstop Reina Furuya misplayed it and allowed it to drop. She still had a chance to get a force-out at the plate, but catcher Kasie Hatfield dropped Furuya’s throw, and Northwestern extended its lead to 10-8.
Letourneau singled to right to bring home another run, but Sovereign gunned down the runner trying to score from second to keep the score at 11-8. After another run crossed the plate on a passed ball, Northwestern possessed its largest lead of the game at 12-8.
Although, Penn State would not go down without a battle. With two runners on and one out, Sovereign drove a Sammy Albanese pitch off the top of the right field fence for a two-run double, cutting the Nittany Lion deficit in half.
Northwestern tacked on another run in the top of the sixth when Jones had trouble handling a grounder hit right back at her that could have ended the inning. The pitcher’s throw bounced away from the first baseman, giving Brianna LeBeau enough time to come around and score from second to make it 13-10 Wildcats.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth frame, Jones atoned for her fielding mishap when she pulled a pitch just inside the right field line for a 2-out RBI double. Then, with runners on second and third and Penn State trailing 13-11, Johnson came through under pressure by smoking a double into the right-centerfield gap to tie the score at 13.
After the game, Johnson spoke about her mindset throughout that crucial at-bat.
“I really didn’t think of anyone on base, I just wanted to put it into play,” she said. “I was making good contact, and I was seeing the ball well.”
Sovereign stepped up to the plate next, and she lined a Letorneau pitch past the outstretched glove of the first baseman and into right field for a base hit. Johnson raced around from second to score, and the Nittany Lions’ four-run sixth inning gave them a 14-13 lead as they headed into the final frame.
The first batter in the top of the seventh was hit by a pitch, but Jones responded to retire the next two hitters. However, with the Wildcats down to their last out, DiPrima delivered a clutch double into the left-centerfield gap. Bast was waved home from first, and the relay throw from Furuya was on target, but Bast narrowly managed to avert Hatfield’s tag to slide home with the game-tying run.
The Nittany Lions scored in each of the game’s first six innings, but needing just a single run to walk off with a victory, they went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh to send the game to extras.
It didn’t take Northwestern long to break the tie in the top of the eighth. After Jones surrendered a leadoff walk, Olivia Duehr doubled to put runners on second and third. Next, Scharkey drove a pitch off the top of the right field fence and pulled into third with a go-ahead two-run triple. Majam knocked her in with a sac fly, and the Wildcats took a 17-14 lead into the bottom of the eighth.
There wasn’t enough magic left in Penn State’s bats, as Letorneau finished off the Nittany Lions in the eighth to give Northwestern its fourth straight win. Not only did Letorneau pick up the win on the mound, but she also went 4-for-5 at the plate with two doubles and four RBIs.
Johnson was 3-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored for the Nittany Lions, who were dealt their third consecutive loss.
Though crushing defeats like this one often take a lot out of a team, Penn State won’t have much time to recover.
“They have no choice; they have to get right back out there tomorrow and play again,” Petrini said.
The Wildcats will go for the sweep of the Nittany Lions at 1 p.m. tomorrow afternoon, a game that can be heard right here on ComRadio.
Bradford Conners is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.