By Mike Gilbert, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was a great week for head coach Amanda Lehotak's Penn State softball team. After going 4-1 this week, the Nittany Lions improved to 20-26 overall, and 6-11 in Big Ten conference play. It all started with a doubleheader sweep of Bucknell on Wednesday, and the squad carried that momentum into the weekend, taking two of three games from the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Blue and White Weekend.
Marlaina Laubach has become "old reliable" for Lehotak, tossing another complete game shutout in game one against Bucknell, something that has become the norm for the senior ace. But it was a redshirt sophomore who stole the show all week long. Rebecca Ziegler has certainly gained the respect of her coach.
"I don't know [if there's anything she can't do], and I don't want to find out," said Lehotak with a smile.
"Hopefully she keeps doing what she's doing. She had a great weekend and she's been building and being consistent, getting better and better every week, and I think she's really starting to get a deep understanding of the game... I'm very happy with Ziegler," added Lehotak.
Ziegler was the hero in game two against Bucknell Wednesday, driving in the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning with a single through the infield and going 3-4 in the game. That was only the beginning for Ziegler's heroic week. In game one of the weekend series against Rutgers, Ziegler blasted a rocket over the wall in dead centerfield to cut her team's deficit to just one run. She would go on to hit a triple in what would be a come-from-behind win, with the exclamation point put on by a Tori Dubois walk-off home run. After the game, Ziegler reflected on her solid performance at the dish.
"I just felt more in my zone, felt more relaxed. As long as I stay composed and stay within myself, that's when I get it done," said Ziegler.
Lehotak realizes she is fortunate to be able to have such a weapon batting leadoff.
"I think the leadoff spot in an offensive lineup is one of the most important parts so if you can have somebody that's a triple threat like her, speed, slap, hit a home run, hit doubles, she's just hard to defend," said Lehotak.
Saturday's game was the least dramatic, with Penn State cruising to a 7-0 victory during a busy day for Penn State athletics. Jessica Cummings did her best Marlaina Laubach impression, hurling a complete game shutout.
On Sunday, Ziegler decided she wanted to take home our player of the game honors for the second time this week, settling in in all facets of the game. Ziegler doubled over the head of the centerfielder in the second inning, ripped an RBI single in the fourth inning to put the Nittany Lions up 3-1, and made a phenomenal defensive play.
With a 4-2 lead in the top of the sixth inning, a Rutgers single looked like it would score a run. Ziegler had other ideas. Ziegler fielded the hit and fired from centerfield, throwing a laser right to catcher Mia Monopoli to gun down the potential crucial run.
Lehotak and her staff have really taken notice of the team's vastly improved play lately.
"I've told them a few times this year that they've impressed me in a lot of different areas, and their fight and their belief in one another is the most amazing thing that I've seen," said Lehotak.
That fight has allowed the Blue and White to be able to hit Lehotak's goal of winning each week, something they will try and repeat as the Big Ten tournament looms.
"We won the week. It's what we wanted to do, and tomorrow starts a new week. It's all about winning next week," said Lehotak.
Saint Francis University comes to town Wednesday night for an out of conference doubleheader beginning at 5 pm. Then, the club hits the road and travels to College Park for a three-game stint against Maryland, who is 2-12 in conference play this season with an overall record of 9-32-1. If Penn State can get the sweep, they can get closer to .500 in conference play this season, which would lift them to the upper half of the conference standings with just one more regular season series before the Big Ten conference tournament.