Ahead of the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, Penn State kicked off its final regular-season series with Illinois.
After Friday’s game was postponed due to poor weather, the Nittany Lions and Fighting Illini squared off in a pair of contests on Illinois’ home turf Saturday.
The home team took the first matchup 4-3, but the blue and white shutout the Illini 2-0 to take the second.
Illinois started the first game strong, scoring two runs in the first inning to gain an early lead.
Penn State enjoyed its own scoring stretch in the third inning, as runs scored by senior Ally Kurland and pinch runners Maddie Gordon and Lydia Coleman gave it a 3-2 advantage.
Illinois senior Avrey Steiner’s single turned into two RBIs for her team, giving it a 4-3 lead it would hold onto for the rest of the game.
In the back half of the doubleheader, neither team would score until the fourth inning.
Junior first baseman Lexie Black’s two-run homer broke the drought and scored sophomore Mel Coombs, who returned from injury Saturday, in addition to herself.
These two runs would prove to be the only notable offensive plays during the game, as Penn State would hold onto that lead to earn a 2-0 victory, splitting the double header with Illinois in the process.
Inability to keep pace with Illinois offensively cost Penn State the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.
While the score may have been close, Illinois was far superior to the Nittany Lions offense.
The Fighting Illini tallied 10 hits compared to the blue and white’s three. Penn State also struck out a staggering 12 times compared to Illinois’ four.
In the second game of the day, both teams struggled at the plate, leading to the game remaining scoreless for some time.
When Black finally connected for her home run, it proved to be a major turning point in the game.
Despite that standout moment Penn State once again only tallied three hits during the game.
However, Illinois also only gathered four hits in Game 2, allowing the Nittany Lions an easier time controlling the game defensively.
Pitching up and downs
Senior Kylee Lingenfelter got the start in the circle during both games of the doubleheader, but saw a short leash in both outings nonetheless.
Lingenfelter was able to strike out three batters during the first three innings of Game 1, before being relieved by fellow senior Bailey Parshall.
Penn State’s starter left the contest while the Nittany Lions were in the lead, a lead that her teammate would not hang onto during her first stint in the circle.
Parshall allowed seven hits and the game-winning runs to finish the first contest, a far cry from her normal production on the season.
In the second game, Lingenfelter once again was given the starting nod and fared even better, not totaling any strikeouts but also only allowed one hit and zero runs.
Despite this solid play, Parshall made a reappearance and once again relieved Lingenfelter after three frames.
Parshall would fare better in her second showing of the day, striking out four batters and allowing three hits to the opposition in the final four innings of the day.
After the senior failed to start either game, it remains unclear whether Parshall will get her usual start, or if Crowell is saving her for postseason play.
Postseason fast approaching
After splitting the pair of games against the Fighting Illini, the blue and white currently sit at 12-10 in Big Ten play on the season, with one final showdown with Illinois on Sunday remaining.
Penn State now sits at sixth place in the conference standings, slotting them in to comfortably qualify for the postseason.
With the Big Ten Tournament beginning next week on May 11, the Nittany Lions won’t have much of a break after Sunday before their biggest games of the season arrive.
While sweeping Illinois would have been an encouraging result for Penn State, finishing the series off with a win on Sunday could still prove momentous.