UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Starting the season 0-6 in the Big Ten, few believed Penn State would achieve success in the conference. Nevertheless, after two strong away series, the Nittany Lions are proving they can and will compete.
Grabbing two wins from the three roads games against Indiana this weekend, the team once again stayed calm, collected, and focused during high-pressure situations.
The Lions' emerged victoriously in games one and two of the series, winning 4-1 and 2-1 respectively. The team's sole weekend loss came on Sunday afternoon during an extra innings battle in which it ultimately fell to the Hoosiers 8-7.
While Sunday's outcome was a huge disappointment to the team, as it snapped their 6-game winning streak, the Lions and head coach Amanda Lehotak were ecstatic about their overall weekend performance.
Lehotak attributes her team's recently elevated play to an increase in confidence, which she believes is highly important and beneficial in all aspects of the game. Additionally, the head coach felt the pitching staff "had probably the best weekend they've had all year" and felt all members of the team registered quality at-bats.
Sitting at 5-7 in the conference, Lehotak likes where her team is at right now, but what she likes even more is where they are headed.
"To me, it says the team is mentally tough, that they are resilient, and that they get the big picture," said Lehotak of the team's much improved Big Ten record. "Those first two weekends were arguably against the two best teams in the conference right now, and we knew we just had to get through that. We got through that, and we have a lot of winnable games coming up. We just felt resilient, and as long as we kept playing our game, we could compete with anybody. That's what they're doing, and they're crawling their way back into the Big Ten, so I'm happy for them."
Key to the Lions' climb back up the Big Ten standings is senior Kasie Hatfield. Batting .354, she constantly and consistently produces offensively for her team. This weekend was no different.
Hatfield went three-for-three in Friday's game, registering her first homerun of the year. She then followed her spectacular game one performance with two hits in both games two and three. Throughout the entirety of the weekend, the senior also drove in seven of the Nittany Lions' 13 total runs.
In addition to these impressive statistics, the Florida native also left a more permanent mark on Penn State softball.
Sunday afternoon, Hatfield recorded her 12th double of the season, which earns her recognition in the Penn State record books. She is now listed ninth on the single season doubles list.
"She was just Mrs. Clutch all weekend," said Lehotak with regards to Hatfield's performance. "I mean, every time she came up, you just felt she had an opportunity to get a hit and have a great at-bat, which is what she did. Her pitch selection was good. She was attacking early in the count. She just had a great weekend."
Although the Hoosiers' ran away with the Sunday afternoon win, the Lions are staying positive and confident in their playing abilities. Looking ahead, the team knows and fully understands that its schedule will be challenging, but this more favorable mindset and outlook will take them far against these future opponents.
"They have the belief that they can win, the belief they can compete with anybody, the belief that they can compete at a high level day in and day out," Lehotak said of the team. "I really think, hopefully, we just keep getting better and better."