Top-seeded Penn College softball team has point to prove
One year ago, Pennsylvania College of Technology softball coach Angela Stackhouse had her team in the same position entering the United East Conference playoffs as it is this year: regular-season champion, top seed and tournament host.
Unfortunately, wet weather forced what was to have been a double-elimination tournament into a one-loss-and-you-are-out event, and her Wildcats made an early exit after going 1-1 as Penn State Berks walked away with the championship trophy.
“I am extremely happy that we are in the exact same situation again, just because last year’s format got changed to a one-day single-elimination tournament. This year, we are looking forward to having that full four-team, double-elimination bracket going,” Stackhouse said of action that begins Monday morning at Elm Park.
“This team has been hungry since that day last year. They knew in their hearts that they felt they were the best team, and we are definitely looking to prove that point this year,” Stackhouse said.
Penn College (20-4 UE, 28-8 overall) will open against fourth-seed PS Abington (14-10, 20-14) at 10 a.m. Monday. Following at noon will be second-seed Penn State Berks (19-5, 24-8) against third-seed Penn State Harrisburg (15-9, 23-15).
Monday’s first-game winners will square off at 2 p.m., while the day’s first-game losers will clash at 4 p.m. Games 5, 6 and, if necessary, 7 will be played on Tuesday, with Wednesday a rain date, if needed.
“Each season, it seems to come down to our four programs. Any of us can beat the other at any given time. This late in the season, you have to be playing your best ball, and there are no days off,” Stackhouse said.
In the conference regular season, Penn College went 2-2 against Abington, 3-1 against Berks and 4-0 against Harrisburg.
“When we are playing at our best, we are very hard to beat. The day we traveled to PSU Abington, we were not at our best, and they took advantage of that. Hats off to them for having a great day!” Stackhouse said, adding that this past Friday’s sweep of Abington took some of the sting out of the two earlier losses as Penn College hiked its win streak to six straight and nine of its last 10.
“Softball is a game of momentum and we are playing our very best softball right now. To watch us starting to peak in May is a really exciting thing for a coach. There isn’t a better time for it. Our bats are alive. We’re making exceptional defensive plays, and our pitching has been outstanding from day one,” Stackhouse said.
Penn College leads the conference with a .342 team batting average, a pitching staff best 1.75 ERA and is second in fielding percentage at 0.966.
Individually among the regular starters, Jordan Specht, of Frederick, Maryland (.500); Maddie Hurst, of Mechanicsburg (.494); Lexi Snyder, of Hegins (.442); Kyla Benner, of Bethlehem (.400); and Mackenzie Weaver, of Montoursville (.385) are among the conference’s hitting leaders.
“It is always fun to look back on the body of work this team accomplishes each season. We are fully jelled together at this point, but it is certainly a process. It looks different each year, but we always seem to get there at the right time,” the fourth-year coach said.
Weaver (15-4 overall) leads the conference with a 0.93 ERA with 131 strikeouts and 31 walks, Johanna Devore, of Montoursville, owns a 3-1 record, 2.89 ERA with 12 strikeouts and two walks, and Benner (10-3) has a 3.07 ERA with 70 strikeouts and 25 walks.
“Weaver has come back even stronger from an impressive freshman campaign. She has a year of collegiate pitching under her belt and has grown as an athlete over the last year,” Stackhouse said. “Benner was beyond impressive last season, and it would be very difficult to repeat that performance. Roles often change from year to year and game to game. She has been willing to come back and put in work and help where she can, and we are better for it.
“(Devore) has been exceptional, serving as a relief pitcher this season for us. She has the mentality that she doesn’t get shaken up very easily. She comes in and does her job. With her being left-handed and putting a lot of spin on the ball, she has such a different look and has been excellent for us.
“We’re all looking forward to showcasing our best softball. Our goal all year has been to get to the next level and get to that (NCAA Division III) regional stage again (as it did in 2021) and compete. So, one game at a time, one step at a time, but that’s where we have our sights.
“The one thing I have enjoyed the most about coaching this team is they are wired to win. They want it. They expect it. And, it makes my job a lot easier.”
United East Tournament at Elm Park
Monday, May 8 — Penn College (1) vs. Penn State Abington (4), 10 a.m.
Monday, May 8 — Penn State Berks (2) vs. Penn State Harrisburg (3), noon
Monday, May 8 — First-game winners, 2 p.m.
Monday, May 8 — First-game losers, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, May 9 — Game 5, 11 a.m.
Tuesday, May 9 — Game 6, 1 p.m.
Tuesday, May 9 — Game 7, 3 p.m., if necessary
Wednesday, May 10 — Rain date, if needed
For more about the United East, visit the conference website.
For additional information, visit the Wildcats Athletics website.