Recently in Softball Category

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By Anna Pitingolo, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Madey Smith stepped foot on campus in the fall, she had no idea what she was about to be thrown into. A four-year letter winner at Warren Hills Regional High School in New Jersey, Smith came in highly touted but struggled in offseason workouts with the team.

"Coming in the fall, I struggled with our workouts, our conditioning, and everything so I think I've had a lot of mental progress from the fall to now," Smith said. "It's definitely helped me from the fall when I was struggling to now which I can get past and work through easier situations especially in the game or something like that."

After initially being surprised by Smith's struggles in August, head coach Amanda Lehotak has seen Smith make big strides since then. 

"Smith came in and it's not a secret that she was not ready in the fall, we were kind of like 'what happened to you over the summer?'" Lehotak said. "But I give that kid 100% credit because she zoned it in and she has worked her tail off."

That perseverance is exactly why Lehotak felt ready to give Smith her first starting nod this past weekend in the George Washington Capital Classic. Smith's first career start also turned in to her first complete game, in which she had a career-high eight strikeouts and only gave up three hits. 

"She has kind of been asking for the ball like and we were like 'you're not ready in practice, you need to do this, this and this' and every time we would give her a checklist she would hit it," Lehotak said. "So it was finally our time to be like 'okay, we have no more excuses on the coaching end to not give it to you.'"

Lehotak and company were pleasantly surprised with Smith's outing against GW, and so was Smith. She's been learning under veteran pitchers Marley Laubach and Maddie Seifert and has picked up one very important lesson from them: always compete.

"They've taught me to compete every inning and to never give up and just keep working as hard as you can because you're going to get your opportunity and that's exactly what happened [for me]," Smith said. 

Now that the opportunity has presented itself to Smith, it's her top priority to hold on to it, something that Lehotak preaches to her players.

"We always talk about in life when you get an opportunity you better keep it and she kept it," Lehotak said. "As of right now she's arguably our ace going into the weekend, so it'll be interesting to see how she handles Michigan at Michigan." 

Lehotak called Smith her hardest thrower on staff and, given that she's a freshman, when Smith is called upon in a game, she isn't overthinking or overanalyzing the moment­--it's just "get on the mound and compete."

"The greatest thing about freshmen is they can kind of bring the sense of being fearless because they don't know any better," Lehotak said. "And then she's very different because she's our hardest thrower so the ball kind of gets on you quickly. She has probably the best rise ball on staff and right now her curve ball is pretty amazing." 

Smith ended up at Penn State at her high school coach's insistence when the recruiting process began. During her first visit, she immediately thought it was "awesome," but didn't want to commit right away, especially since the coaches hadn't seen her play yet.

"As the fall went on, the coaches came and saw me so then I went and revisited Penn State to see if it was actually going to be my school," Smith said. "I went back and fell in love with it and I knew I was going to get a great education and I wanted to help the softball program, so it was a perfect fit."

As the Nittany Lions start the conference portion of the season this weekend in Ann Arbor, Smith is keeping a positive outlook moving forward. With assistant coach Sarah Sigrest, Laubach, and Seifert there to help her along the way, Smith is ready to go in the Big Ten.

"I'm just trying to keep calm going into the games and just having a good mindset and knowing that I can do it and knowing that my team has my back and just being confident always," Smith said. 

Penn State will play three games against the No. 19 Wolverines this weekend with the first pitch of game one set for Friday at 4 p.m.

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By Mike Gilbert, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Playing a college sport on the opposite side of the country with no family close by can be difficult for a student-athlete.  But for one Nittany Lion, the opportunity to return home and receive a hero's welcome last week allowed her journey to come full circle. 

 

Sam Shanahan is a native of Seattle, Washington, where the Penn State softball team played in the Husky Classic last Friday.  With a large softball alumni base in Washington, the alumni committee, including president of the Seattle alumni chapter Chrysty Laske, and vice president Elizabeth King, greeted the team with a warm welcome to say the least.  The girls had personalized signs waiting for them upon their arrival, and were able to enjoy plenty of experiences that the area had to offer during their visit.  In addition, the alumni presented the team with a sizeable donation. 

 

"It was the coolest experience ever.  It had been my dream ever since I committed to Penn State to play against the University of Washington just because I live less than a mile from the stadium.  So, being there in front of my family and friends was a dream come true," said Shanahan. 

 

The team didn't just play softball in Seattle; the trip was about much more.  On the first off-day, the squad headed on a duck tour of the Emerald City with alumni, followed by a family dinner at the Shanahan's house.

 

On the second off day, the girls had a golden opportunity:  a day in the famed space needle, followed by an alumni networking meet-and-greet event with alums working and living in the area.  The trip was not only designed to make the team better off the field, it also utilized Penn State's massive reach to try and help the team with their future careers as well. 

 

"[The Seattle chapter] made us feel at home.  They gave us an evening in the space needle... It was pretty phenomenal to have that love and support... It's something the girls will never forget," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. 

 

As for the games themselves, there was such a home-field advantage for the Blue & White that it felt like they were playing at Beard Field, not 2,500 plus miles away. 

 

"It was probably the first time all season that we felt like we had a home crowd because so many of the Penn Staters came out," said Lehotak. 

 

As for Shanahan, she enjoyed playing in front of familiar faces.

 

"At first, I was a little nervous.  My brother has never seen me play before so I'd better do well!  But once the game actually started, it was very calm and I was just very excited to be able to play."

 

Shanahan's mother and grandparents have seen her play at Penn State, but the rest of her family has not seen her play in person, until this past week.

 

"It's a far trip [to State College] and it's expensive," Shanahan said.  "Plus, all of my brothers and sisters are either in college or working, so it's very hard for them to get time off.  But to have them all there was very nice."

 

The Lions split their two games in the tournament, beating South Dakota but falling to the host Huskies.  Looking ahead, the Nittany Lions get set to take part in the George Washington Capital Classic this weekend, with two games apiece against both Niagara and George Washington. 

 

Win or lose, Shanahan and her teammates will be riding high after a productive trip both on the field and off.  

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By Anna Pitingolo, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Jess Cummings has been surrounded by softball her entire life. She is the middle child in a house of all girls, all of who played the sport growing up. Now in her junior year at Penn State, she's primed to have a breakout season under head coach Amanda Lehotak. 

"I think that's part of the reason why I love [the sport] so much. I always wanted to be just like my older sister [Danielle] and she was a pitcher so that's why I would say I pitch," Cummings said. "And my younger sister [Micaela] is a catcher and she's my best friend in the entire world and I think part of that has to do with softball. I'd throw to her every day, that's how we would spend time together so my sisters are my two best friends and it's because of softball."

Danielle and Micaela are also Division I softball players, with Danielle having played at Mount Saint Mary's from 2011-2015 and Micaela currently playing in her freshman season at Delaware State. 

Following in Danielle's footsteps as a pitcher has taught Cummings a lot. Both of them have battled through injury in their college career, and Cummings has learned about pushing through adversity. Even when not being able to contribute on the mound, Cummings made sure that she can be the best teammate possible, another thing she learned from her big sister. 

"She had a tough road too with some injuries so [I learned about] perseverance," Cummings said. "She was always a good teammate and had everyone's back and everyone wanted to be on a team with her whether she was their star pitcher or not and I think that has really inspired me to be the teammate that I've had to be through injury and everything like that." 

Cummings had a career outing against Cleveland State in last weekend's Chanticleer Showdown. She had a career-high nine strikeouts in a 9-0 win over the Vikings. Lehotak was thrilled to finally see Cumming reach her potential on the mound. 

"It was great to see her. She battled with injuries all of last year, so to see her healthy on the mound, ready to go, was exactly what we needed," Lehotak said. "Jess had a great game and really that's just her building on what she's done her freshman and sophomore years. It's just been so hit and miss because of her injury so I know she needed that."

Cummings currently has a 1.91 ERA in three appearances this season, including two starts. With the strong pitching staff that Penn State boasts this year, Cummings knows that it's always a competition to get to the mound.

"Obviously we all want to throw and everyone's working their butt off to throw but we're making each other better and just really having a blast together," Cummings said. "I don't think there's a lot of schools in the country that have that, where you can have good pitchers who still want the best for each other and I think that we definitely do right now and that's what is making us successful."

The Nittany Lions will travel across the country for the next week as they head to Colorado for the Colorado State Classic this weekend before facing Seattle at home in Washington.

 

12463569.jpegBy Mike Gilbert, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Last season, the softball program boasted a talented and experienced outfield, featuring seniors Lexi Knief, Erin Pond and Macy Jones.  This season, redshirt sophomore Rebecca Ziegler, in the midst of a four-game hitting streak, is picking up some of the slack.

Having sat out her freshman season due to injury, and backing up centerfielder Lexi Knief a year ago, head coach Amanda Lehotak knew Ziegler would be ready to go this year. 

"She's been outstanding for us.  I thought opening weekend, it didn't really show in the stat line, but she had a lot of quality at-bats.  So this weekend, to see them kind of finally fall for her, I was really pleased...Having that spark in the leadoff spot is exactly what we needed from her," said Lehotak. 

When you first meet Ziegler, you can see her passion for the game.  Lehotak sees it too.

"Ziegler just loves the game.  When you talk to her, she's just passionate about softball, baseball," Lehotak said.  "She can tell you baseball stats of who's doing what, so I think its just a perfect storm in the fact that she's finally physically healthy, and I think she's just having a really good time playing the game right now."

Where did Ziegler develop her love of the game of softball?  Part of that has to do with her family.  Her older brother, C.J., was a first baseman at the University of Arizona before playing professionally in the minor leagues.  Seeing him perform well on the diamond was where Ziegler got her fire. 

"Growing up around a baseball field, seeing him dominate on the field, really drove me to want to be as good as him," she said.  "He made me love this game, so watching him be such a force at the plate and on the field, that's who I aspired to be."

Now, playing for a Nittany Lion team heating up early on in the season, Ziegler can leave it all on the field manning the starting center field position.  Her effort can be seen during the week in practice behind the scenes and in the cage.

"As long as I swing as hard as I can in the cages, it translates onto the field...I just try to improve every single at bat and try and make it better than the last time," said Ziegler.

Ziegler also has bought into the team philosophy this season.

"This year's theme is staying within the tribe, being a tribe, so as long as we do that, we'll be ok," she said.

Ziegler and her teammates will be traveling to Conway, South Carolina to take part in the Chanticleer Showdown this weekend.  The squad will face off with Coastal Carolina, Campbell, Cleveland State and Morehead State, and Lehotak knows what needs to be done to continue the team's four-game win streak.

"Our defense needs to sustain and we need to keep doing a good job... Pitchers, were looking for them to attack," she said.  "There were a couple of situational areas this past weekend where we kind of got lucky, so making sure we fix that, and, offensively we have to do a better job of making adjustments earlier."

With that in mind, Ziegler and the Lions are trending upwards in the early stages of the season, especially in the eyes of Lehotak.

"The mixture of having our youth be really mature and our seniors having the 'been there, done that' mentality, I think it's been the perfect blend."

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By Anna Pitingolo, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is back on the road this weekend, this time in Atlanta where they'll take on Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the second annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

 

Teams are picked for the tournament based on the final standings from two seasons ago. The top eight teams in each conference are invited to compete, so after missing out on the tournament last year, Penn State is excited to use this as an opportunity to prove themselves in the Big Ten.

 

"It's the first step to be relevant in the Big Ten," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. "The qualifications go on RPI and in my first year, when they scheduled two years out, we did not qualify. But to know we're in the tournament for next year and even be a higher seed in the tournament based on last year, it's very exciting and it does show that we are now relevant."

 

On top of proving themselves in the conference, Lehotak is excited for the opportunity for her team to represent the Big Ten. And with postseason implications on the line, she's looking forward to the matchups going on around the conference.

 

"This is the first time we've qualified for it so that's really exciting for us. And it's a big weekend, it's a weekend that can separate the Big Ten from the ACC on Selection Show Sunday so really we just want to represent well and play good softball," Lehotak said.

 

Senior Shelby Miller, playing in this tournament for her first and only time, added to that sentiment, and has high hopes for Penn State.

 

"It's an honor to compete in this tournament because we get to go out and represent the Big Ten," Miller said. "I'm hoping, and I know, that we will do a good job representing the conference."

 

In last year's inaugural Challenge, the Big Ten finished with a 20-12 record. And for Penn State, after topping then-No. 4 LSU during opening weekend, Miller knows that in order to keep that momentum heading into the Challenge the team has to make sure their game is on point.

 

"In the LSU game, everything was on," Miller said. "The pitching was on, the hitting was on and our defense was on. It's just a matter of, in every game, having at least two of the three being on, because we can't just have defense or we can't just have pitching. We need to have at least two of the three to win."

 

Despite having a young team, Lehotak feels that her players have shown maturity so far, and that's helping them to fix mistakes from week one as they move forward.

 

"We really want to continue with the process. We had our ups and downs, and we know where we're weak," Lehotak said. "The team has high maturity in the sense that we don't have to convince them where we're strong and where we're weak, which is nice, we haven't had that. So for them to come back this week and really prepare for the ACC schools, I like our preparation and I like our mindset."

 

Penn State's first game of the tournament is on Friday versus Georgia Tech. First pitch is set for 3 p.m.

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By ANNA PITINGOLO, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State softball team is under a week from kicking off the 2017 season. After a successful season last year, the Nittany Lions are ready to get back on the diamond and pick up where they left off.

Season Starts on the Road
Opening Weekend will be in Baton Rouge, Louisiana this weekend when the Nittany Lions take on McNeese State, LSU and Oklahoma State in the LSU Tournament. After that, the team will continue to play in tournaments down south until the weather warms up in Happy Valley. 

While there are challenges of playing so many games on the road, the team isn't worried about it affecting them in any way.

"It's kind of fun actually, playing at somebody else's field is more like a challenge," senior Shelby Miller said. "You're not in your comfort zone and we do drills everyday [at practice] that make us uncomfortable so we're very used to being uncomfortable. Plus it's fun to see all the other cultures of the other schools and you gain respect for what they do." 

Sophomore Tori Dubois added that just because the team is away from Beard Field it doesn't mean they're not capable of playing their best game. 

"I think that being on the road for the first five weeks, everyone's like 'oh, you're on the road, the wear and tear of the travel and everything,' but we take that as a challenge," Dubois said. "Why can't we go and perform in their place and then we can prove ourselves there. We don't have to be home to win, we can go on the road and show everyone what we can do." 

Building off Last Season's Momentum
Penn State finished last season with a 30-24 (14-9 Big Ten) record, its first 30-win season since 2011, when that team finished with 31 wins. The team also finished in the top four in the Big Ten for the third time in program history.

Despite the impressive season, the team missed out on the NCAA Tournament and head coach Amanda Lehotak and company have only used that as motivation for this year. 

"It's absolutely a motivating factor. We've always talked about that we need to gain respect in the Big Ten first before we can gain it nationally," Lehotak said. "We felt we did that, finishing fourth in the Big Ten regular season, beating Nebraska [in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals] and finally starting slowly to chip away at Michigan [in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals], which was a big step for our program. So in terms of are we motivated? Absolutely." 

Competing with a Young Team
Lehotak lost seven seniors to graduation after last season, and replacing them will be no easy task. Macy Jones and Lexi Knief hit .398 and .356, respectively, and held down the outfield for the Nittany Lions.

Pair those losses with the transfer of catcher Alyssa VanDerveer, who hit .362, and Lehotak is going to need someone to fill in their shoes in the batter's box.

"All the seniors [last year], their senior year was when they really excelled, but the good thing is Shelby [Miller] returns and Tori [Dubois] was coming on strong at the end of the year so we expect our youth to step up," Lehotak said. "If they hit like they've been hitting in practice, we could potentially be better 1-9 than we've been, but it is hard to replace a Macy Jones and a Lexi Knief."

Despite having a young team, Lehotak is optimistic that her team's new look will translate into a more complete game on the field. 

"We're going to have a completely new look on the field. I think it's an exciting look, I think it's a more athletic look and I think we're deeper 1-20 than I think we've been since I've been here," Lehotak said.

Competitive Practices Driving Team Forward
Looking to improve upon last season, the coaching staff has been keeping the players on their toes each practice. Instead of sticking with a normal routine, the players are getting curveballs thrown at them each time they arrive for practice.

"Our coaches have really been switching it up every single day, giving us something new that we've never seen before," Miller said. "It's been really refreshing as a player because you go from doing the same thing a lot of the time with the same people and now it's completely different, you're with a new group, new girls, you've got so many new drills." 

Lehotak echoed the sentiment, adding that by getting into the rut of a routine, the team wasn't helping itself reach that next level of success.

"We talk about how we've been knocking on that door but we haven't really done anything yet, so the challenge this year, coaching staff included, is that we're going out of our comfort zone in every area," Lehotak said. "I love routine, but that also wasn't helping us get to the next stage so it's been all about that and it's been all about being uncomfortable." 

Playing Around a Complete Pitching Staff
At this point in time, Lehotak is most confident in her pitching staff, which has grown in the offseason, both in size and in talent.

"I think our pitching staff is probably the strongest part of our team right now in terms of complete consistency," Lehotak said. "Marlaina Laubach obviously has been our ace for four years and Maddie Seifert finished on a great year, so they're the one- and two-punch. The greatest thing about them is they set each other up really well."

After using a rotation of mainly Laubach and Seifert last year, Lehotak plans to incorporate other pitchers into the lineup to keep everyone fresh.

"You're going to see some kids that you didn't see much of last year. Maddie Shaffer has emerged as one of the most competitive pitchers on the staff in regards to what she can do off-speed. Madey Smith, a freshman, she gives a completely different look. And then Jess Cummings who has had some injuries for the past two years, is finally healthy, and she really changes the dynamic of our staff in a great way. I'm very excited about our entire pitching staff, which is really fun as a coach to say."

The Nittany Lions take the field for the first time this season on Friday at 1:30 p.m. against McNeese State.

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By ANNA PITINGOLO, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State ended its Big Ten Tournament run with a 6-1 loss against No. 2 ranked and top-seeded Michigan in the semifinals Saturday evening. 

Michigan jumped out to an early lead thanks to an RBI single from Kelsey Susalla, followed by a two-run homerun from Tera Blanco and a solo shot from Aidan Falk, all in the first inning. Despite the early hole, head coach Amanda Lehotak didn't feel like she had to be the one to motivate her team heading into the next frame.

"I didn't need to. This team is so seasoned that I didn't need to have any 'coach speak' with them," Lehotak said. "They knew exactly what they had to do. The way we run our system, the only thing we were focusing on was answering, so we were just trying to focus on the answer inning and move on to the next pitch."

The Nittany Lions weren't able to get a hit against the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Megan Betsa, who pitched the first 2.2 innings for Michigan. However, the Lions were able to get one earned run off of her in the third inning, when she walked four straight batters to score one.

Betsa had the bases loaded with catcher Alyssa VanDerveer up to bat, a scene reminiscent of Penn State's quarterfinal win when VanDerveer hit a grand slam in an almost identical situation.

With the fans loud and on their feet, VanDerveer almost played hero again, ripping a line drive down the sideline, but it fell just inches into foul territory. VanDerveer ultimately drew the walk to score Macy Jones from third base.

"We're in those situations so many times during practice, we really hammer situational awareness during practice," Lehotak said. "Coach [Joe] Guthrie's probably the best in the country, making sure our kids are used to that situation. I was just looking for a plus and looking to move 60 feet, and [VanDerveer's] the one you want in that situation, she's great, she loves that moment, so if we could do it again, I hope she's in that moment."

Lehotak pulled starting pitcher Marlaina Laubach before the start of the second inning in favor of freshman Maddie Seifert, who then finished out the game. Seifert earned the save in the quarterfinal game when she pitched 2.1 innings of relief for Laubach.

"It's everything [being able to get that production from a freshman]," Lehotak said. "Obviously, to be at the top of the country, you have to have great pitching, so for her to come in like that and consistently get better throughout the year is huge. I really think Seifert can be something special over her career, so hopefully that's just the starting block"

Taking Betsa out of the game early and keeping Big Ten Player of the Year Sierra Romero at bay were two big things Penn State was looking to accomplish, and they did.

"Our two goals were to take the Pitcher of the Year off the mound, which we did, and shut down the Player of the Year, which we did," Lehotak said. "I think both were 0-fors [Romero finished 0-for-4] so that was a goal. Those two, Betsa and Romero, are amazing athletes so for us to do that, it's a small victory and we feel really good about that."

Penn State is still hopeful that their season isn't over yet; Lehotak and her team are preparing for a possible spot in the postseason tournament.

"I'm secretly hoping it's not over yet, I still think we have a shot," Lehotak said. "I think we may be one of the last teams out, maybe the last teams in, depending what happens to our RPI and everything. I think we can make some noise in the NCAA if we got the chance, you never know, but I don't think anybody would want to play us right now with the way we're playing."

After the championship game on Saturday night, in which Minnesota defeated Michigan 4-3 in 10 innings, the All-Tournament team was announced. Shelby Miller and VanDerveer were both selected to the team for their efforts in both of Penn State's games. 

If Penn State doesn't make the tournament, they still finished the season at 30-24 overall (14-9 Big Ten). It's the first 30-win season since 2011, when the team finished with 31 wins. The team also finished in the top four of the conference, marking just the third time in program history to do so.

After playing all season feeling as if they weren't respected in their own conference, Lehotak finally feels that her team was able to get the message across that they're a force to be reckoned with. 

"I don't know how you don't respect us after this year and after how we played this weekend," Lehotak said. "I think that's for our peers in the Big Ten to decide, but coming in, we didn't feel respected at all, we felt we had something to prove all year. I feel that we've proved it, that we're here, to being the upper echelon in the Big Ten, that we can do it and we're very serious about it. By some handshakes I've received from coaches, I think they respect us now."

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By ANNA PITINGOLO, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- In front of a standing-room only crowd, the Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers 8-7 in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Big Ten Tournament on Friday night.

Sophomore catcher Alyssa VanDerveer got the Penn State offense rolling and sent the crowd into a frenzy when she put one over the right field fence with the bases loaded in the third inning. 

The grand slam, VanDerveer's fourth of her career, dug the Nittany Lions (30-23, 14-9 Big Ten) out of an early 1-0 hole after a Mattie Fowler RBI put Nebraska up in the first inning. 

"I was just looking for a pitch to hit into the outfield to even just score one run at that moment or even just a base hit up the middle," VanDerveer said. "I wasn't trying to do anything special but I happened to hit the ball hard and my teammates did a great job of getting on base before me, and I couldn't ask for anything else."

Despite preaching all season that she doesn't want her team to rely on the long ball, head coach Amanda Lehotak was happy with the way that VanDerveer handled herself in that situation.

"In that moment right there, we work on those situations all the time. I actually think our kids are very good in those situations," Lehotak said. "And that's what we reward in those moments, so Alyssa's very good in that situation that we work in all the time. I actually really trust all of our kids in that so she got the right pitch and she did something with it and it was a lot of fun."

After a Nebraska (33-19) pitching change, Shelby Miller hit a solo homerun on the first pitch she saw to extend the Penn State lead to 5-1 

"I just saw a good pitch and I hit it," said Miller, who was hitting sixth in the batting order, rather than her usual two spot. "When another pitcher comes out we want to be ready to hit, kind of shut them down, so first pitch I'm going to go hit and I swung and it happened to go over the fence."

Miller's homerun came after she had a slow start to the game, although it didn't last long. The junior had an error in the first inning, but shook it off and finished the game with seven assists to first base.

"After that, I knew I had to just do what I do and not be nervous, it's just another game," Miller said.

Nebraska kept the Nittany Lions on their toes in the second half of the game, scoring three runs in both the fifth and sixth innings.

Penn State battled back in the bottom half of the fifth inning to score three runs of its own, thanks to a Tori Dubois double and an Erin Pond single, both coming with runners already on base.

Nebraska was able to cut the lead down to one in the sixth with a three-run homerun from Kiki Stokes, but that was it for the Cornhuskers. With runners in scoring position, Penn State centerfielder Lexi Knief made a diving catch to end the inning and prevent Nebraska from tying up the game.

But even with the lead narrowed down to one, the Penn State defense was still keeping it loose on the field, and they weren't hiding it. During a timeout, the infielders not included in the meeting at the mound could be seen dancing to the music playing over the speakers. 

"It's who they are. When they're not having fun, then as a coach I know we're in big trouble," Lehotak said. "I think I have the best coaching staff in the country with Coach Si [Sarah Sigrest] and Coach [Joe] Guthrie and we believe strongly in our preparation, so our kids, to me, being willing to dance in a crucial moment during a timeout, I interpret that as a head coach that they know exactly what they need to do." 

With the win, Penn State advances to their first conference tournament semifinal since 2002, and their third semifinal overall. 

After the win, Coach Lehotak wasn't too worried about watching the next game against Indiana and Michigan in its entirety, the winner of which Penn State would be taking on in the semis [Michigan eventually won, 10-0]. She was ready to celebrate the win with her team at every Penn State student's favorite place: The Creamery.

"I kind of feel like we should get ice cream. I know a lot of teams when they come here and they play us they go get ice cream if they win and I love a victory cone so we're going to check out some ice cream and then we'll probably work our way back."

The Nittany Lions will take on the #1 seed Michigan in the second semifinal game on Saturday. First pitch is set for 3:30 p.m. 

VIDEO: Nittany Lion Softball Set to Host Big Ten Tournament

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the first time in program history, the Nittany Lion softball team will play host to the Big Ten Tournament.

Action on Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park begins on Thursday with four games. The Nittany Lions will play Friday (5:30 p.m.) after earning a bye as the tournament's No. 4 seed. Penn State has finished in the top four of the conference just three times prior to this season.

The Nittany Lions won five conference series en route to a 14-9 Big Ten record. Penn State tallied 13 wins at home this spring, including seven in conference games.

In all, 12 of the 14 teams will be in action at Nittany Lion Softball Park. The tournament will consist of 11 games, with each contest slated to air live on the Big Ten Network.

Penn State will meet either No. 5-seeded Nebraska or No. 12-seeded Purdue in its first game on Friday at 5:30 p.m. The Lions did not play either team during the regular season. Nebraska enters the tournament at 32-18 and ranked No. 32 in the RPI. The Boilermakers finished 27-27 in the regular season and are rated No. 83 in the RPI.

Big Ten Tournament Schedule
Thursday, May 12
12 p.m. - No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Rutgers
2:30 p.m. - No. 7 Illinois vs. No. 10 Michigan State
5:30 p.m. - No. 5 Nebraska vs. No. 11 Purdue
8 p.m. - No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 Indiana

Friday, May 13
12 p.m. - No. 3 Northwestern vs. Ohio State/Rutgers Winner
2:30 p.m. - No. 2 Minnesota vs. Illinois/Michigan State Winner
5:30 p.m. - No. 4 Penn State vs. Nebraska/Purdue Winner
8 p.m. - No. 1 Michigan vs. Wisconsin/Indiana Winner

Saturday, May 14
1 p.m. - Semifinal No. 1 (Friday game one winner vs. Friday game two winner)
3:30 p.m. - Semifinal No. 2 (Friday game three winner vs. Friday game four winner)
6 p.m. - Championship Game



GoPSUsports.com caught up with head coach Amanda Lehotak and senior Macy Jones to preview the Big Ten Tournament. Take a look.





Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony



By Mike Gilbert, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The job search is difficult for any student in college, especially one playing a Division I sport.  For the Penn State softball program that search has gotten a little easier, as Lee Beard and Elizabeth King have created a program to help current Nittany Lion softball players have future success in the real world. 

 

First, Lee Beard and her husband, William Beard, donated funding to create the brand new softball facility in October of 2009.  Now, Lee is positively affecting the futures of the players by donating her time. 

"The program that we've set up is really about providing networking, opportunities and some instruction, as well as mentoring for the softball team," said Beard. 

The idea was formulated by head coach Amanda Lehotak, who reached out to Beard and King last year in an effort to ensure future success for her student-athletes down the road.  Only less than a year from its conception, the program has already assisted many of the girls with gaining jobs and internships for this upcoming summer and beyond. 

Two seniors, Macy Jones and Christy Von Pusch, are going to be working at the same supply chain rotational program in North Carolina and will be roommates.  Senior Shannon Good will be attending Upstate Medical University in the fall.  Junior Sam Shanahan has accepted one of two offered internships in her home state of Washington at the University of Washington giving Sports Nutrition counseling to the student-athletes there.  Meanwhile, star pitcher and junior Marlaina Laubach has decided she will be working with children with autism, helping out in a special education program.

The program consists of frequent meetings about building LinkedIn profiles, resume workshops and etiquette dinners, among other things.  All of these skills are being taught by Lee and Elizabeth, who have extensive experience in the fields of banking and human resources.  

"Its been really helpful, the entire process, with both Elizabeth and Lee," said senior Reina Furuya, who is in the process of interviewing for her next step post-college.

"Elizabeth has been a successful VP with Starbucks for 18 years now.  Having that direct contact with her, learning her tips and [having them look] at our resumes and [having them] follow us through the entire process has been very helpful," she added.

King reflected on why she is lending a helping hand and why it is important for alumni to give back.

"When I was a student-athlete, there wasn't a program like this, and I think what has happened over the years is as the student part of the student-athlete has become more and more important.  Coaches like Coach Lehotak understand how critical it is to provide resources to the students to get them ready for after college."

The tradition that Beard and King have started with the softball program will likely spread to other Penn State sports, as the duo have also helped a Penn State swimmer better her skills during her interview process. 

Beard and King lending their time and effort to the softball team not only is helping the student-athletes themselves, but will also serve to help the community where these talented individuals will find themselves later on down the road. 



@GOPSUSPORTS

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