Senior first baseman Lexi Huffman scored three runs and drove in seven more on four hits this weekend when the Purdue softball team won their three-game series against Penn State 2-1.
The Boilermakers (27-14, 4-5 Big Ten) climbed out of a five-run hole in the seventh inning Friday night to win 8-7, then mercied the Nittany Lions (19-20, 3-6) 9-1 in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader and dropped the day's second game 7-4 to claim their third home series win of the season.
By the fifth-inning stretch on Friday, the game appeared to be lost for the Boilers. The Lions were ahead 7-2, helped along by a grand slam home run from left fielder Toni Polk in the fourth inning.
"They did a great job hitting the ball," head coach Boo De Oliveira said. "They hit the ball in gaps, their lead-off came up clutch with that grand slam, they had a good game."
The only people who were unconvinced of the Lions' dominance were the Boilers, who began cooking up offense in the bottom of the seventh inning. After four singles and a groundout scored two runs, senior third baseman Jenny Behan was intentionally walked to load the bases. A monster hit by Huffman drove all three of them home to tie the game and put the go-ahead run in scoring position. A final single by freshman left fielder Kasey Wilhoit brought Huffman home to end the comeback and the game.
"Our team stayed disciplined," De Oliveira said. "They passed the bat, they had confidence in each other, and they ran really aggressively, and that’s huge for us. That helped us win the game."
The win was not only special for how it happened, but also for why it happened. Friday's game was dedicated to late cancer research advocate Tyler Trent and child patients from the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Before the game, Lucy Smart, Charlie Smart and Ayden Moody threw out ceremonial first pitches.
The Smarts were symbolically adopted by the softball team after Lucy donated eight milliliters of her bone marrow to Charlie to help him fight a rare form of Leukemia called "ALL T-Cell." Ayden, the younger brother of senior pitcher Kaitlynn Moody, is living with a developmental disorder known as craniosynostosis, in which parts of the skull fuse prematurely after birth.
"The kids at Riley are always in our hearts and today we played for them," De Oliveira said. "We always talk about playing for something bigger than ourselves and tonight we did that."
"It's a big deal that we can do it for them and show them that we can fight through a game," Behan said. "It's nothing compared to the fight that they go through every single day, but we can fight for them on the field."
The Boilermakers put on an offensive clinic in Saturday's first game. In the second inning alone, Penn State faced 12 batters. All but one of them got on base, and three got two at-bats in the inning.
Two RBI doubles, two RBI singles and a bases-loaded walk put the Boilers ahead 8-1 after two innings. Moody and Huffman alone contributed five of these runs, batting in four and allowing Behan to slide home off of Huffman's double in a repeat of Friday's matchup.
According to the NCAA, a team must lead by eight runs by the end of the fifth inning in order to mercy their opponent. The Boilermakers had come within one run of this cutoff in the second inning. In the bottom of the fifth, a sacrifice fly from sophomore catcher Rachel Krzysko sealed the mercy victory for the team.
"It's so much fun when you come out and you attack like that," Huffman said. "We just did a really good job as a team, having a lot of grit and having a lot of discipline, and we did it as a family."
The team's luck ran out in the third game, however. At the end of the third inning, the score stood tied at 3 thanks to a pair of two-run home runs from Huffman and Penn State's Chelsea Bisi. Penn State then strung together two more consecutive two-run innings to pull ahead 7-3, while holding Purdue to only two hits between the third and sixth innings.
"We didn't necessarily not hit the ball in the third game, we just didn't hit off of that last pitcher, " Huffman said. "We just need to make faster adjustments when a pitcher comes in and starts shutting us down."
Purdue tried to mount another seventh-inning comeback, but couldn't pull it off. Penn State took the game 7-4, preventing a Boilermaker sweep.
Purdue heads to Bloomington Wednesday to face in-state rival Indiana University in a doubleheader. The team then returns to Bittinger Stadium at 6 p.m. Friday to face Nebraska.