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Penn State Softball Drops Series at Rutgers

Penn State softball (34-17, 12-11 Big 10) lost its weekend series to Rutgers (33-21, 14-9 Big Ten) on the road. After defeating the Scarlet Knights in game one, Penn State dropped a Saturday doubleheader after the Sunday game was moved up due to impending rain.

Bridget Nemeth pitched in all three games and also made an impact on offense, lacing an RBI single and a two-run home run in games two and three of the matchup. Penn State had no answer for Mattie Boyd, who pitched in all three games for the Scarlet Knights.

How It Happened

Game One

Boyd started game one for the Scarlet Knights, where Kaitlyn Morrison immediately greeted her with an infield single. After Liana Jones worked a walk, Gaby Garcia laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position with one out for Maddie Gordon. Facing a full count, the cleanup hitter blooped a single over the head of the second baseman to drive home Morrison, giving Penn State the 1-0 lead.

After Gordon stole second base, Boyd got Emily Maddock to chase an offspeed pitch to record her first strikeout of the afternoon. On the next pitch, she forced Haylie Brunson to ground out to second, ending the Penn State threat.

Nemeth took the mound for Penn State and sat the Scarlet Knights down in order, forcing two groundouts and recording a three-pitch strikeout to end the inning. In the Penn State half of the inning, Gianna Poletti reached second due to an error in right field. After advancing to third on a wild pitch, Poletti was driven in on a booming double to center field from Morrison, extending the Penn State lead 2-0. Much like she did in the first inning, Boyd settled down to avoid any further damage as the right-hander struck out Jones to strand Morrison at second.

Payton Lincavage grounded a double down the first base line to give Rutgers its first base runner of the game with two outs in the second, but that’s as far as she got as Morrison made a fantastic running play to her left to record the third out, stranding Lincavage.

After laboring through her first two innings of work, Boyd settled in to record her first scoreless inning of the contest in the Penn State half of the third inning. Nemeth continued to cruise for the Nittany Lions, as she retired the Scarlet Knights in order to end the third inning of play. In the top of the fourth inning, Boyd recorded two strikeouts en route to her first one-two-three inning of the contest. Responding like she had all season, Nemeth struck out two batters to sit the Rutgers bats down to end the fourth.

Despite her struggles in the opening two innings, Boyd continued to dominate the Penn State offense by striking out two more Nittany Lions in the fifth inning. The Scarlet Knights once again couldn’t solve Nemeth in their half of the inning, as the Penn State starter had retired 10 straight Rutgers hitters.

Searching for an insurance run, Gordon led off the sixth inning with a towering home run to left field that stayed just inside the foul pole, giving the Nittany Lions a 3-0 lead. Maddock followed the homer with a double of her own, giving Penn State a runner in scoring position with no outs. Brooke Klosowicz worked a walk with one out after Maddock advanced to third, but Nemeth and Klosowicz helped Boyd out of trouble.

Nemeth continued her excellence in the Rutgers half of the sixth inning as the freshman struck out two more Scarlet Knights. As Penn State began the seventh, a Morrison bunt with one out resulted in her reaching third on an error, and two consecutive walks by Boyd loaded the bases for Gordon. A sacrifice fly to center field off the bat of Gordon scored Morrison, giving Penn State a 4-0 lead. Looking to escape further damage, Boyd got Maddock to ground out, ending the inning.

Morgan Smith greeted Nemeth with a leadoff double to start the Rutgers half of the seventh and a single to left from Lincavage broke the Penn State shutout. Kalya Bock smacked another single to center, which loaded the bases for the Scarlet Knights, meaning Georgia Ingle stepped up to the plate as the go-ahead run. Needing to escape, Nemeth dug deep to secure the strikeout and the win for Penn State in game one.

Game Two

After a rocky start in game one, Boyd once again got the ball in game two as Rutgers needed a win to remain in contention for a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament. The Rutgers ace flipped the script from her first inning in game one as she retired the Nittany Lions in order.

Like Boyd, Nemeth once again got the ball for Penn State and worked around a leadoff single to record a scoreless first inning that was capped off by a strikeout of Katie Wingert. Much like game one, game two looked like a pitcher’s duel early as Boyd struck out two Nittany Lions en route to a scoreless second inning.

In a rare misstep for the Penn State ace, Nemeth labored through the third inning as she surrendered a long solo home run to Megan Herka and allowed another run to score after an error, giving Rutgers its first lead of the series 2-0.

Boyd continued to roll as she retired Penn State in order to begin the third inning, striking out two batters. Mady Volpe was called on to replace Nemeth on the mound for Penn State and the right-hander got right to work, retiring the first two batters she faced. After walking the next two Scarlet Knights to come to the plate, Volpe forced Herka to pop out to shortstop and escape trouble.

Jones worked a walk to lead off the fourth inning for the Nittany Lions and was promptly driven in on a rocket home run to left center field by Garcia, tying the game at two. Not to be outdone, Gordon singled to center to keep the offense humming with no outs. Maddock roped a fly ball into center field but Morgan Smith made an outstanding diving catch to retire Maddock and delivered a strike to first base to double off Gordon. The Scarlet Knights avoided any further damage in the inning as Boyd got Brunson to chase an offspeed pitch for the third out.

Maddie Lawson reached base on a hit-by-pitch to lead off the bottom half of the fourth inning as Rutgers searched for the go-ahead run. After Volpe forced Bock to pop out to Garcia, she surrendered a booming home run to right field to Jillian Anderson, giving Rutgers a 4-2 lead. After giving up the lead, Penn State head coach Clarisa Crowell gave the ball back to Nemeth to record the final two outs of the inning.

Upon re-entering the game, Nemeth gave up a single to Kyleigh Sand, who was sent back to the dugout after leaving early on a steal attempt. Needing to send the Nittany Lions back to the plate, Nemeth forced a groundout to record the final out.

Much like she did in game one, Boyd rebounded after a bad fourth inning and retired Penn State in order to begin the fifth inning, striking out Jiselle Hernandez in the process. In the bottom half of the inning, Rutgers tacked on an insurance run thanks to a Herka single into center field that extended the Scarlet Knights lead to 5-2.

The Scarlet Knights loaded the bases with one out in their half of the sixth inning, but a strikeout of Wingert allowed Nemeth and Penn State to escape without surrendering a run. Needing three runs against Boyd to tie the game in its final at-bats, Maddock led off the top of the seventh with a single to right.

With Maddock on first, Brunson moved her over the second after she grounded out. With one out, Boyd got Audree Mendoza to strike out, sending Nemeth to the plate as the Nittany Lions’ last hope. The star pitcher proved she could hit, driving in Maddock on a single to right field and cutting the Rutgers lead to 5-3. As Jenna Nelson came to the plate with a chance to tie the game, Boyd buckled down and caught Nelson looking to secure the win for Rutgers.

Game Three

Two-way player Smith got the start in the rubber match for Rutgers and got off to a fast start, retiring the first three Nittany Lions she faced in order. Volpe returned to the circle for Penn State and was greeted by a Sand single. Two batters later, Smith laced a double off the center field wall to score Sand and gave herself a 1-0 lead. Volpe appeared to have escaped the inning without further damage, but a dropped pop-up by Maddock with two outs allowed Smith to score from second and extended the Rutgers lead to 2-0. Penn State was finally able to head back to its dugout on the very next batter as Lawson flew out to end the inning.

Garcia led off the top half of the second with a single but was sent back to the dugout on a Gordon fielder’s choice. With Gordon now on base for Nemeth, the Penn State star launched a homer to left-center field that hit the top of the wall before settling over the fence, tying the game at two-a-side. Smith regrouped after surrendering the homer by retiring the next two hitters she faced to escape the inning.

The Scarlet Knights jumped on Volpe in her second inning of work as the right-hander allowed a walk and a single before LA Matthews doubled to center, scoring Bock from third and advancing Sand to third. With the Nittany Lions looking to escape the jam and avoid falling behind further, Nemeth was brought in for Volpe to record the final two outs of the inning. Nemeth forced Wingert to ground out, but the grounder allowed Sand to score and expand the Rutgers lead to 4-2. The Nittany Lions managed to work out of trouble as Nemeth got Lincavage to fly out to left field.

Other than a double by Morrison, Penn State was unable to get anything going offensively as Smith continued to pitch well despite giving up the home run to Nemeth. In the Rutgers half of the third, Nemeth finally looked human as the Penn State starter hit Lawson and promptly allowed a home run to Bock, which extended the Scarlet Knights lead to 6-2. Nemeth loaded the bases after the home run but stuck out Wingert to avoid further damage and end the inning.

Trying to rally, Garcia opened the fourth inning with a scorching double down the right-field line to set up the Nittany Lions. The Penn State bats were unable to score Garcia, however, as Smith retired the next three batters in order.

Lydia Spalding replaced Nemeth in the circle for Penn State after Nemeth surrendered a leadoff triple to Lincavage. Herka greeted the new Penn State pitcher by ripping a single through the infield, scoring Lincavage and extending the Rutgers lead to 7-2. After Bock walked, Anderson laced a double that scored Kobie Hura, but Leilani Chavez was thrown out advancing to third for the second out. Spalding escaped the inning after she got Sand to fly out to center field.

Penn State began its quest to claw its way back into the game to start the fifth inning thanks to a blast by Michela Barbanente to cut its deficit to 8-3. Following in the home run, Poletti and Morrison reached via a walk and hit-by-pitch to give the Nittany Lions runners on first and second with no outs while chasing Smith from the game. In the same vein as Nemeth, Boyd reentered the game for the Scarlet Knights to escape the inning.

The first batter Boyd faced was Maddock, who reached base on a fielder’s choice and loaded the bases. Boyd showed why she is one of the best pitchers in college softball by getting out of the inning without surrendering a run and keeping the Rutgers lead intact.

After she recorded the first two outs of the bottom of the fifth, Spalding gave up a long home run to Wingert which ballooned the Rutgers lead back to seven. Spalding immediately responded after the home run by forcing a ground out to end the inning.

With Penn State down to its final six outs, Boyd retired the first two Nittany Lions with a pair of strikeouts but a home run to Barbanente, her second in as many innings to trim the deficit to 9-4. Boyd got the final out of the inning after the home run to send Rutgers back to the plate. In the bottom of the sixth, Spalding worked around a leadoff walk to retire the next three batters she faced.

Desperately needing a rally, Morrison put the Nittany Lions in position to do just that with a leadoff double. After advancing to third, Morrison scored on a sacrifice fly from Jones to cut the Rutgers deficit to 9-5. Down to its final out, Garcia flew out to center meaning Penn State would drop its series.

Takeaways

  • After throwing a complete game in the series opener, Nemeth was not expected to pitch again until Sunday. Mother Nature threw a wrench in this plan, however, as expected rain on Sunday meant Penn State would play in a doubleheader on Saturday. Penn State’s ace answered the call by pitching in both games, securing an RBI single in game one and a booming home run in game two.
  • Outside of game one, the Nittany Lions could not solve Boyd as the Rutgers starter shut down the Penn State offense in the Scarlet Knights’ two wins. Perhaps the biggest opportunity squandered against Boyd came in the fifth inning of game three, where the Nittany Lions loaded the bases with no outs and came away with zero runs.
  • Nemeth threw well over 200 pitches across three games during this series and was visibly tired towards the end of her final outing. When she was out of the game for Volpe, the right-hander tended to struggle and forced Nemeth to reenter the game. If Penn State wants to make a run in the Big Ten and possible NCAA tournaments, they will need pitchers like Volpe to take some of the workload off from Nemeth.

What’s Next?

The Nittany Lions will begin their postseason run as the team will travel to Iowa City to open Big Ten Tournament play. While a concrete start time is unavailable, Penn State will likely play on Tuesday in the first round of the tournament as a non-top-four seed.

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About the Author

Dennis Wilkins

Dennis is a third-year journalism major from Brick, New Jersey. He has a love-hate relationship with every team he roots for, especially the New York Giants. When he's not watching Jack Hughes highlights, he can be found playing golf or listening to music. Direct all complaints to him via email ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@denniswilkins27).

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