Penn College Softball Team Ends Among Top Five in USCAA
But after going 2-1 in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Championship Small College World Series at Akron, Ohio, and finishing among the top five teams, rain is all that could dampen the team’s spirits.
“They were kind of disheartened that they didn’t get the opportunity to finish out in the double-elimination tournament as previously planned,” Wildcats coach Roger Harris said after his team completed a 20-13 campaign Wednesday.
“They kept positive. As a coach, it was one of those dream teams that every coach looks forward to having. I’m just sorry that they worked that hard for that long, uniting as a team and believing in each other and in their coaches – and then it ends the way our season started, with rain and rain and rain,” Harris said.
In its opening game Monday against No. 7 seed New Hampshire Technical Institute, a five-run third inning propelled the 10th-seeded Lady Wildcats to a 6-2 win, their 13th in a row and the college’s first ever in USCAA play. Key hits that inning were delivered by Macie Lucas, of Reedsville; Rachael Shaeffer, of Hampstead, Maryland; Nicole Lo Furno,of Glen Mills; and Samantha Hill, of Montgomery, who all had RBI singles. Winning pitcher Arika Stopper, of Williamsport, struck out eight while going the distance and she was backed up with great defense.
“They were totally pumped up and ready to play,” Harris reflected.
Rain pushed Penn College’s second game into Tuesday when, facing second-seeded Lindenwood University-Belleville, the Lady Wildcats committed four errors and were blanked, 8-0, in five innings, seeing their school-record win streak snapped at 13. Karey Wolfe, of Milton, had the only Penn College hit. Brianne Brewer, of Jersey Shore, took the loss on the mound.
But the Penn College bats wouldn’t be silenced all day. Back in action just hours later against fourth-seeded Carlow University, the Wildcats scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, four on a walk-off, grand-slam home run by freshman Jessica Gmerek, of Bellefonte, for a 10-7 win. Gmerek also hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning. Stopper went seven innings to record her second win in the tournament and the team became the third in Harris’ 13 years as coach to reach the 20-win mark. At the conclusion of all play, Gmerek, who hit .367 during the season and drove in a team-high 26 runs, was named to the All-Tournament Team.
“They were very positive coming back in the losers’ bracket. They were excited about it – and fought very hard,” the coach said.
Penn College was scheduled to play No. 3 Ave Maria University later Tuesday night, but bad weather again had its way, forcing the game to Wednesday afternoon when, with the Wildcats trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the third inning, play was canceled and the tournament ended.
Lindenwood-Belleview took the championship with a 2-0 win over top-seeded St. Mary of the Woods College. Other teams, in addition to those two and Penn College, which only had one loss when play was stopped were Ave Maria and eighth-seeded Penn State Mont Alto.
“As a coach, I can’t be prouder of the way they played and the spirit in which they played. They were very classy,” Harris added. “When you go to nationals and you end up in fifth place and come back with a winning record, as a team, as a coach, what more can you ask of the girls?”
This year’s squad was made up of all sophomores and freshmen, boosting Harris’ coaching record to 165-150 at the college, and he’s already looking ahead to next season.
“To my knowledge, none of them (current players) are planning on leaving early and we have some great pitching coming in next year along with a lot of speed. We have a lot of good recruits coming in,” Harris said.
“Of course, it’s going to be a new venture for us going into (NCAA) Division III. We’re not sure what we’re going to face, so we’re trying to strengthen and powerhouse our team as much as we can going into that,” he continued. “I’m very excited about it and very hopeful for next year.”
Also last week, it was announced that five Lady Wildcats received other USCAA honors.
And four Penn College players received Penn State University Athletic Conference postseason awards as Gmerek and Shaeffer were named to the All-Conference First Team, Stopper to the All-Conference Second Team and Katie Kratzer, of Lynch Station, Virginia, an All-Conference Honorable Mention.
Despite the fact that its season ended in the playoffs, Penn College players received postseason USCAA and PSUAC honors.
PENN COLLEGE SCHEDULES/RECORDS
Final overall record: 20-13
Final PSUAC record: 14-4
Monday, May 12 – vs. NHTI in USCAA National Championships, W, 6-2.
Tuesday, May 13 – vs. Lindenwood-Belleview in USCAA National Championships, L, 8-0 in 5 innings
Tuesday, May 13 – vs. Carlow University in USCAA National Championships, W, 10-7
Wednesday, May 14 – vs. Ave Maria in USCAA National Championships, canceled rain