Maryland pitcher Courtney Wyche was going to coast to another shutout.
Softball storylines can change quickly though, and the Nittany Lions’ offense woke up in a hurry. A two-run sixth gave Penn State (26-14, 7-10 Big Ten) a narrow lead it wouldn’t cede in a series-deciding 2-1 victory over Maryland (31-15, 7-10 Big Ten), resulting in yet another late defeat for the Terps.
It took a dominant Wyche pitching performance to even keep Maryland in the game, as the Terps’ offense was anemic throughout most of Sunday’s matchup.
“We’re not hitting the ball real hard right now and we need to hit it better,” coach Mark Montgomery said.
Nittany Lions starter Bailey Parshall matched Wyche step for step though, only allowing one run on four innings pitched. Coupled with reliever Kylee Lingenfelter, Penn State’s pitchers were just as good as Wyche on Sunday.
Maryland had two scoring chances early on, but failed to capitalize both times. In the first, Kiley Goff and Jaeda McFarland led off the game with two singles, giving the Terps runners on first and second with no outs.
But consecutive strikeouts by Amelia Lech and Trinity Schlotterbeck ended the inning, letting the Nittany Lions off the hook. The second inning followed a similar script.
Maryland had runners on the corners with just one out after a Penn State error. But a Megan Mikami pop up and a Goff groundout neutralized the threat, leaving the game scoreless through two innings.
Failing to capitalize on scoring opportunities early has been a common theme this season for Maryland. It is something Montgomery has lamented this year, yet continues to be an issue for the Terps.
“We had several opportunities to score some more runs and we didn’t get it done,” Montgomery said.
It took a home run from a struggling star to put the Terps on the board.
Prior to the third inning of Sunday’s game, Lech was hitless in her last 17 plate appearances. The sophomore slump was hitting the star first basewoman/catcher as her hot start to the season had seemed to cool down.
But Lech broke out of her slump in a big way to notch the first run of a scoreless game in the third inning. She hit her team-leading 13th home run of the season, giving the Terps their only run of the day.
Maryland got the help it needed on the mound from Courtney Wyche early on. The senior ace entered Sunday’s match allowing just five runs in her past four outings, including an eight inning, 12 strikeout line against Penn State on Friday.
Wyche dazzled again early on Sunday as she struck out four Nittany Lions hitters and mowed through the Penn State lineup, holding a no-hitter through three innings.
A Lexie Black single gave the Nittany Lions their first hit of the day in the fourth inning and in the sixth frame, Wyche got into a jam that forced Montgomery into an eerily similar decision to last Sunday’s game against Iowa. Wyche had been dominant throughout that matchup as well, but faced trouble in the final inning.
Montgomery elected to pull his senior in favor of freshman closer Keira Bucher against the Hawkeyes. Bucher, the Big Ten saves leader, gave up the game-winning hit to Nia Carter. Afterwards, Montgomery made clear he would’ve done it differently if given the opportunity.
“[Bucher’s] struggled lately, so I don’t know if we’ll continue to make moves like that,” Montgomery said.
So, when the first two hitters reached second and third base in the sixth, Montgomery decided to bring in Trinity Schlotterbeck instead. The senior gave up two inherited runs, but managed to keep the game within one.
Schlotterbeck gave the Terps a chance to make a late comeback of their own, but Maryland’s lineup was unable to muster anything in the final two innings, falling to Penn State 2-1. The loss drops the Terps to 7-10 in conference play as they once again failed to take advantage of a late lead.