Nittany Lion Softball Returns to NCAA Tournament
May 15, 2011
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion softball team heard the news it wanted Sunday night: Penn State is going to the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Selection Committee unveiled its 64-team field, which consists of 30 automatic conference qualifiers and 34 at-large bids in a special broadcast on ESPNU. Penn State will play Friday vs. Fordham at Nittany Lion Softball Park.
Joining Penn State and Fordham in the University Park Regional will be No. 13 seed Oregon and Albany. Games begin Friday and will run through Sunday at Beard Field. Fordham is making its second straight appearance in the NCAA tournament having won the automatic bid out of the Atlantic 10. Oregon is a Pac-10 power, while Albany won the America East Conference bid.
Thirteenth-seeded Oregon and Albany kick off the University Park Regional at 2:30 p.m. on Friday. Fordham visits Penn State for the first time ever for a game scheduled to begin at 5:00 p.m. PSU and Fordham previously met in 2008 with the Nittany Lions prevailing 2-0 in Clearwater, Fla. The Nittany Lions are 0-4 all-time against Oregon and have never faced Albany before.
Penn State (29-22-1, 11-8-1 Big Ten) came into this week in desperate need of wins to bolster is NCAA Tournament resume and it captured as many as possible, winning four straight from Ohio State and Northwestern. The feat was even more remarkable given PSU's history against those squads as Penn State swept OSU in Columbus for the first time ever and then followed it up with its first sweep of Northwestern.
The Nittany Lions entered the week with an RPI of 46 and the thought around the team was that it needed to win all of its games to get a look from the committee. Despite an up-and-down season, Penn State's resilience was evident down the stretch when the team was down. During PSU's trek through conference play, the Nittany Lions used eight comeback victories and won 11 of its last 16 games in comeback fashion. This included nine multi-run comebacks.
Penn State played one of the most difficult schedules in the nation, also another important component of the NCAA criteria. The Nittany Lions played 42 of its 52 games against RPI Top 100 opponents this year, registering a 20-21-1 record in those games, while only playing 10 games against sub-100 rankings, going 9-1. The lone loss came in the third game of the season.
The NCAA bid is the program's first since 2007 and continues a run of productive seasons by head coach Robin Petrini. Since taking over the program in 1997, Petrini led the squad to its first NCAA appearance in 15 years when the Nittany Lions garnered an at-large selection in 2000. Penn State has now been to eight tournament appearances in the past 12 years and 10 NCAA showings overall. The last time Penn State hosted an NCAA game was in 1983 when Louisiana Tech took two from the Nittany Lions.
For the second consecutive season, Penn State won 29 games and posted its 11th winning season in the past 13 seasons under Petrini. The Nittany Lions also finished the 2011 season with its best Big Ten season since 2000. The squad posted the highest winning percentage in Big Ten play (.575) since 2000 (.706) and won the most league games (11) since 2000 (12-5).Moreover, PSU finished the season third in overall ERA, batting average against and hits allowed in the Big Ten.
Individually, redshirt-senior Jackie Hill (San Jose, Calif.) won the past four decisions, upping her record to 18-12. The wins are third-most in a single season at Penn State and the most since Missy Beseres captured 19 in 2006. Additionally, Hill ranks first in victories with 61 for the Blue and White and second in strikeouts with 670.
Following Saturday's game against Northwestern, the Nittany Lion softball family celebrated the 2011 season and doled out the year-end awards. Kailyn Johnson (Yorba Linda, Calif.) was named the team's most valuable player and offensive player of the year. Hill took home defensive player of the year honors with Cassidy Bell (Bakersfield, Calif.), while Kasie Hatfield (Tampa, Fla.) was named the squad's most improved player. Shannon Hutchinson (Sewell, N.J.) was bestowed with the Blue-White Award for dedication and loyalty to the program.
The Big Ten Conference will announce Wednesday the All-Conference teams and All-Region selections will be known later this month.