NCAA regionals next for Penn College softball team
Those two things are the keys in a season that – for the first time – propelled the Pennsylvania College of Technology women’s softball team to the North Eastern Athletic Conference championship and into the NCAA Division III Northeast Regional tournament.
After winning the conference title on Saturday and improving to 19-3, the Wildcats will learn who their next opponent will be during the NCAA selection show at NCAA.com at 1 p.m. Monday.
And while softball players kept their season alive and await word on their next challenge, seasons came to a close this past week for the college’s golfers, who competed for the first time in the NCAA Division III championships, and baseball squad, which reached the NEAC semifinals.
Hosting the best-of-three NEAC championships on Saturday at Elm Park against fourth-seeded Penn State Harrisburg, the second-seeded Wildcats won by scores of 7-4 and 6-0 to improve to 19-3 on the season.
In Saturday’s opener, four Penn College players had two hits each, among them championship MVP Olivia Hemstock, of Northford, Connecticut, who knocked in three runs, including two with a fourth-inning single that provided the cushion needed to win. Wildcats’ pitcher Kyla Benner, of Bethlehem, went the seven-inning distance for her 10th win against one loss. In doing so, 70 of her 106 pitches were strikes.
In the day’s title-clinching contest, Ivvy Morder, of Mechanicsburg, delivered a key two-run single as Penn College took advantage of three walks, an error and a wild pitch by Harrisburg players to score six unearned second-inning runs. On the mound and improving to 8-2 for the Wildcats, Kassidy Svenson, of Auburn, threw 70 pitches, 42 for strikes.
Last Tuesday, the second-seeded Wildcats advanced to Saturday’s title tilt with a 6-2, 5-4 home doubleheader sweep of third-seeded Penn State Abington.
In the first game, Benner continued her pitching mastery with a four-hit, 13-strikeout performance. On offense for Penn College, Hemstock went 3 for 4 with three RBIs and two runs scored and Morder was 2 for 3 with two RBIs.
In Tuesday’s second game, the Wildcats came from behind with one run in the fifth inning and two in the sixth to secure the win. Starting pitcher Svenson went six innings to improve to 7-2 and Benner finished up in the seventh to earn her first save. Hemstock was 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs and Jaylynn Cochran, of Cogan Station, was 2 for 3 with one RBI.
“We are incredibly proud of this program and very happy that we took care of things (Saturday),” coach Angie Hunley said.
“We talked a lot about sticking to the game plan that we’ve had all season, which was to outhit every opponent we faced, stay composed on defense and our pitchers hitting their spots. They executed the game plan perfectly,” the second-year coach continued.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this. I am so proud of my team and I cannot wait to see what they do with the opportunity they’ve earned for themselves,” Hunley said.
“I truly believe that the team we had on the field last year (during a 5-4, COVID-shortened season) could have easily done the same thing. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to prove that. My team stuck together and came back just as strong this year and we went and got it done,” Hunley said. “They 100% have earned it.”
As of May 11, the top eight teams in the Northeast Region – one of eight regions in the country – were St. John Fisher (25-3), Alfred (28-8), Rochester (29-8), Ithaca (24-7), Farmingdale State (15-4), SUNY Geneseo (14-7), Manhattanville (18-3) and SUNY Cortland (19-8).
Regional winners will advance to the national championship May 27-June 1 in Salem, Virginia. Texas Lutheran is the defending champ.
“I have prepared my team. We’ve talked a lot about what the next step could look like, so they are aware of the short turnaround and they are absolutely prepared to continue this great journey we have been on,” Hunley said.
“Preparation is going to look a lot like what we have been doing. I have really hammered into my team to stick with the game plan. We know what our strengths are. We know how to play to those strengths and it’s all just about staying composed and continuing to play to our strengths until whenever it finishes,” Hunley said.
“We have an incredible lineup. One through nine, we are a threat. I have tremendous speed bunched together in my lineup, so we know that is our game plan, that we are going to beat everybody we face with our bats, and our pitchers have been nothing short of incredible as far as making it easy to give them run support,” Hunley said.
“I think the competition is definitely going to be a lot stiffer (in regionals) than what we have seen so far this season, especially with us not being to play in the out-of- conference games. But I truly do believe that this program has every ability to go out there and compete at the next level. I expect them to do that. It’s all going to be about staying composed and allowing ourselves to do it,” Hunley added.
Earlier this past week, five Wildcats were named NEAC All-Conference – four on the first team and one on the second unit.
Receiving first-team accolades were juniors Hemstock and Benner; sophomore Jordan Specht, of Frederick, Maryland; and freshman Margaret Mangene, of Boalsburg. On the second team was sophomore Morder.
Hemstock batted a conference-best .571 and finished second in the league with 23 RBIs during the regular season. She was fourth in the NEAC in hits (31) and total bases (38) and was solid at second with a .922 fielding percentage on 51 chances.
Benner finished first in the conference in wins with a 9-1 mark during the regular season and posted a conference-best four shutouts — including a perfect game against Morrisville State College in the season opener. She was second in the conference in earned run average (2.03) and strikeouts (63), and was named NEAC Pitcher of the Week once.
Mangene slashed .468/.517/.723 and finished in the top 10 in runs (19), hits (22), doubles (5), triples (2) and home runs (1). She was solid on defense at third base with a .944 fielding percentage on 36 chances.
Specht was ninth in the conference with a .440 batting average on 23 hits, six doubles and eight RBIs, primarily as the designated player.
Morder was the conference’s toughest out with a league-best .603 on-base percentage that included 16 hits and a conference-best 21 walks. The catcher hit .400, including seven doubles, and had nine RBIs. She also boasted a .975 fielding percentage.
Also last week, it was announced that Hemstock and Specht were named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division III Northeast All-Region third team.
After Tuesday’s opening round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championships, Penn College found itself 36th among 37 teams with a 347 but a second-round 320 on Wednesday elevated it to 34th place in a 37-team tournament field and in a collegiate division that has 304 teams.
On Tuesday, sophomore Kohltin Bartlow, of Montgomery, led the way tied for the Wildcats with an 80 on the par-71, 6,857-yard Speidel Jones Course. Following him were sophomore Alex Acree, of Brookville, tied for 123rd with an 81; senior Sean McNamara, of Lancaster, tied for 182nd at 92; freshman Nathan Hoyer, of Windsor, tied for 188th with a 94; and freshman Karson Felty, of Pine Grove, at 190 with a 98.
In Wednesday’s second round of action in Wheeling, West Virginia, Penn College rallied with a 320 – 27 strokes lower than the day before – yet saw its season end as only the top 18 of 37 teams continued play and remained in contention for the team title.
On Wednesday, Bartlow shot a 73 on the par-70, 6,621-yard Palmer Course at Oglebay and finished tied for 71st with a two-day 153 while Acree had an 82 and two-round 163, ending in 151st; McNamara fired an 80 and 172 total, tied for 173rd place; and Hoyer had an 85 and 175 total, tied for 182nd. Also for the Wildcats, Felty had a 98 and 196 total, ending 187th in the 191-player field.
The play of McNamara, Hoyer and Bartlow were keys to the Wildcats’ Wednesday comeback as McNamara battled back with a round 12 strokes lower than his first, Hoyer trimmed nine strokes off his opening-day number and Bartlow, previously the NEAC co-medalist and Co-Golfer of the Year, shaved seven strokes off his opening-round score.
“I’m extremely proud of how far we made it and how they persevered and bounced back after a bad first day. They could have easily said ‘we aren’t going to make the cut at this point, so we may as well just show up and post a number,’ but they fought through another 18 holes and improved across the board. This goes to show their dedication to the program and to themselves to never give up,” coach Matt Haile said.
“That is what golf and life are all about. If you want to get better, you need to accept failure, work hard and improve on the areas that need work. The team is already talking about the summer months and what they are going to continue to work on and I’m excited for how this experience is going to transform them as players along with our program,” the coach continued.
Reflecting on the experience played out on a national stage, Haile said:
“There is certainly a different level of competition, as indicated by the team scores on these two championship golf courses. When you get to this stage, you see the top-ranked schools that are here year after year and have all aspects of their games in check. For the other teams, including our own, it exposes the gaps in our games and shows us what we need to work on to be more successful on the courses we play throughout our season, along with setting us up to perform better on the national level. Perfecting these things do not happen overnight and it’s the failures that we build off which make us better golfers.
“Both of these courses were mentally and physically draining due to the complete control of every shot – tee-to-green – that was required and if you slipped for a moment you were going to show it on your scorecard. The courses presented rolling hills and elevation changes that tested their mental toughness along with their physical toughness, each of which needs to be in top shape to perform at their best. It’s one thing to play a local public course with your buddies and have a couple of challenging holes and some errant tee shots that you are still able to score from, but when you have 18 holes that demand complete attention over a 5½-6 hour day, it is exhausting.
“(The) Jones course was certainly a lot more challenging with nearly half of the holes having pin placements in the most challenging parts of the greens they could be placed. As if this was not challenging enough for our players, you factor in the 20-mph wind gusts and it led to a very challenging day of golf. If you were not exactly dialed in, you were staring at a ball rolling off the front of the green or a three-putt in your pocket.”
Haile, in his 12th season as coach and earlier honored as the NEAC Coach of the Year, addressed the pressure his golfers faced both by the courses and the level at which they were competing.
"One thing that I talked to the players about on our ride out is the added pressure they were going to experience unlike any stage they’ve played at before. I even went as far as rehearsing their opening tee shot as they were announced in front of all the fans and players. I acted as the starter while they were on the range and we practiced as if they were on the first tee getting ready to hit their tee shot. I believe it may have helped because no one topped it off the first tee.
“The players learned a lot about themselves and their games and what it’s like to compete at this stage on a championship course. They learned a lot about the importance of distance control and being able to flight shots into the wind. You can’t always get up and hit a stock shot at your stock yardage. You need to be able to get creative and have a full bag of shots to work with in order to score well on championship courses.”
The implications of competing on the national level both for the team and college’s athletic future are not lost on Haile, who said, “It is huge. It shows that our college not only has great job-placement rates and a great education, but our hands-on students can compete at a very high level.
“One thing I’ve always loved about coaching here is the fact that we have welders, diesel technology, construction management students – your typical blue-collar workers – that can compete with the best of them. I think players that may have passed on our programs will see the opportunity of competing at the national level. This is our first time as a program advancing, but I don’t see it as our last and I look to keep building upon this in the future.”
Playing in a semifinal “if” game on Wednesday, Penn College led 1-0 through the top of the third inning before Penn State Abington pushed three runs across the plate in the bottom half of the frame and went on for 12-4 win that ended the Wildcats’ season at 10-13, including 1-6 against Abington.
In Wednesday’s game, Penn College had five players with two hits but it stranded 10 base runners. Starting pitcher Cole Culver went 4⅓ innings and took the loss, dropping to 1-3 on the season.
After a weekend rain delay, second-seeded Penn State Abington took Tuesday’s first semifinal game, 16-3, before Penn College battled back for a 10-6 second-game win that forced Wednesday’s “if” contest.
In Tuesday’s opener, Abington used a four-run third inning and seven-run seventh to ice things. For Penn College, Brian Robison, of Quakertown, homered in the third inning and Ethan Ketterman, of Biglerville, homered in the eighth. Wildcats’ starting pitcher Ben Bretzman, of Bendersville, went 4 1/3-innings and dropped to 3-3 in taking the loss.
In the nightcap, Penn College scored twice in each of the first two innings, plated three more runs in the fifth and added two in the ninth. Pitcher Justin Porter, of Fairless Hills, went the nine-inning distance, striking out nine and walking just one to improve to 3-2. Robison homered again in the second game while also hitting home runs were Tyler Rudolph, of Hemlock, New York, and Shane Price, of Kersey. Rudolph, Robison and Ketterman each finished with two RBIs.
“I’m very proud of this team, probably more than any team I’ve ever had. It’s been a crazy year dating all the way back to March of ’20 but I really started to see this team play their best baseball the last five games,” coach Chris Howard said of his 15th edition.
Howard continued, “A lot of that had to do with senior leadership but more so it was our younger players who were starting to come into their own. Sometimes experience is more valuable than talent but when you combine experience with talent and hard work you can expect special things.
“You always want to win the last game you play but I’m excited about the future. And one of the reasons we have a bright future is because of what seniors like Brittan Kittle, Ethan Ketterman, Brayden Lippert, Christian Perna and Joe Fatzinger helped build.”
Also this past week, Kittle, of Millville, and sophomore Bretzman were named to the NEAC first team and junior Jacob Carles, of Bernville, was named to the second team.
Kittle became the first player in program history and the first male student-athlete in Penn College history to earn All-NEAC honors four times. The catcher was a second-team selection in his freshman season and a first-team honoree in both his sophomore and junior seasons.
Kittle finished the regular season with a .414 batting average and was second in the conference in slugging percentage (.931) and home runs (8). He finished in the top 10 in doubles (6), RBIs (18) and total bases (54). Behind the plate, Kittle fielded .992 on 120 total chances and caught six runners attempting to steal. He leaves Penn College as its all-time leader in hits, home runs, runs scored and doubles.
Bretzman finished the season with a 3-2 mark on the mound and 2.78 earned run average. He struck out 24 batters and walked 15 in 22.2 innings.
Carles finished in the top 10 in runs (18), hits (29), doubles (7), triples (2) and home runs (2). The left fielder had a .976 fielding percentage on 41 total chances.
NEAC finale: 10-13 (9-11 regular season)
Tuesday, May 11 – NEAC semifinal 9-inning doubleheader (best-of-three), No. 3 Penn College at No. 2 Penn State Abington, L, 16-3; W, 10-6
Wednesday, May 12 – NEAC semifinal at Penn State Abington, L, 12-4
NEAC: 19-3 (15-3 regular season)
Tuesday, May 11 – NEAC semifinal doubleheader (best-of-three), No. 3 Penn State Abington at No. 2 Penn College, W, 6-2; W, 5-4
Saturday, May 15 – NEAC Championship doubleheader (best-of-three) host No. 4 seed Penn State Harrisburg, W, 7-4; W, 6-0
Monday, May 17 – NCAA Division III selection show (NCAA.com), 1 p.m.
Tuesday-Wednesday, May 11-12 – NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championship at Speidel Golf Club’s Arnold Palmer and Robert Trent Jones Sr. courses on the Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, finished 34th in a 37-team field and among 304 Division III teams in the country. Illinois Wesleyan won the team title and Will Hocker, of Webster, took medalist honors after rounds of 69-72-73-71—285.
NEAC finale: 4-2 (4-1 regular season)
NEAC finale: 1-4
NEAC finale: 2-3 (2-2 regular season)
For more information, visit the Wildcat Athletics website.
For more about NEAC, visit the conference website.