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Confidence Drives Doubleheader Sweep of Bucknell

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Team_9935420.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Riding the hot bat of freshman Shelby Miller, the Nittany Lions (14-23, 5-7 Big Ten) swept intrastate rival Bucknell (15-20, 7-5 Patriot League) in Wednesday evening's doubleheader at Beard Field, 6-3 and 10-5. After a slow start to the season, Penn State has now won eight of its last nine games.

"We know we can win now," said Miller. "We've seen that we can do it, and we're doing it."

In Game one of the doubleheader, Penn State used a complete game performance by Marlaina Laubach to lead the Nittany Lions to a 6-3 win.

Laubach went the distance, throwing 118 pitches, while allowing three runs, two earned. The 5-foot-8 right-handed freshman walked just one batter and tied a season-high with six strikeouts. She improved to 9-10 on the season and recorded her eighth complete game of the year.

"We're much more confident as a staff," said Laubach. "We all have a lot more confidence in one another. When I'm on the mound, I go out and try to act the most confident that I can."

On the offensive front, the Nittany Lions scored in all but one inning in the first game.

Batting seventh, Miller was a perfect 3-for-3 at the dish, driving in one run and scoring another.

"We're kind of protecting her [Miller] down there," said first-year head coach Amanda Lehotak. "She's getting better pitches. She's kind of our second leadoff to get that bottom of the order sparked again."

The Blue and White carried the momentum into game two of the doubleheader, jumping out to a 9-0 lead after just two innings of play.

"Game two we attacked early, which was exactly what we wanted," said Lehotak. "The top of the order really came out and followed the game plan to a 'T' and when we do that we can put up 10 runs."

Like the first game, Miller was a big reason why Penn State was so dominant offensively against the Bison. The second baseman went 2-for-3 with a triple and four runs batted in.

"I was just seeing it, and my biggest goal today was just, and every time I go up to bat, was just to relax," said Miller. "Just take a couple deep breaths, go up there, and do what I need to do."

Unlike the first game, however, the Nittany Lions used a trio of pitchers to get past Bucknell. Christy Von Pusch, Marissa Diescher and Macy Jones took to the mound to combine to give up five runs, three earned, on seven hits, five walks and six strikeouts.

Looking ahead, the Nittany Lions host Big Ten foe Wisconsin this weekend for a three-game series. Nevertheless, according to Lehotak, adjustments will need to be made to get past the aggressive Badgers.

"Bottom of the order has to get on," said Lehotak. "We have a couple big holes. We have to take care of the ball defensively. Wisconsin is very aggressive. They are very top heavy in the top of the order, batting average, numbers-wise. They swing hard, and they're going to come right after us. Our pitching is going to have to hit their spots. We have to keep limiting our walks."

Nittany Lions Begin to Climb Big Ten Standings

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Hatfield_9925297.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

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."

Knief Focuses on Team Performance and Future

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kniwf)9912956.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Although being recognized as the Big Ten Player of the Week is a tremendous achievement, it's not the main focus of sophomore Lexi Knief, who is more concerned with her team and the future of Penn State softball.

"It's really humbling to be recognized by the Big Ten Conference, but I think the most important thing this week was winning the games and getting our groove back," Knief said.

The sophomore is coming off a spectacular week in which she went 10-for-18 at the plate in five games, registering three extra-base hits.  Additionally, Knief leads the Nittany Lions this season in a number of statistical categories including batting average, runs, hits, triples, and on-base percentage.

While her award, which is the first Big Ten Player of the Week recognition of her career, is an incredible accomplishment, Knief was quick to credit her teammates, as was her coach, Amanda Lehotak.

"I'm just happy for her and the team," Lehotak said.  "I always tell them that no one gets recognized without everybody.  I think it's a great representation of the program and where we're going as a program.  I'm happy for Lexi because her work ethic from day one has been exactly what we demand and what we expect.  It's always fun when your kids get that honor and to see the smile on their faces."

"I loved her response," added Lehotak.  "I called her and congratulated her, and her response was, 'Yeah, but we've got to sweep Indiana.'"

This week is not the first time the Nittany Lions have seen impressive contributions from Knief.  She has been a driving-force for the team all season long and has even been dubbed the team's "biggest competitor" by her coach.

This competitive nature has been driven into the centerfielder since the start of her playing career.  Beginning with her Red Sox T-ball team, which was coached by her mom, Knief has been proving her dedicated to the sport for years.

When it came time to play collegiately, it took only one visit for Knief to decide her future.

"Penn State is only four hours from my house, and Coach Petrini and Coach McIntyre were recruiting me," said the sophomore.  "They were like, 'Just come out for a visit.'  I came out, and once I stepped foot on the campus, I knew I wanted to come here."

This season, Knief has truly demonstrated that she is never willing to give up.  Even when dropping down in the count, the centerfielder shows the opposition's defense that she is and will always be a tough out.

"I'm just really calm at the plate," Knief said.  "I go in with the mentality that I'm better than the pitcher, and I just stay in sequence."

The sophomore's spectacular performances throughout the past five games have also been a key piece to the Lions' four-game winning streak.  These wins have enabled a new, far more confident team to emerge.

While Lehotak is quick to admit these wins were not all pretty, it is safe to say Penn State is headed in a positive direction.  With the pressure to win its first Big Ten games evaporated, the team can now focus on growth and improvement.

"I definitely think confidence will help," said Lehotak.  "Now the monkey is off their back.  I kept telling them, 'The strongest part of your schedule is over with.  You know, they're beating everybody.'  Now, that fighter mentality is starting to come out in them, and I think they see that they can do it.  They know that they can do it.  I expect them to just keep building."

As far as improvements are concerned, Lehotak still feels the team can make adjustments in the area of pitching.  Nevertheless, she also recognizes the progress that has been made since the beginning of the season.

"They're making strides, and they're learning," said Lehotak of the team's pitching staff.  "Even though I've been picking on them in some statistical categories, they are getting better.  This team is just a bunch of fighters.  They're not quitters, and they want it."

Headed to Indiana this weekend, the team, including Knief, is looking to continue its success.  The Hoosiers have posted an 11-27-1 overall record so far this season, going 3-8 in the Big Ten conference.  With the Lions' 3-6 conference record, competition is sure to be high.

"We have to just continuing putting pressure on their defense, and our pitching staff did a great job last weekend," Knief said.  "If they can go out and do the same thing in Indiana, we'll be golden."

Lions' Trip to East Lansing a Sweeping Success

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Laubach_9901213.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Headed into the weekend, the Nittany Lions knew the importance of their series against Michigan State.  Looking for its first conference win, the team buckled down, dug deep, and played hard, all of which garnered exceptional results.  At the conclusion of the three games, not only did Penn State softball earn its first Big Ten win, but the team also successfully completed a sweep of the Spartans.

From offense to defense, hitting to pitching, the Lions saw results from a number of student-athletes, all of whom contributed to the four-game winning streak.  Penn State overtook the Spartans on Friday by a score of 9-3, on Saturday by a score of 7-3, and on Sunday by a score of 6-0.

These types of results and dominant play are exactly what head coach Amanda Lehotak wants to see and expects to see from her team at this point in the season.

"For awhile we've been talking about how we have not had timely hitting, and we finally had timely hitting in all three games," said Lehotak.  "We had different people step up.  The bottom of our order was getting on, and the top of our order was sticking with the game plan and able to come through." 

One Lion in particular who really stepped up and demonstrated her dominance at the plate was sophomore Lexi Knief, who has been a very consistent figure for the Lions this season.  During Sunday afternoon's game alone, the outfielder registered a double, a triple, and her first collegiate homerun.

Knief, who leads the team in batting with a .392 average, wanted nothing more than to put pressure on the Spartans' defense throughout the weekend and waited patiently for the right pitches to come her way, a plan that truly worked to her advantage. 

"When I got into the box, the pitcher was throwing me inside," said Knief of her homerun at-bat.  "I got a little bit off of the plate, and then when I hit it, I didn't think it was going over.  Then I saw it go over, and I was just happy for another run for our team."

The sophomore's competitive nature and impressive results were highly important to the team's success, a fact that did not go unnoticed by her coach.  Knief remained calm at all times, giving herself the best chances to assist her team.

"She was so fun to watch this weekend," said Lehotak of Knief.  "Lexi really just was a competitor all weekend.  Nothing really got her down.  Even when she got down in the count, she was aggressive when she needed to be aggressive, and she was patient when she needed to be patient.  She was just on fire all weekend, which was really great to see and really fun to watch."

While offense was one piece of the puzzle, another large part was the Penn State pitching staff, which came out strong and ready to fight. 

Freshman Marlaina Laubach made two appearances in the series, going 2-0 by pitching a complete, seven-inning game on Friday and closing out the Lions' shutout on Sunday. In her 12-innings this weekend, Laubach allowed only three runs, bringing her ERA down to a 3.70, the lowest on the team.

"I felt pretty good coming out," said Laubach.  "I think being able to get out on the field against another Big Ten school really enhances the sense of competition.  It's a big game, and being able to come out and throw as well as I did, and as well as the rest of the pitching staff did, it's very exciting.  The wins on top of that are great too."

These desirable results and weekend sweep did not come easy for this Penn State squad.  The student-athletes demonstrated their resiliency, especially in Saturday's game, and showed just how determined and competitive they can be in tough, mental situations.  This team quality is something their coach is highly impressed by every time they take the field.

"I really admire their resiliency," said Lehotak.  "Going 0-6 in conference to come back and go 3-6.  They are never giving up, and they're getting better in different areas of the game constantly.  They want to turn this program around, and they want to be top of the conference.  They're fighters, and they're playing like it, they're practicing like it, and they're working at it."

The away wins really helped change the mindset for the Penn State student-athletes, as the victories alleviated a great deal of pressure and formed a great deal of confidence.

"Obviously getting our first Big Ten win and getting a Big Ten sweep, that's a big deal," said Laubach.  "I think as a pitching staff, we're all very excited about it, and as a team we're excited about it too."

"I definitely think this give us and the rest of the team the confidence we needed in order to finish out the season," Laubach added.  "This series definitely is a game-changer for Penn State softball, and I think it's going to help us grow as a team."


Nittany Lions Take Positives from Michigan Series

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By Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Stepping up to the plate Saturday afternoon, sophomore Karlie Habitz had one thing on her mind.  Down 12-0 in the bottom of the fifth, the catcher knew she needed to help her team produce offensively, and for the second day in a row, Habitz successfully broke up a Michigan no-hitter.

With Habitz's late hit, the Lions' first run of the weekend was recorded, sparking a small rally.  Both Alyssa Sovereign and Shelby Miller connected with pitches following Habitz's success, driving in three additional runs.  Despite their best efforts, the Lions ultimately dropped the third and final game of the series, falling by a final score of 12-4.

"I just feel that should have happened a lot earlier," said Habitz of the team's rally.  "Our team has potential.  We can do it.  We just need to believe we can do it, and I feel like it just was time for someone to actually step up and show them that we can."

Habitz is now batting .351 on the season, acting as an offensive leader for her team.  Although the sophomore ended no-hitters both days of the series, she was quick to shift all focus back to her team, expressing the importance of stepping up when in tough, difficult hitting situations.

"She kept jamming us," said Habitz of Wolverine pitcher Haylie Wagner.  "That's her pitch.  Her go to is the curve on righties and screw away for the lefties.  We were expecting to see her most this weekend, so we practiced that all weekend, but she's good."

With the four-run final inning on Saturday came noticeable improvement from both games of Friday's double-header, where the Lions were held scoreless.  Head coach Amanda Lehotak gave much of this credit to Michigan's team, which she feels is under ranked and deserving of a spot in the top three.

Regardless of the skill of the Wolverines, Lehotak believes her team could have done a better job of executing routine plays.  Pressure situations and youth have played major roles this season, but the team's potential and resiliency is apparent.

 "I told the team yesterday, if you lose 22-0 or 1-0, you still lost," said Lehotak.  "It doesn't really matter.  Life punches you in the face, and it's about how you're going to deal with adversity.  To me it's a life lesson.  You can crawl in a hole and die and be embarrassed, or you can come back and crawl and fight and respect the game and respect Penn State."

Moving forward, the Nittany Lions will focus on the maturation of their younger student-athletes.  Lehotak fully believes a number of the team's struggles can be attributed to its overall inexperience.  For instance, both Penn State's second baseman and third baseman are freshman, which highlights the unseasoned nature of the team.

"I really think today honestly was youth," said Lehotak.  "You've got a shortstop who's never played shortstop before.  You have a freshman third baseman who's never seen balls hit like that before.  I think they got mental, and I think they got a little shell shocked to be honest."

The Nittany Lions will shake off this past weekend, focusing and preparing for their next games against Saint Francis (Pa.) on Wednesday night at Beard Field.  The first of two games in the double-header will begin at 5 p.m. and the second game is set to begin at 7 p.m.

Habitz's Play Key for Nittany Lions Moving Forward

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Habitz_9867541.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Every time sophomore catcher Karlie Habitz is at the plate, whether it be to bat or to assist her team defensively, the Nittany Lions know they can rely on her to give them their best chance at success.

Habitz's improvements from last season offensively are undeniable.  She has started in all 24 games this season and is maintaining a .333 batting average, an obvious increase from her 2013 season .210 average.  Additionally, the sophomore leads the team in both homeruns and slugging.

"You've got to have some of those horses in the lineup, and I wish we had a couple more Karlies to be honest," said head coach Amanda Lehotak.  "It would help tremendously.  She has been very consistent.  I think statistically, she is averaging an RBI a game, which is almost impossible.  That's a phenomenal stat that us coaches look at.  That means she's just handling pressure situations well."

The catcher attributes her offensive production to her extra work this past fall.  She practiced hitting and various batting techniques two or three times daily and is now reaping the benefits of her dedication.

Habitz has also helped the team in numerous ways defensively and has thrown out a total of four base stealers this season.  The sophomore believes her loud and vocal personality is a major asset to the Lions, explaining that her "voice carries and brings energy to the team."  Even with these positive additions to the defense, Habitz feels her main role is to calm the pitchers in pressure situations, which in turn leads to better fielding.

"As a catcher, I always just try to talk to my pitchers and make them feel comfortable," said Habitz.  "I let them know, 'Hey, we have your back.  Just work low in the zones, get ground balls, and let our defense play.'  I mean, I just go out there and try to make them feel as comfortable as possible, especially in uncomfortable situations."

Although Habitz has had great success as a catcher and in her softball career, she admits she started playing a bit later than most.

"Everyone else around me knew what they were doing, knew how to play," said Habitz.  "They put me in the outfield, and I was catching butterflies, not even paying attention during the game, facing the opposite direction."

As a result, Habitz became catcher, an attempt by her coaches to increase her overall focus.  The switch has worked to her advantage, and catching is now one of her favorite things to do.

Lehotak is very impressed with the sophomore's athletic growth since the fall and truly enjoys coaching her.

"She's a fun kid to coach for the fact that you can really ride her hard, and she gets that it's just about making her better," said Lehotak.  "She doesn't take it personally, and she's that kind of kid too that riding her, you don't have to prove that you're right, which is nice."

Lehotak also commends Habitz's abilities to adapt and adjust offensively in a short period of time.  Habitz is willing to recognize her weaknesses and constantly works toward improvement.  Lehotak believes this extra effort can be partially attributed to the addition of freshman infielder Kristina Brackpool to the team.

Habitz and Brackpool both grew up playing together in California and are close family friends.  Their coach labels them as very sister-like and thinks the two really work off of one another.

"Actually, I think as much as Karlie has helped KB [Brackpool] grow up and figure out the speed of the game at this level, KB has helped Karlie work harder," said Lehotak.  "They kind of hold one another accountable."

Coming from California, both Habitz and Brackpool miss the warm weather and the playing conditions their home state has to offer.  Nevertheless, the Penn State cold is not a major factor that affects their play.

"It's a lot warmer [in California]," said Habitz.  "That's for sure.  For Kristina and I, we don't really care about outside elements.  We just focus on one thing, playing ball and having fun.  It's the same game.  Everyone plays it hard.  Everyone plays with heart."

As far as the future is concerned, Lehotak believes Habitz will continue to grow as a batter and as a catcher.  There are aspects of the game both offensively and defensively the sophomore needs to work on, but Habitz's success will never come as a surprise to her coach.

"We just want to have her quality at bats keep growing by putting the ball in play, getting six pitches or more at bat, and just really being competitive," said Lehotak.  "I just want her to keep being competitive offensively, and that will turn into success."

Nittany Lions Look to Regroup Following Tough Weekend

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Jones_9855037.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After dropping all three games of their weekend series with Purdue, the Nittany Lions are looking to regroup, move forward, and learn from the mistakes they made.

While the team struggled in many areas, most notably pitching, there were a number of positive aspects it can take away from the losses.  For instance, Penn State saw an increase in offense from some of its more unlikely candidates and also made some superb defensive plays.

"A positive thing would actually be our offense," said head coach Amanda Lehotak when reflecting on the weekend.  "Some of the kids that have not been hitting well, like Reina, Sovereign, were really starting to compete in the box again.  Finally we had a couple innings where we put more than one run up on the scoreboard in one inning."

Another major offensive power for the Nittany Lions this weekend was sophomore Lexi Knief, who is consistently battling at the plate for her team.  She was responsible for two of the Lions' four runs during the second game of Saturday's double-header.  Additionally, Knief acted as a positive energy for the team, especially when it was struggling most.

"I just wanted to stay up for the team," said Knief.  "The people in the dugout were staying up for us that were out playing defense.  I just thought we should stay up for them too."

With regards to defense, Lehotak believed these games against Purdue were the best outings for the team's outfield so far this season.  The team made a few spectacular defensive plays, one of which was an impressive grab by sophomore outfielder Macy Jones.  The catch helped highlight some of the team's strengths, giving fans a glimmer of the type of plays the Lions are capable of making and hope to make more often moving forward.

"I don't know if we can send that to ESPN, but I think that would make the top ten plays," said Lehotak of the Jones catch.  "We work on creating space and having your teammate's back all the time.  She did it beautifully."

Nevertheless, despite the team's best efforts, it was unable to recover from Purdue's offense and the large run deficits that were present in each of the three games.  The Lions fell to the Boilermakers by scores of 10-3, 9-2, and 13-4.

All four Penn State pitchers made appearances this weekend, giving up a total of six homeruns throughout the course of the series.  Currently, pitching is the coaching staffs' main focus as it is such a vital piece contributing to the outcome of the game.

"I think we struggled as a staff a little bit," said freshman pitcher Marlaina Laubach, who made two starts and had three total appearances.  "We definitely could have done better all around."

"Offensively, they did what they could to help us," Laubach added.  "In the end, we just need to pull together a little bit more."

Lehotak agreed with Laubach's remarks and identified pitching as the team's biggest weakness right now.  The major issues include walking batters and the inability to get ahead in the count.  In other words, the four pitchers are almost always pitching from behind.

"Our pitching is putting us in such a hole, and they're taking momentum away from our offense," said Lehotak.  "We had 11 walks yesterday.  We're walking today.  We can't get ahead in the count.  We're within one or two runs in the seventh, and then we're walking the leadoff batter.  We as a staff, we have to reevaluate what we're doing wrong to put our team in a better position to win.  At this point, I'll just blame us coaches.  Us coaches have to be better I guess."

While the Nittany Lions have a lot to work on, a large portion of their problems can be blamed on inexperience.  Thirteen of the team's 19 student-athletes are underclassmen, meaning this is the first time a majority of these individuals are being exposed to a variety of pressure situations.

"I actually think this is a sign of youth since most of our kids didn't get a lot of playing time last year," said Lehotak.  "They get big in that moment.  When you're senior-class heavy, they kind of teach the younger ones, but we have so many kids that are in rolls that they've never been in. 

"They're just having a hard time relaxing.  They're attacking pitches they don't normally attack.  They're getting big where they don't normally get big in non-pressure situations.  We just have to keep getting better and keep getting better.  We as a staff, we just have to go back to the drawing board tonight."



Nittany Lions Ready for Home Opener, Big Ten Play

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By Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After traveling to Arizona, Louisiana, Virginia, and Florida twice over the past month, Penn State is finally returning to Beard Field to play its home opener, as well as its first Big Ten game of the season.

After such a hectic travel schedule to start 2014, the Nittany Lions are more than excited to play on their own field and at their own school.  Sophomore Lexi Knief reiterated this idea, expressing her desire to finally see Penn State fans in the crowd and experience the home atmosphere.

"Travel has been crazy this year," said Knief.  "I'm ready to get out on our field and see all the fans that are out here ready to come see the new team.  It'll be really nice to be home because we get to sleep in our own bed and do our own routine.  It's nice and relaxing when we get to play at home."

Sophomore Christy Von Pusch agreed with Knief's remarks and even listed a few more team benefits that go along with competing in State College.

"Adding on to what Lexi said, pregame is a lot better when we're at home," said Von Pusch.  "We can hang out in the locker room before, and then we come out and have our music going.  It's just a lot of fun."

Both Knief and Von Pusch will be key contributors during this weekend's Big Ten series against Purdue.  Knief is currently batting .381, which is the second-highest average among the Penn State squad. The centerfielder also has a perfect fielding percentage so far this season.

Additionally, this past weekend Von Pusch pitched a seven-inning shutout against Yale, allowing only one hit throughout the entirety of the game.  Her superb outing helped the team snap a 10-game losing streak, and the sophomore now has a 1-1 record on the season.

With the start of conference play comes a whole new level of determination and grit.  Penn State hopes to use to this new competitive edge to its advantage and has been preparing for Purdue's team all week.

"Big Ten play is definitely a different atmosphere because we play the same teams every year," said Von Pusch.  "We know them, study them.  It's a lot of fun, and our coach always says that anything can happen in conference."

Coming into this weekend's series, Purdue is riding a three-game winning streak.  The Boilers have posted a 13-16-1 record so far this season and are 2-5-1 when away.  Last season, the Lions and Boilers split their two-game series.  Penn State won the first game, and Purdue emerged victoriously in the second.

"Purdue is a great team," said Knief.  "They have a lot of wins on the season.  We're just looking to compete for seven innings.  Win or lose, we're just here to compete."

As far as pitching is concerned, Von Pusch explained the Lions will continue to play to the best of their abilities, stressing that the entire pitching staff is prepared for this conference match-up.

"We're just going to focus on playing our game, and if we do all the things we need to do, it will take care of itself," said Von Pusch.  "I think the pitchers and the staff in general are ready to come out this weekend and pitch on our mound, at home, which we think is the best mound in the Big Ten.  We're just excited to compete for a full seven innings."

The Lions will begin their series with the Boilers at Beard Field at 6 p.m. Friday evening.  The two teams will meet again at 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon and will conclude their play with a final game at 1 p.m. on Sunday.


Time Off Benefits the Nittany Lions

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Hatfield_9814346.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With a weekend off from games, the Nittany Lions have been able to recollect, refocus, and prepare themselves both mentally and physically for the next portion of their season.

For the only time this spring, the Lions enjoyed a weekend break from games.  The time off came right before the Michele Smith Spring Break Tournament, which is the final tournament the team will compete in before the start of Big Ten conference play later this month.

 "I think it's important physically to let their bodies rest back up after our brutal travel schedule, and mentally so we can just kind of refocus and get some time off of classes," said head coach Amanda Lehotak.  "I think a weekend off is always good for everybody, both staff and players.  We've had a great week of practice, and we're definitely ready to go this weekend."

Lehotak also believes this break helped "rekindle the fire," meaning her team is reenergized and has also regained their competitive edge.  Senior Kasie Hatfield agrees with the remarks of her coach, believing this past week's practice will truly benefit the team overall.

The infielder is currently batting .341 and is a major asset to the Nittany Lions, having appeared in all 16 games this season.

 "I think the weekend off helped us a lot because we worked out a lot of our kinks," said Hatfield.  "We've been really meshing as a team this week, and we've had some great practices.  We're going to take that into the weekend."

Regarding the team's practices during the break, Lehotak placed a major focus on increased competition and pressure situations.  The team has really struggled in those two areas this year, especially when emotions are brought into the mix.

With the time spent strengthening the weaker areas of their game, the Lions are confident improvements have been made, which will only lead to more on-field success in the coming weeks.

In addition to working on those specifics, the team also spent time in the batting cages, working on situational hitting and staying ahead in the count.  Sophomore Lexi Knief, who currently has the second highest batting average on the team at .388, feels the team's hitting has also improved after the short break.

"I definitely think time off will help our batting," said Knief.  "Our hitting coach is great, and he's helped us out a lot.  We're working on certain things to make our hitting better, and we've really changed a few things up."

After such an intense, positive week, the team is ready to resume travel and head to Florida for their final tournament of the season.  With these five upcoming games, the Lions are looking to return to the winning side of the game and break their current seven-game losing streak.

 "We have to learn to play a full seven innings, which sometimes we have a tendency to play hard for two, let up for two, play hard for two," said Lehotak.  "We need to compete at a high level the whole game.  When we face a stressful situation, a team scores on us, or things just aren't going our way, our response needs to be a lot better.  We have to quit going internal and shutting down.  We need to learn to attack."

With those key concepts in mind, Lehotak is confident her team can get back to its winning ways, as is Hatfield.

"For us it's going to be about effort and attitude," said Hatfield of this weekend's tournament.  "If we play the way we've been practicing this week, we'll be fine."

Nevertheless, Lehotak knows moving away from the internal side will be the ultimate test for her team, which is why the Lions focused so heavily on stressful, situational plays this week.

"Our theme this year has been when we don't fulfill our own expectations, either in an inning or within a play, we kind of go internal," said Lehotak.  "The kids have been communicating about that and working on that, so this weekend when we face adversity, I'm really hoping and I really believe that they are finally going to work through that and push through that."

Sovereign Sparks Softball's Defense

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Sovereign_9780431.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Day in and day out, senior Alyssa Sovereign practices hard as she strives toward perfection, an accomplishment she has nearly achieved in the field during her time at Penn State. 

As she works out the kinks in her personal game, many of which deal with her transition from the outfield to second base, the California native also makes her overall team stronger.  Her focus and high expectations are unparalleled, and both stand as highly positive concepts for the Nittany Lions moving forward in 2014.

This season, Sovereign has a perfect fielding percentage through 16 games.  In her entire collegiate career, the senior has only made two fielding errors, one of which came during the 2012 season and one of which came in 2013.  Despite these two errors, Sovereign maintained .981 and .984 fielding percentages respectively during those years.  Just as she has been through the start of this season, Sovereign was also perfect in 2011, committing no errors during her freshman year.

Now with 164 games as a Lion under her belt, the infielder prides herself on the .992 career fielding percentage she has accumulated since 2011.  Sovereign does everything in her power to avoid mistakes, more specifically errors, and keep her game as positive as possible.

"I hate errors with a passion," said Sovereign.  "I make it a point to do everything that I can possibly do to not make an error.  I understand that they happen, but I try to make my errors in practice so that when I'm in game and game speed, it doesn't happen."

While impressive field statistics are an important piece to Sovereign's style of play, she has also demonstrated her abilities at second base this season with 62 chances, 33 putouts, and 29 assists.  While the senior is clearly comfortable in her current role, her transition to second base from right field took a bit of practice and determination.  Nevertheless, Sovereign willingly made the change, adjusted her game, and has been doing everything in her power to be an asset to this Nittany Lion squad.

"I needed to be placed in a different role this year, so instead of being in right, which I was the past three years, they needed me to fit in at second," said Sovereign.  "I figured it out the best I could.  I really just like to be out on the field, so it doesn't really matter to me where I am.  Second is a fun position to play so I really enjoy it."

Sovereign admits that while the switch initially took some getting used to, she adjusted quickly because of her past playing experiences.  Before arriving at Penn State, Sovereign grew up primarily starting at second base.  In other words, the first transition she experienced came during her freshman year as a Nittany Lion. 

She maintained a spot in right field for the majority of her career, until being moved back to second base during second half of the 2013 season.  Sovereign explained her switch back to the infield was much like the concept of riding a bike, claiming that she just needed to "relearn the mechanics."

Now that Sovereign has settled into her position for the season, she has really placed an emphasis on communication among the team while in the field.  She identifies herself as the "talker of the group," as well as the teammate who is constantly energized and trying to keep everyone fired up.  Her main goal when taking the field each inning is "to get in and out as fast as possible," which is directly related to this idea of effective communication.

"Communication is a huge part of our game," said Sovereign.  "If our communication is at a high level, our game is at a high level."

In addition to being aware of and talking to one another on the field, Sovereign believes the team needs to really concentrate on its mental focus as the season progresses.  The entire game of softball is mental, from hitting to fielding, and being on the same page as a team is key to elevating the level of play.

"The past couple weekends we've really kind of gotten out of our game plan, and we just need to get back into how we want to play and our focus and our mindset," said Sovereign.  "If we do that, we should have successful results."

With communication, focus, and the continued consistent fielding of Sovereign, the Nittany Lions hope to raise their level of competition.  Sovereign and the rest of her teammates will next seek to further improve when they take the field March 14-16 in Clearwater, Fla. for the Michele Smith Spring Break Tournament hosted by USF.


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