By Doug Smith
Niagara Gazette — Penn State University has turned to the Cataract City to help recharge its softball program.
Gazette Player of the Year Toni Polk last week verbally committed to Penn State under a full scholarship, choosing the Nittany Lions from among several suitors. At least two of those were local, but Toni “wanted to go away and see if she could play at that higher level,” according to her mom, Rose Polk, who assists Martha Amoretti as coach at Niagara Falls High.
Toni plans to pursue studies in chemical engineering, and so far, the chemistry between her and mid-state Pennsylvania has been terrific. “The upside,” says Mrs. Polk, “is tremendous.”
As Toni’s stock has risen on the Niagara Frontier, softball’s been on a slide in Happy Valley, with a 34-66 record over the last two years, 14-32 in the Big Ten. Coach Robin Petrini has stepped aside after a 17-year career, replaced by Amanda Lehotak.
“Toni loves her energy and enthusiasm,” Mrs. Polk said.
Penn State softball draws from far and wide. The 2013 roster listed players from 10 states, two from New York’s Southern Tier (Horseheads, Vestal). More 2013 Nittanies hailed from California than anywhere else, and there was one from Hawaii.
Base Paths first spied Toni Polk as an eighth-grader and quickly nicknamed her “Pig Pen,” her work ethic defined by her having the dirtiest uniform on the field. Elders had to explain to her that the name originated with a character from the “Peanuts” comic.
Base Paths then vowed to avoid over-publicizing Toni in her younger years, but 3-for-4 days at the plate and spectacular plays in the field challenged that pledge. As a sophomore this past spring, she hit .611 and was responsible for nearly 60 runs. “Who could imagine,” Mrs. Polk sighed, “that it could all move this fast.”
In moving toward Division I, Toni joins fast company. Niagara-Wheatfield’s Caitlin Attfield helped lead Alabama-Birmingham into the NCAA quarter-final round last spring. Lewiston-Porter’s Megan Cuda has put up breathtaking numbers at Canisius. From time to time, these three Niagara Frontier Musketeers play together on one 23-and-under summer team.
Amoretti speaks often of Toni as “a good athlete who doesn’t want to just settle for that.” Nonetheless, the coach saw her as “having more fun” this spring. And now, the good times move to Happy Valley, Class of 2019. Who could imagine that it would all move this fast.
E-mail Base Paths via firstname.lastname@example.org.