Nittany Lions Spoil Softball Home Opener

The Spartans and Nittany Lions faced off in a doubleheader Saturday afternoon at Secchia Stadium. The Spartans are 14-15 against Penn State at home and looked respond in a positive way after being swept by Nebraska the previous weekend.

Things did not start out well for the Spartans, as Kristina Zalewski gave up an early three-run home run, which put Penn State up 3-0. The Spartans responded quickly in the next two innings, thanks in part to a two-run homer off the bat of Sarah Gutknecht, which tied the game at four.

Zalewski has been prone to giving up some early runs and head coach Jacquie Joseph says that’s something that has to change if the Spartans want to win.

“Giving up three in the first inning has been a pattern for her,” Joseph said. “She’s struggled in the first inning and it’s cost us. I think Z is on the cusp of becoming a really good Big Ten pitcher, but for whatever reason were just not able to finish.”

After the early hiccup, Zalewski seemed to calm down, as Penn State was unable to push across runs in the fifth and sixth innings.

Penn State would enter the top of the seventh with a 5-4 lead over the Spartans, a lead in which they would look to extend in that inning. Mia Monopoli would give the Nittany Lions exactly what they were looking for, as she singled out to right field scoring two more runs.

After failing to score runs from the fourth inning on, the Spartans would fall to Penn State 7-4 in game one of the doubleheader.

Valerie Kaff found herself in the circle for game two, and again Penn State got that early lead, as they went up 1-0 after the top of the first.

The Spartans responded in a big way in the bottom half of the inning, driving six runs across the plate and chasing Penn State starting pitcher Marissa Diescher from the circle. Things were looking good early on for the Spartans, as they took a 6-1 lead into the second inning.

However, the lead was short-lived as Penn State responded with a huge seven-run third inning which chased Kaff from the circle. It was clear this one would be a slugfest, as Penn State took an 8-7 lead early on.

The back and forth game would continue on, as the Spartans would respond to that Nittany Lion lead in the bottom of the third as they drove three runs in and took a 10-8 lead.

Things quieted down a little in the fourth and fifth innings, as neither team was able to score any runs. That would change in the sixth, as Penn State would cut the Spartan lead to one. It would be 10-9 going into the final inning of game two.

Penn State center fielder Lexi Knief, who would represent the tying run, reached on an error and then would move over to second thanks to a sacrifice bunt by Mollie Sorenson. Things were looking all too familiar for the Spartans, who have allowed themselves to fall apart late in recent games.

Macy Jones would be the one to put the dagger in the Spartans’ back this time, when she launched a two-run shot to right field and gave Penn State an 11-10 lead.

Failing to find a spark in the bottom of the seventh, the Spartans would fall again to Penn State in game two by a final score of 11-10.

Joseph believes her team is full of talent and do not match the 0-5 record they currently hold in the Big Ten. However, they need to learn how to close out games because Big Ten teams always fight hard.

“In the Big Ten, nobody is going to stop playing,” Joseph said. “Give them (Penn State) credit, they out-hit us, they scored more runs than we did and they played better defense than we did. That’s what you expect in the Big Ten, nobody is going to roll over and we just stopped playing.”

The Spartans will look to avoid the sweep tomorrow as they take on Penn State from Secchia Stadium. First pitch is set for 1 p.m.

Photo: Hannah McEnroe/Impact Sports