One year ago exactly, Indiana softball’s 2022 season ended.
Penn State junior infielder Lexie Black’s walk-off single in extra-innings against Indiana freshman pitcher Heather Johnson had sent Team 49 packing. No. 7 Penn State beat then-No. 10 Indiana 2-1 in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament to march to the quarterfinals.
One year later, Indiana got a rematch with Penn State, this time in the quarterfinals of the 2023 Big Ten Tournament. Black seemingly struck another game-winning hit off of Johnson. Her two-run home run in the top half of the eighth gave No. 7 Penn State a surprise 4-2 advantage over now-No. 2 Indiana.
While Black once more had a say in the game, it was Indiana sophomore utility player Sarah Stone that had the last laugh. With the game tied at four in the ninth inning, Stone crushed the second pitch of the at-bat to dead center. Her ninth home run of the year enacted revenge on the Nittany Lions and walked it off for the Hoosiers, 5-4 in extras.
Just like last year, the single-elimination game turned out to be a pitcher’s duel. Indiana sophomore Brianna Copeland and Penn State fifth-year Bailey Parshall went toe-to-toe in the circle. Parshall pitched in last year’s tournament meeting between the two teams, earning the win after pitching a complete game, only giving up one run.
Parshall and Copeland combined for 12 ⅓ innings pitched, seven strikeouts and just four earned runs in Thursday’s tilt. It was a back-and-forth game, but Indiana led first, courtesy of Copeland’s solo home run to left field in the bottom of the second inning.
In the top of the fifth inning, Penn State capitalized with a runner in scoring position and one out, something it could not do two innings prior. Junior infielder Amanda Mack pinch-hit with runners on the corners and hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game, 1-1.
However, it didn’t take long for the Hoosiers to jump back out in front. The first pitch of the ensuing half-inning was hit over the left field wall by freshman utility player Avery Parker. Team 50 regained the lead, now 2-1.
The Nittany Lions responded in the top of the sixth with one run to even the game again. Penn State senior catcher Cassie Lindmark’s bloop single dropped with two outs into shallow center field. Indiana junior shortstop Brooke Benson and sophomore outfielder Kinsey Mitchell collided, allowing sophomore pinch runner Lydia Spalding to score all the way from first base.
Both teams were unable to score in the sixth or seventh, but Penn State finally broke through in the eighth. Johnson quickly sat down the first two Nittany Lions, but four straight hits, including Black’s tiebreaking home run, forced Indiana head coach Shonda Stanton to bring Copeland back into the circle. Copeland started the game and pitched the first six innings before being relieved by Johnson.
Copeland got a strikeout as the Nittany Lions left two runners in scoring position. But, Penn State had broken the tie in extra innings just like they did 365 days ago.
With Indiana’s backs against the wall, Team 50 came through in the clutch to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth, courtesy of a couple misplays. Freshman Cassidy Kettleman bunted to begin the inning and reached on an error by fifth-year pitcher Kylee Lingenfelter.
Three batters later, redshirt junior utility player Cora Bassett, who was hitless in three previous at-bats, came up to the plate with runners on second and third and just one out. Bassett almost fouled out to first, but Black’s foot made contact with the base and she lost sight of the ball in the sun. Therefore, Bassett’s at-bat continued.
Bassett made Penn State pay by lining a two-run double down the left-field line to tie the game at four. Lingenfelter got the next two Hoosiers to fly out, stranding Bassett on base, the winning run, but Indiana’s Big Ten Tournament hopes were still alive.
In the bottom of the ninth, Stone ended the contest with a blast to center field. Her eighth home run sent Indiana to the Big Ten semifinals for the first time in five seasons.
The first meeting between Indiana and Penn State in 2023 was the first extra-innings contest Team 50 played this season. Copeland improved to 21-2 on the mound as Indiana won its 41st game this season.
The Hoosiers will meet No. 3 Minnesota Friday. The Golden Gophers also won their quarterfinal via walk-off. Minnesota’s 3-2 triumph over No. 6 Ohio State advanced its record to 37-16. Minnesota took two out of three against Indiana when the teams met in Minneapolis back in early April. Indiana lost the series and its record-setting win streak against the Golden Gophers, which had reached 23 games.
Minnesota boasts the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in fifth-year Autumn Pease, while Indiana has the Freshman and Player of the Year in infielder Taryn Kern. Pease completed the entirety of Thursday’s quarterfinal in 96 pitches, striking out nine Buckeyes across eight innings.
Minnesota has won 12 straight games and Indiana has won 10 straight entering the contest. Minnesota’s most recent loss was at the hands of Indiana and vice versa. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. EST from Eichelberger Field, and it will be televised on the Big Ten Network. The winner earns a spot in Saturday’s championship game.