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May 14, 2011
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Nittany Lion softball team pulled off a historic sweep of Northwestern with a 3-2 victory on Saturday at Beard Field. Lauren Rossi's (Yardley, Pa.) fourth-inning bomb, which bounced off the top of the wall in leftfield, was the difference to give PSU its fifth straight victory to end the regular season.
On a day where Penn State (29-22-1, 11-8-1 Big Ten) celebrated the careers of seniors Desi Giordano (West Caldwell, N.J.), Jackie Hill (San Jose, Calif.) and Mary Ostman (Northbrook, Ill.), it was the sophomore Rossi, who provided the heroics. Rossi has been given the start at third base for most of the 2011 season after Giordano went down with an ankle injury in February, and it was Rossi's first home of the year that may catapult the Nittany Lions into the NCAA Tournament.
In a back and forth game where Northwestern (23-20, 5-13 Big Ten) answered every scoring opportunity by PSU with one of its own, the Nittany Lions were the ones to score last. In a 2-2 ballgame, Rossi lifted a first-pitch offering from NU starter Sammy Albanese that caromed off the top of the wall just past the 200-foot marker and over for a 3-2 lead. Hill threw three scoreless frames after that to win her 18th game of the season and secure PSU's sixth win in seven tries.
Penn State got on the board early when Cassidy Bell (Bakersfield, Calif.) roped a double to deep center. She would come home to score on a two-out, two-strike wild pitch following a ground out for a 1-0 PSU lead. Bell went 2-for-4 on Sunday to pace the Nittany Lions at the plate.
In the top of the third, Northwestern's speed manufactured a run as Robin Thompson's slap to short was enough to score Kelly Quinn from third with two out. Hill managed to leave the bases full of Wildcats to limit the damage.
PSU wasted no effort in gaining the run back and retaking the lead in the bottom of the third as Kasie Hatfield (Tampa, Fla.) grounded to third with runners on first and second. Thompson missed the tag on pinch-runner Shannon Hutchinson (Sewell, N.J.) before airmailing her throw to first to get Hatfield, allowing Hutchinson to score easily.
Northwestern responded in the top of the fourth to tie the game once again as doubles by Jordan Wheeler and Albanese made it a 2-2 game, setting up Rossi's homer.
Each team had its fair share of opportunities to score more often as both teams left eight runners on base. Hill was effective in working out of jams this weekend, stranding 17 Wildcats. Hill's line read nine hits allowed with two earned runs, walk and four strikeouts in seven innings of work. Albanese took the walk with five hits, two earned and four walks to her name to accompany two strikeouts.
Penn State's sweep of Northwestern is the first in the all-time series as PSU has never won a series from the Wildcats. PSU improves to 12-40 all-time against NU, while Northwestern's season ends losing seven of its last eight games.
The victory also secured Penn State fourth place in the Big Ten, the highest standing since 2000 (third). Moreover, PSU's 11-8-1 mark is the best winning percentage (.575) since 2000 when the team went 12-7 (.706), the Penn State's first trip to the NCAA Tournament under Petrini.
The Nittany Lions now await their fate as the NCAA Selection Committee makes its 64-team field known tomorrow at 10:00 p.m. on ESPNU.