Penn State

Penn State softball defeats Nebraska, advances to semifinals

Penn State's Alyssa VanDerveer is congratulated by her teammates at home plate from her grand slam during the game against Nebraska in the Big Ten Softball tournament on Friday, May 13, 2016 at Beard Field.
Penn State's Alyssa VanDerveer is congratulated by her teammates at home plate from her grand slam during the game against Nebraska in the Big Ten Softball tournament on Friday, May 13, 2016 at Beard Field. adrey@centredaily.com

The pressure's certainly present.

Patrons in the stands and teammates in the dugout always think the same thing.

Will it happen?

Will she hit a grand slam?

Stepping into the batter's box with the bases loaded can be a daunting task.

But for Penn State's Alyssa VanDerveer, it's no problem at all.

"It's more like adrenaline," VanDerveer said. "I get really excited when I have bases loaded. It's a thing I look forward to."

That much was clear.

VanDerveer launched her first grand slam and 11th home run of the season, helping Penn State to an 8-7 win over Nebraska in Friday's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal game at Beard Field.

With the win, Penn State, the No. 4 seed, will face No. 1 seed Michigan at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Should the Nittany Lions (30-23, 15-9 Big Ten) win the semifinal, they'll play in the conference championship at 6 p.m. Saturday.

"I don't know if I've ever been more proud of this team than I am today," Penn State head coach Amanda Lehotak said.

VanDerveer's jolt over the right field wall opened things up offensively.

Through the first two-and-a-half innings, Penn State's Marlaina Laubach and Nebraska's Cassie McClure combined to allow only two hits.

But in the bottom of the third inning, McClure's control wavered. After recording the first out of the inning, the junior walked Macy Jones, Mollie Sorenson and Lexi Knief before facing VanDerveer.

McClure's first pitch to the Penn State power threat was fought off, a liner down the right-field line.

VanDerveer was on it.

Two pitches later, she hit one toward the Intramural Building.

"Alyssa is very good in that situation that we work all the time," Lehotak said. "She got the right pitch, didn't miss it, and we had a lot of fun."

McClure was pulled in favor of Kaylan Jablonski after the VanDerveer bomb, and Penn State wasn't kind to the reliever, either.

Facing her second batter, Jablonski surrendered a two-out, solo home run to Shelby Miller, her eighth of the season.

"When another pitcher comes out, we want to be ready to hit," Miller said. "First pitch, I was ready to hit. I swung and hit it, and it happened to over the fence."

Penn State snagged a 5-1 lead, and with a buzz surrounding the team, it looked like that'd carry them through the evening.

But like McClure before her, Laubach lost her touch in the fifth. The Northampton native walked in a run via hit by pitch and allowed a two-run single to Mattie Fowler.

After giving way to four runs (three earned) and three hits over 4 2/3 innings, Laubach's night was done.

With the score 5-4, freshman Madison Seifert came on in relief. At first, her team gave her a cushion, scoring three runs in the bottom of the fifth.

Things got tight in the sixth as the Huskers plated three to come within a run, but Seifert finished the game, retiring batters 1-2-3 to close out the conference quarterfinal.

Lehotak was proud of Seifert's poise.

"You never know how a freshman is going to handle that moment, and I thought she did a phenomenal job," the coach said. "In clutch situations, she's gotten us out of many of those situations this year...She handled her emotions really well."

After Seifert polished off the Cornhuskers, the Nittany Lions had a bit of a wait to see who their next opponent would be.

But instead of sticking around Beard Field and scouting intently, the Nittany Lions decided they should celebrate.

"I kind of feel like we should get ice cream," Lehotak pondered. "So yeah, we're going to check out some ice cream and work our way back.

"Hopefully there isn't a long line."

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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