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May 13, 2011
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State used a big six-run rally to down Northwestern, 6-3, at Beard Field on Friday evening. Down 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth, the Nittany Lions sent 10 batters to the plate in a six-run, four-hit inning for a lead they would never relinquish.
"I told [the players] that the mantra of this team is, `team.'" Head coach Robin Petrini said. "They have come from behind and it has come from lots of different people. Lots of different people score; KJ walks, Mary comes in and pinch-runs and scores on that double down the line from first base. That's the epitome of a team game right there. I just think that it continues to show what great character this team has."
With Selection Sunday looming on Sunday and Penn State's chances of winning quality games at a premium to impress the NCAA selection committee, the Nittany Lions (28-22-1, 10-8-1 Big Ten) were in search of their fourth straight win and fifth in its last six games going into Friday. Staring a two-run deficit in the face for the second time in three days, PSU dug deep to break a six-game losing streak to Northwestern (23-19, 5-12 Big Ten).
Lisa Akamine (Escondido, Calif.) singled to lead off the fourth before Kailyn Johnson (Yorba Linda, Calif.) walked. Both runners were subbed out for speedsters Shannon Hutchinson (Sewell, N.J.) and Mary Ostman (Northbrook, Ill.), respectively. Kasie Hatfield (Tampa, Fla.) strode the plate and attempted to sacrifice the duo over a base, but saw two strikes instead. On 2-2 pitch, Hatfield roped a liner down the leftfield line as Ostman beat the throw home and Hatfield reached third with the game tied at two apiece.
The Nittany Lion hitting continued as Alyssa Sovereign (La Canada, Calif.) pulled a single to rightfield, easily scoring Hatfield from third to give Penn State its first lead of the evening. Following a flyout to right, starter Jackie Hill (San Jose, Calif.) walked to first on a full count as Northwestern elected to remove fellow starter Jessica Smith in favor of Meghan Lamberth.
Lamberth didn't fare much better as she walked Lauren Rossi (Yardley, Pa.) to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Morgan Long (Oro Valley, Ariz.) lifted a fly ball to left, which was caught in foul territory, but everyone moved up a base as Long was credited with an RBI sacrifice fly and a 4-2 Penn State lead. Cassidy Bell (Bakersfield, Calif.) notched a two-run single to centerfield to cap the scoring as PSU took a commanding 6-2 lead.
"I think that once the offense gets going, and you get some momentum in an inning," Petrini added. "We've been very good about keeping that momentum in that inning and doing as much as we can when we have it."
Northwestern would grab a run back in the fifth on a one-out single by Michelle Batts to get within three, but Hill stranded two Wildcats on the basepaths. Hill worked two scoreless innings the rest of the way to earn her 17th win of the year, her 60th career victory for the Blue and White. Northwestern opened a 2-0 lead after an opening run in the first inning and a Marisa Bast RBI single in the third, her second RBI of the day.
Hill went seven full innings with nine hits against, three earned runs and three walks against, while striking out six NU batters. Smith's line read 3.1 innings of work with four hits, five runs and three walks allowed along with two strikeouts. Lamberth finished off the game for the Wildcats posting 2.2 innings with two hits, an earned run, a walk and a strikeout to her credit.
"Jackie settled right down," Petrini noted. "The first three innings, they kept nicking us for a couple runs. And then when we put up six, we gave up one run, and I thought `Hey Jackie, no big deal. Stay after it.' I knew they were going to score and we just were going to have to outscore them."
Bell led the Nittany Lions with a pair of hits and two RBI. Yao added a single in the sixth as the entire offense on the day came in the fourth for Penn State. PSU finished the day with six hits total and an error.
The comeback win was Penn State's eighth in Big Ten play. Overall, 11 of the past 15 PSU victories have come while staring a deficit. The Lions improved to 14-40 all-time against Northwestern including winning just the fourth game at home ever against the Wildcats. The victory in Happy Valley was the first over NU since Apr. 10, 1999.
Moreover, Penn State is assured of its first winning Big Ten season since 2005 when PSU went 10-9 on the heels of a 36-23 overall record en route to its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in six years. The Nittany Lions are on the bubble for an at-large bid to this year's tournament as they sit 46th in the latest RPI entering this week's play. PSU has been 3-0 since that was released.
Penn State's regular season finale at Beard Field will commence at 1:00 p.m. as Penn State will celebrate Senior Day prior to the contest. Fans can follow the Nittany Lions through GameTracker as well as on Twitter (www.twitter.com/PSULionSoftball) for commentary and analysis. Both games will be streamed live on BigTenNetwork.com.