The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.


Junior infielder Madison Bauerle loads her stance against Brown on Apr. 23, 2023.

Credit: Ellie Pirtle

Penn softball hit the ground running to start the 2024 season with a jam-packed weekend at the Liberty Classic. Despite facing tough competition across three days of play, the Quakers were energized to continue their offseason momentum focused around team culture and development.

The Red and Blue (1-4) kicked off the weekend with a thrilling 8-7 victory in extra innings against Morgan State (7-5), but ultimately dropped the second half of the doubleheader against the Bears and subsequent games against Saint Francis (11-4), Liberty (7-7), and Penn State (11-1). Even though its record may not reflect it, the team will use this weekend as a learning experience to strengthen and rework strategies built over the offseason. 

For new coach Christie Novatin, the Liberty Classic was an opportunity to test out different lineups and positionings ahead of the Ivy League season. Even though the team’s record may not reflect obvious success, Novatin is taking away many positives from Penn’s performance on the diamond.

“Something I've been sharing with the team is [that] the preseason, heading into Ivies, is really important for self exploration,” Novatin said. “I thought that we saw some really great things out of this team — a lot of great fight out of this team — which was really exciting.”

In game one of the tournament on Friday, Morgan State struck first with a sacrifice fly to put the Bears on the scoreboard at the top of the first inning. It didn’t take long for Penn’s offense to get going, though, as freshman outfielder Megan Huang recorded the first hit of her college career — a triple — to drive in two of her teammates and put the Quakers up by one run. The offense continued to build late in the game, capitalizing on Morgan State errors and aggression on the base paths to post another five runs in the fifth inning and take a 7-2 lead.

The Bears wouldn’t go down without a fight, however. Morgan State had a five-run inning of its own at the top of the sixth, and suddenly, the Quakers were faced with a tie game. A scoreless seventh sent the game to extra innings, and the Bears threatened to take the lead with a runner in scoring position. Freshman right-handed pitcher Ella Utschig, in her first appearance on the mound as a Quaker, pitched a scoreless inning to set the Red and Blue up for success. In the bottom of the eighth, senior outfielder Brianna Brown took advantage of the moment and drove in the game-winning RBI — the first of her career.

“There's no feeling quite like it. It was my first ever, [in my] entire career, walk off … it's something that you wish every player could experience at least once. There's no better feeling,” Brown said.

Despite an exhilarating start to tournament play, the rest of Penn’s weekend did not follow suit. In the second half of Friday’s doubleheader against Morgan State, the Quakers were unable to overcome a back-and-forth affair on the scoreboard with a 6-3 loss. Saturday’s morning game against Saint Francis saw Penn with a four-run lead going into the seventh inning, but two multi-run homers secured the Red Flash a blazing 7-6 victory. After the deflating loss, the Red and Blue’s offense could not get going against Liberty, as the team faced a 4-1 defeat to round out the day.

With a chance for redemption on Sunday, the Quakers entered another back-and-forth battle with Penn State, keeping their deficit no larger than two runs until the fifth inning. Despite Penn’s best efforts, the Nittany Lions roared behind the plate late in the game as the Red and Blue ended the weekend with a 12-5 loss. 

“Defense is going to be a staple for us. And I'm really confident in our ability to get them there,” Novatin said on the team’s areas for improvement moving forward. “I think the game was moving pretty fast for them over the weekend, and that's just something that comes with a little bit more experience. But, defense is going to win you games.”

Five pitchers took the mound for the Quakers this weekend, who produced mixed results as a whole. While every starter went at least three innings, hits were often allowed at crucial points within the game. Nonetheless, the pitching staff showed much potential for consistency and tenacity in keeping the ball out of play as the season progresses. 

The breakout star of the weekend, aside from Huang and Brown, was senior utility player Katie Reagan. The senior went 7-for-11 at the plate with three extra-base hits and three RBIs, and is poised to be a key force off the bench in the weeks ahead.

“I think that the cool thing about this team is there's a lot of depth and versatility … everybody has a role that we can see filling and whether that's just even base running — we have a lot of speed on the bench — which is awesome for us to be able to come pull out and help upgrade and you know, raise more chaos on the base paths,” Novatin said. 

The Red and Blue are back in action this upcoming weekend with a trip to Beaumont, Texas for a three-game series against Lamar. Reflecting on what they’ve learned from their opening series, the team knows that no matter what the rest of the season may bring, they won’t have to face it alone.

“Since this opening weekend, we started using ‘together' as our team motto, or what we say after we break down our huddle,” Brown said. “I think if we're going to get anywhere, we have to do it together. And that's something that's always going to be true.”