Penn State

Penn State softball extends winning streak to 11

Penn State pitcher Marlaina Laubach winds up for the pitch against St. Francis during Wednesday’s game at Beard Field. Penn State shut out St. Francis, 6-0 in the first game of a doubleheader. (For the CDT/Steve Manuel)
Penn State pitcher Marlaina Laubach winds up for the pitch against St. Francis during Wednesday’s game at Beard Field. Penn State shut out St. Francis, 6-0 in the first game of a doubleheader. (For the CDT/Steve Manuel)

It could just be a coincidence.

Or maybe not.

Maybe it’s a familiarity factor.

Perhaps it’s the soothing comfort of having Steve Aoki and Miley Cyrus as walk-up music.

It could be the one rather vocal fan sitting behind home plate, yelling “C’mon (insert name here)” before each Penn State batter.

Whatever it is, the Nittany Lions softball team can’t seem to lose at Beard Field — and Wednesday night was no exception.

Behind stellar starting pitchers and a few timely hits, Penn State kept its home winning streak alive, downing St. Francis in a doubleheader. The Nittany Lions (28-17) shut out the Red Flash (29-21) in the first game 6-0, and won 4-2 in the second.

The pair of victories stretched Penn State’s home unbeaten run to 11 games. The Nittany Lions’ last loss in their own confines came to Robert Morris on March 23, and since that defeat, they’ve outscored opponents 68-31.

Penn State head coach Amanda Lehotak said when she arrived in 2014, her and her coaching staff put an emphasis on winning at Beard Field.

“We were not very good at home two years ago when I took over, and from day one, we’ve talked about that,” Lehotak said. “We should not lose here ... especially when we only get 19 or so games at home per year, we have to dominate at home.”

And recently, that’s been the case.

Now, in the first part of the doubleheader, it took Penn State a little while to get going offensively. While it scored a first-inning run on a walk, the Nittany Lions were held without a hit through their first 11 batters.

That changed kind of dramatically, though, when Lexi Knief placed a looping liner down the left field line. Bouncing just inside the chalk, the ball found the wall, and Knief found third base for a triple.

The next pitch was a wild one, and Knief scored.

Oddly enough, that was Penn State’s only extra-base hit of the game, as it utilized a succession of line-drive singles to distance itself.

Erin Pond battled a 3-2 count to drive home Alyssa VanDerveer in the fifth inning, while RBI singles from Knief and Macy Jones coupled with a sac fly from Shelby Miller in the sixth gave Penn State its 6-0 advantage.

“Offensively, I liked our approach. ...We played disciplined, and our composure was really good,” Lehotak said.

But when the offense wasn’t rolling — and even when it was — Marlaina Laubach thrived in the circle.

The winning pitcher, Laubach tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing only five hits and striking out three. The junior’s record is now 11-8 with a team-high 2.70 ERA.

Mirroring Laubach’s outing was Madison Seifert in the nightcap.

The 6-foot-1 freshman cruised for the most part, throwing seven innings, striking out three, and surrendering three hits en route to her 11th win of the season.

She did give way to a two-run home run by Alexis Bower in the bottom of the sixth inning that shot off the bat and smacked the scoreboard out in left. But Seifert responded well, retiring four of the next six batters to close out the game.

“She hit it so far,” Seifert said smiling. “But that’s a part of the game ... just to get out with one home run, that’s pretty good against them.”

At the plate, Jones belted a home run, a true no-doubter over the right field wall on the first pitch of the bottom of the first. It was Jones’ 10th homer of the season.

In the third, Miller scored on a St. Francis error, and VanDerveer scored Knief on a sacrifice fly.

Penn State tacked on one more in the fifth when on a VanDerveer grounder.

It was enough to polish off yet another home victory, and, as a result, Lehotak feels confident moving forward, even considering the Nittany Lions’ next opponent.

Michigan, the No. 2 team in the country with a 38-4 record, visits Beard Field for a three-game series this weekend, starting at 6 p.m. Friday.

The Wolverines will certainly challenge Penn State’s now 11-game home winning streak, but the Nittany Lions’ coach said her team has “nothing to lose”.

“I know it’s like (trumpet noises) Michigan, you know,” Lehotak said. “The past two years we’ve been giving them coach-speak of like, ‘Oh, we can beat them.’ Trying to talk them up.

“But this is the first year we believe we can beat them.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9