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Hawaiians Set Relaxed Tone for Penn State Softball

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Tupinio_Furuya_9972805.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The distance between Penn State and Hawaii is 4,766 miles, such is the rare trip that Penn State softball sophomores Reina Furuya and Maegan Tupinio both decided to make two years ago to receive a world-class education and play Division I softball.

With the average annual temperature 25 degrees higher in Hawaii than in State College, the looming question is why make the extensive trip east to wake up to snow five months a year rather than to the sounds of the ocean crashing up against the soft, warm sand?

"I just like the education system on the East Coast," said Tupinio. "It's different. My brother lives on this side of the country, so I've been here before. I just wanted to do something different, and I really liked Penn State. It's well known in Hawaii, so I wanted to do something that would make the people there [in Hawaii] proud of me."

For Furuya, her answer is similar to that of Tupinio's, but incorporates her freshman year in Happy Valley to evaluate the entire expedition.

"If you asked me a year ago I would've just said academics and softball, but now that I have a year under my belt, I love it here," said Furuya. "The whole atmosphere, including the academics and coaches, it's just fun to be around with football and watching other sports compete, it's just a fun college town to be around."

Three years ago both Furuya and Tupinio were seniors in high school. And, despite growing up just 11 miles apart - Furuya in Waipahu and Tupinio in Wahiawa - neither really knew each other until they both decided on Penn State.

That last sentence is not entirely true.

"I knew of her [Tupinio]," said Furuya. "I played against her. But I never really got to know her until I got here."

For Tupinio, her knowledge of Furuya is a little bit different. Because Hawaii is such small compilation of islands, both played against each other all the time.  

"I definitely knew Reina more than she knew me," said Tupinio. "She's a well-known player on the islands."

The two Hawaiians have helped each other adapt to the different environment up along the east coast of the United States, but the move from Hawaii to Penn State was far from a walk in the park.

"Oh my gosh! I do [miss the warmth]," said Tupinio. "No offense, but this winter was terrible."

Keeping in touch with family back in Hawaii has been a challenge that both have had to overcome. Each has had to deal with the six-hour time difference to talk to their loved ones. When it's Noon here in State College, the sun is rising in Hawaii.

Together, Furuya and Tupinio have brought their tropical culture to Penn State, culture that is rarely experienced in central Pennsylvania.

"I like just listening to the way that they talk," said senior Kasie Hatfield. "Even just the way they say certain words is really cool, so it's just fun to have them around."

If you ask Furuya or Tupinio, they will both agree that Hawaiian food is what they miss the most of home during their time at Penn State.

"I definitely miss the food at home," said Furuya. "I just love food so much. Here I can get burgers, fries and pancakes, but at home I can get the Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian food. Love it."

Their teammates aren't complaining though because Furuya and Tupinio have not only introduced them to new cuisine, but they also have a knack for finding the best local restaurants.

"The food that they introduced to us is really cool because they eat a lot of rice and spam," said sophomore Macy Jones. "They find the best sushi places in State College, too, so that helps a lot."

On the field, Furuya and Tupinio's relaxed, vacation-like mindsets have helped calm their teammates battle through frustrating mishaps.

"They're actually our calming forces," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. "So when everybody else is bouncing off the walls, they're the ones just chilling and going with the flow."

Penn State wasn't always a certainty.

"When I first came here I thought everything would be so big, and I wouldn't really know people," said Tupinio.

Now, Penn State is a certainty.

"Everything here is well put together, and everyone is very close," said Tupinio. "I feel like I am a part of a family here, and I love it. I love the feeling of tradition and just the values that everyone has here."

The fusion of cultures, highlighted by the two Hawaiian sophomores has provided a balance among the team. A diverse balance that Lehotak thinks reflects the power of college athletics.

"You get so many people from different cultures and different areas of the country that teach everybody, whether it's about their culture or what they are about," said Lehotak. "It's awesome."

 

Nittany Lions Learn from Road Trip

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Laubach_9967393.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Road trips are never easy, especially ones that last nearly a week. Such was the case for Penn State (14-31, 5-15 Big Ten) who began its time away from home at Ohio State in a doubleheader back on Wednesday and then traveled to Minneapolis, Minn., to take on the No. 12 Golden Gophers (36-8, 14-5 Big Ten) in a weekend series.

Despite losing both games to the Buckeyes and all three games versus the Golden Gophers, there were positive learning points to take away from playing two competitive conference foes.

On Friday, the Nittany Lions, backed by another impressive start from pitcher Marlaina Laubach, fell to Minnesota, 1-0. The freshman hurler fell to 9-14 on the season but was terrific, giving up just one earned run on four hits, one walk and three strikeouts.

"She [Laubach] wasn't missing her spots," said head coach Amanda Lehotak after Friday's game. "She was crisp. She was attacking. She only had two or three misses that they [Minnesota] did not capitalize on."

The Nittany Lions faced a tough task at the plate against star senior Golden Gopher pitcher Sara Moulton, who went the distance while holding the Blue and White scoreless. Penn State managed just four hits off of the ace, but according to Lehotak, her team is hitting the ball well, but just needs a little luck.

"It's not like we aren't putting the ball in play," said Lehotak. "We've had some shots, but everyone has had ESPN catches against us all year. We just need a little luck. We have no luck. We have to earn everything right now."

Friday's loss was the Nittany Lions best-played game of the three-game series. If you look at the box score, it would seem as if Penn State won the game, but such is a learning experience for the young squad.

"The positives on Friday were that we kept the game really simple and competed every pitch," said Lehotak. "We can play with anybody. We beat them [Minnesota] in every category - that's just the crazy game about softball - we just had one costly error."

On Saturday, the story was a little different as the Nittany Lions lacked pitching depth and dropped both games of the doubleheader, 9-0 and 16-2, respectively.

"Saturday was a tough day obviously, but we did some great things," said Lehotak. "We stuck around their All-American pitcher a little bit, which was good to see. We just didn't have the pitching to go the distance for two [games] on Saturday."

The Golden Gophers chased sophomore Macy Jones in Game One of the doubleheader, scoring five earned runs off of Jones in four innings of play en route to the win. Offensively, the Nittany Lions stuck to the game plan but failed to register a hit off of Minnesota's ace, Sara Groenewegen.

"We just try to make them stick to the game plan of keep it simple, hit the ball hard and put the ball in play," said Lehotak. "There are quite a few at bats we're doing that, and it's just - I call it 'at 'ems' disease - where we hit the ball right at them."

In Game two of the doubleheader, Laubach took the hill for the second time in the series to try and quite the Minnesota bats again. Unfortunately, the Golden Gophers figured out Laubach and chased the freshman for six earned runs in just two innings pitched.

"Going into a second game where the opponent has already seen me once, it's important to really focus on spots of pitches rather than trying to get strikeouts or trying to get groundouts," said Laubach. "It's more of a spot issue just because the teams are very competitive, so you want to try to paint the corners as much as possible.

Being swept on the road is not part of the game plan, but Minnesota is a strong team with great pitching. For Penn State such an experience is one to learn from.

"This time of year we're still learning, and I want to see us get better every day," said Lehotak. "Defensively, pitching and offensively; there is still a lot to learn. I just want to keep getting better. We're never going to stop learning and never going to stop trying to get better each day."

Next up for the Nittany Lions is a home doubleheader against instate rival Pittsburgh (15-25, 6-15 ACC) on Wednesday with the first pitch at Beard Field set for 5 p.m.

 

Positive Pitching Provides Lions with Winning Chances

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Jones_9955498.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While falling to Ohio State in both games of Wednesday night's doubleheader was not the desired outcome for the Nittany Lions, the team continues to excel and improve in one specific and very important area: pitching.

Penn State (14-28, 5-12 B1G) dropped the first game of the series against the Buckeyes (22-23, 8-9 B1G) by a final score of 3-1 and finished the night with a 3-0 loss in game two.

"I think both pitchers pitched good enough to win," said head coach Amanda Lehotak following the performances of freshman Marlaina Laubach and sophomore Macy Jones.  "Marlaina again was very aggressive and attacked, and I thought Macy was the same way.  She attacked the whole time and went right after the hitters.  I was very happy with our pitching today."

Laubach made her appearance in game one, pitching a complete game.  Throughout the entirety of her time in the circle, the right-hander threw a total of 88 pitches and allowed only three runs on seven hits.

Just as Laubach, Jones also went the distance in game two against Ohio State.  The Virginia native threw 51 strikes during the game, accumulating three strikeouts and allowing only three runs.

"I think me and Marlaina did a really good job," Jones said.  "We did give up three runs each, but with a big hitting team like that I think that's good.  We hit our spots and were moving the ball like we're supposed to."

Since the start of the season, the Penn State pitching staff, which is led by both Laubach and Jones, has drastically improved.  These developments have added to both the competitive nature and overall confidence of the team.

"I'm very proud of our pitching staff," said Lehotak.  "They've come a long way.  They're competing, and they're pitching the best they have all year right now."

Nevertheless, solid performances in the circle must also be accompanied by offensive production, which the Lions struggled with during the doubleheader.  The Blue and White turned in eight hits in the first game, but only managed to record three hits during the second.

"First game, we had a lot of runners on base," Lehotak said.  "We just could not get the big hit.  It was just one of those games where we had opportunities, but we just couldn't punch one through.  Game two we were just very uncharacteristic.  Very rarely do we ever have nine strikeouts in a game.  We weren't attacking early, and when we were attacking, we were going after pitches that were not good pitches to attack.  We had a really hard time getting momentum, and I think we got frustrated.  We just couldn't get out of it."

"Our offense just wasn't there today," added Jones.  "We weren't putting hits together.  We were having good at-bats, but when we needed the big hit, we just didn't come up with it."

With both positive and negative takeaways from its games against the Buckeyes, Penn State will regroup and prepare for its next Big Ten matchup against No. 12 Minnesota.  The series will open with Friday evening's game one, which is set to begin at 7 p.m.

"The main focus is keeping the ball on the ground when we're hitting, putting the ball in play, and just working the counts with the pitchers," said Jones with regards to upcoming series.  "Defensively, our pitchers just need to keep doing what they're doing."

Lions Remain Confident Despite Weekend Losses

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Miller_9947016.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After dropping all three games of their weekend series with fellow Big Ten competitor Wisconsin (27-15, 9-5 Big Ten), the Nittany Lions (14-26, 5-10 Big Ten) are focusing on the basics and striving to keep their game simple and skilled.

Four errors over the course of the two days proved costly for Penn State, which fell by a score of 6-3 on Friday night and scores of 4-0 and 5-2 during Saturday's double-header.

"Both teams gave great effort and made some spectacular catches, but we dropped two routine pop flies," said head coach Amanda Lehotak.  "That's killer.  We couldn't recover.  We felt offensively, it was just a matter of time to score runs, and if we catch that [pop fly], then that could be a completely different ball game."

Agreeing with the remarks of her coach was Macy Jones who appeared in all three games, playing at first for games one and three and pitching game two.

"It was just a few key errors that ended up really costing us runs," said the pitcher.  "Sometimes they don't, and sometimes they do.  In that case, they did, and our offense didn't really show up the first game either.  I think sometimes errors are ok because you can get out of them, and sometimes they are really costly."

Although the Lions were unable to make some of the more routine plays, they had a number of impressive defensive catches.

Sophomore Reina Furuya and freshman Shelby Miller both made spectacular grabs in the second of Saturday's two games.  Furuya made a diving catch along the third base side, while Miller nabbed a soaring line drive, both of which helped to keep the game within the Lions' reach.

Additionally, Furuya, along with senior Kasie Hatfield, led the way offensively for the Blue and White.  Furuya recorded two hits in game two, and Hatfield reached base twice in game three.  Nevertheless, throughout the entirety of the series, Penn State was outhit by the Badgers 20-13.

"A lot of us were trying to do too much," said Hatfield of the team's batting struggles.  "I think a lot of us wanted to come through and be the one to hit a homerun instead of just doing the simple things and getting hits."

"I think we should have been attacking the pitchers more, and we were kind of being passive," added Jones.  "Instead of being hitters, we were being swingers."

Despite the fielding mistakes and cold bats, the Nittany Lions are still confident and ready for what the rest of the season has to bring.

With Jones and freshman Marlaina Laubach nabbing a majority of the pitching time for the Lions, the position is becoming much more of a strong point for the team.

Laubach started games one and three, going the distance for seven innings in both.  The right-hander gave up five earned runs on Friday and one earned run in Saturday's second game.

Jones also turned in a complete performance on Saturday, allowing only three earned runs off a homerun.

"I think I did pretty good, minus the homerun, which I don't think was a bad pitch," said the Virginia native.  "She put a good swing on it.  I think that I hit my spots well and all my pitches were working."

Looking forward, the Lions will travel to Ohio to take on the Buckeyes in a Wednesday evening double header.  Ohio State is currently 6-9 in the Big Ten and 20-23 overall.

When asked what the most important aspects will be leading into the match-up, Hatfield was very concise and definite with her response.

"Making the simple plays," said the senior.  "Trying to limit our errors and get back to hitting the way that we were hitting coming in to this weekend will be very important."

Confidence Drives Doubleheader Sweep of Bucknell

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Team_9935420.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com 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, GoPSUsports.com 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, GoPSUsports.com 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, GoPSUsports.com 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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Miller_9878888.jpeg

By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com 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, GoPSUsports.com 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."

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