By Jeff Sattora and Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writers
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State (20-21, 6-6 Big Ten) baseball came from behind to down Mount St. Mary's (12-34) and Kent State (24-17) in back-to-back midweek games, building the momentum for this weekend's big series against Ohio State.
The Nittany Lions got off to a slow start offensively on Tuesday, waiting
until they were down 3-0 in the eighth inning to put five runs on the board and
take a 5-3 lead. Senior first baseman
Jordan Steranka sparked the attack with a leadoff double followed by a walk
from freshman outfielder Aaron Novak and a single from junior second baseman Luis
Montesinos to load the bases. Freshman
designated hitter J.J. White came to the plate and proceeded to drive in two
with a base hit to left field.
"The people in front of me put me in a good position with zero outs," said White. "I was just trying to get a run in with a sac-fly or something but the pitcher threw a curve ball over the plate and it found a hole."
White's hit ignited the offense as sophomore shortstop Elliot Searer singled with Montesinos on third to tie the game and senior outfielder Sean Deegan belted a bases clearing triple to left field, giving the Nittany Lions a 5-3 advantage. The three-base shot by Deegan tied Penn State's all-time triples record of 13.
"It was very exciting to put a bunch of runs together," said Searer. "These midweek games are important to keep momentum going into the weekend so it's nice to see guys sticking with it throughout the game."
Pitching was key for the Nittany Lions throughout both midweek games as senior Mike Franklin threw five innings against Mount St. Mary's, giving up no runs on two hits with four strikeouts. Freshman Casey Kulina and junior Evan Dixon went a combined 2.1 innings of hitless and scoreless baseball out of the bullpen to seal the comeback win.
The trend of battling from behind continued with the arrival of Kent State on Wednesday. Once again, the players found themselves down 3-0 early after the Golden Eagles manufactured a quick two runs in the first followed by one in the second.
Penn State trailed 3-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning when Deegan stepped up to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. With a 0-2 count, the senior took a hanging curveball and crushed his 14th triple of the season off the right field wall, emptying the bases and breaking Penn State's all-time triples record. Sophomore outfielder Steve Snyder followed with a base hit to score Deegan and gave the Nittany Lions a 5-3 lead.
"For us to have just one quick inning where we kind of just threw some runs up on the board had to be a back-breaker to them," said Deegan.
Though Penn State was outhit 19-9, the pitching staff held the Golden Griffins to just four runs thanks to a series of strategic pitching changes by head coach Robbie Wine and pitching coach Jason Bell. Each new reliever came up with the right pitches when it mattered.
"Leaving runners on base and not letting them score is what helped us win this game," said sophomore lefthander Tim Dunn.
"We all just went in there, we threw strikes and we just kept with the same mindset that our pitching staff always has and we executed very well today," he added.
Junior Dave Walkling entered the game in the eighth with no outs, runners on first and second and Penn State leading 6-4. Behind a spectacular slider, Walkling struck out the side to end the threat. He then returned in the ninth and shut the door, striking out two more and allowing a meager one hit.
"I came in and had my pitches working and basically just threw the slider over and over and they just swung through it," said Walkling.
Penn State faces rival Ohio State at home this weekend in a critical series between two teams nearly deadlocked in the Big Ten standings. The Nittany Lions are just one game from being tied for second in the conference and there are six teams separated by one and a half games or less.
"We have our fate in our own hands, so just trying to go out and win every series from here on out should set us in a good position for the Big Ten tournament," said Deegan. "I think everyone's excited."
Penn State has been phenomenal at home and looks to build off the momentum of the two midweek victories. The Nittany Lions are 13-3 on Medlar Field at Lubrano Park this season. The pitching staff hasn't allowed a single homerun in their ballpark or against a conference opponent whereas the offense has 12 homeruns versus the Big Ten. That being said, the players know its important not to get bogged down by stats and just play their game.
"We're just going to go out there and play how we know how to play," said Dunn. "Just throw strikes, hit the ball and good things will happen."