It was a tale of two games on a chilly Wednesday night when St. Francis visited Penn State at Beard Field in Nittany Lions Softball Park.
The Red Flash edged the Nittany Lions in the first game 5-4, but Penn State got its revenge in the nightcap with a 14-2 mercy rule victory in five innings.
“I was excited to see our emotional rebound in Game 2,” Nittany Lion coach Amanda Lehotak said. “In Game 1, we had our opportunities but we just couldn’t get the big hit at the end. I tip my hat to St. Francis. They had a great defensive scheme against us. That team is very well coached and fundamentally sound so we definitely didn’t overlook them.”
Lehotak couldn’t have been more right.
In the first game, St. Francis was down 1-0 but claimed the lead in the fourth inning thanks to a leadoff walk and three straight hits. Penn State rebounded in the bottom of the inning to tie it up at 2-2 with Mary Ward driving in Reina Furuya, who opened the inning with a walk.
The Red Flash didn’t give up.
In the fifth inning, Lindsey Reid opened with a single up the middle and advanced on a wild pitch during Taylor Parsons’ at bat. Parsons, a Bald Eagle Area graduate, hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field to score Reid. Kindra Witthus followed Parsons with a solo home run to center field to push St. Francis’ lead to 4-2. The Red Flash tacked another run on in the seventh.
When Penn State came to bat in the seventh, things got too close for comfort.
The Nittany Lions took advantage of a hit batter (Lexi Knief), a walk (Molly Sorenseon) and a hit (Shelby Miller) to load the bases with no outs. Macy Jones was hit by a pitch to allow Knief to score. Alyssa VanDerveer was then walked, allowing Sorenson to score, but that would be the closest Penn State would get as St. Francis relief pitcher Alexis Bower settled in and made three straight outs after giving up the runs.
“It was big,” Red Flash coach Jennifer Patrick Swift said, “especially when you got bases loaded with no outs. It’s easy for teams to fold under pressure. This is our fourth year in program so I think we’ve turned the corner so that we expect to win games like that under pressure.”
The Nittany Lions looked like a totally different team in Game 2.
“We talked about giving better effort in the second game,” Lehotak said. “We do better when we focus on giving great effort and keeping the game simple. I think we are trying to do too much right now because we are so frustrated. We had a couple diving plays and we played much harder.”
Penn State played much harder in the second game. The Nittany Lions tallied 14 runs in the third and fourth inning combined — with nine of those runs unearned in the fourth. The Red Flash gave up just three hits but made two errors in the fourth.
“We had all those runs in the fourth inning were all unearned,” Patrick Swift said. “Our pitcher threw a lot of ground balls and defensively we looked one step slower. They kind of exploited that.”
Following a walk and single from Furuya and Knief, respectively, in the third inning, Miller hit a two-run double. Jones smacked a two-run home run to right field and was followed by Alyssa VanDerveer’s moon shot over the left field wall to give Penn State a 5-1 lead.
“Jones is a tough out even with two strikes,” Lehotak said of her junior. “She is just competitive and I think she just gets stronger as the game goes on. VanDerveer has kind of been a freshman. Some weekends she’ll be hot and others she’s up and down. I love her maturity. Now, she is looking for her pitch and taking the walk. She is starting to become a hitter instead of a swinger.”
St. Francis didn’t look like it was going to give up thanks in part to Parsons, who cracked a run-scoring double to right field. The Red Flash were able to pull with 5-2 but that was it. Parsons finished the twinbill 1 for 5 with two RBIs and a double.
“Taylor Parsons has certainly been a staple and key at the leadoff position,” Patrick Swift said of her senior. “The number of RBIs she has had in the last two weeks has single-handly helped us win games.”
Taking the loss in the second game for the Red Flash was former Philipsburg-Osceola standout Chelsea Rex. Rex, who was making her first start of the year. She started out strong, retiring the first three batters she faced and gave up just one hit through two innings. But she was replaced in the third inning.
“Chelsea came out and threw great through two innings,” Patrick Swift said of Rex. “She then missed a spot here or there and defensively we didn’t help her either.”
Patrick Swift added about the Centre County pair: “They are two great kids and we are glad they are in Red Flash uniforms and not the Nittany Lion one.”