Somehow, it was only fitting that the Pennsylvania College of Technology softball season ended with its final games being canceled because of rain; after all, that is how much of the Wildcats' year went as between March 22 and April 17 the team had games on just three of 12 scheduled playing dates.
But after going 2-1 in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Championship Small College World Series at Akron, Ohio, and finishing among the top five teams, rain is all that could dampen the team's spirits.
"They were kind of disheartened that they didn't get the opportunity to finish out in the double-elimination tournament as previously planned," Wildcats coach Roger Harris said after his team completed a 20-13 campaign Wednesday. "They kept positive. As a coach, it was one of those dream teams that every coach looks forward to having. I'm just sorry that they worked that hard for that long, uniting as a team and believing in each other and in their coaches and then it ends the way our season started, with rain and rain and rain."
In its opening game Monday against No. 7 seed New Hampshire Technical Institute, a five-run third inning propelled the 10th-seeded Lady Wildcats to a 6-2 win, their 13th in a row and the college's first ever in USCAA play. Key hits that inning were delivered by Macie Lucas, Rachael Shaeffer, Nicole Lo Furno and Samantha Hill who all had RBI singles. Winning pitcher Arika Stopper struck out eight.
Rain pushed Penn College's second game into Tuesday where, facing second-seeded Lindenwood University-Belleville, the Lady Wildcats committed four errors and were blanked, 8-0 in five innings, seeing their school-record winning streak snapped at 13. Karey Wolfe had the only Penn College hit. Brianne Brewer took the loss on the mound.
But the Penn College bats wouldn't be silenced all day. Back in action just hours later against fourth-seeded Carlow University, the Wildcats scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, four on a walk-off, grand slam by freshman Jessica Gmerek for a 10-7 win. Gmerek also hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning. Stopper went seven innings to record her second win in the tournament and the team became the third in coach Roger Harris' 13 years as coach to reach the 20-win mark. At the conclusion of all play, Gmerek, who hit .367 during the season and drove in a team-high 26 runs, was named to the All-Tournament Team and also earned USCAA All-American Honorable Mention status.
"They were very positive coming back in the losers' bracket. They were excited about it and fought very hard," the coach said.
Penn College was scheduled to play No. 3 Ave Maria University later Tuesday night, but bad weather again had its way, forcing the game to Wednesday afternoon when, with the Wildcats trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the third inning, play was canceled and the tournament ended.
Lindenwood-Belleview took the championship with a 2-0 win over top-seeded St. Mary of the Woods College.
Also last week, four Penn College players received Penn State University Athletic Conference postseason awards as Gmerek and Shaeffer were named to the All-Conference First Team, Stopper to the All-Conference Second Team and Kratzer All-Conference Honorable Mention.
Despite the fact that its season ended in the PSUAC playoffs, five Penn College players received postseason USCAA honors. Junior Zach Buterbaugh was awarded first-team honors, senior Josh Longsderff and junior Zach Weil were named to the Second Team, and senior Cody Buterbaugh, Zach's brother, was named an Honorable Mention.
In addition, the Buterbaughs earned First-Team All-PSUAC honors while Longsderff, Weil and Tyler Cooklin, of Rippey, Iowa, earned Second-Team accolades. Cooklin led the team in strikeouts with 70, had a 3.34 ERA and recorded six wins. The conference award is voted on by the coaches of each institution in the PSUAC.