Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Normally, when a team's starting pitcher can't make it out of the first inning, it spells big trouble.
Teams rely on their starters to carry the game as long as they can to keep stress off the bullpen, but sometimes it isn't your day. That was the case Sunday afternoon for Penn State starter Taylor Lehman against Northwestern.
Lehman made it to at least the fourth inning in all of his eight previous starts this season, but he didn't have his best stuff Sunday. The senior lasted four hitters in the first inning before getting pulled with the bases loaded and no outs. He gave up a run on two hits and two walks.
A troubling scenario for a bullpen pitcher - entering a game with the bases loaded and no outs, is seldom worked out of without any damage incurred. While Penn State seemed to be in a heap of trouble early, the game could've gotten out of hand quickly.
Freshman Bailey Dees wasn't going to let that happen.
Dees expertly maneuvered his way out of the inning without allowing another run. He got some help from shortstop Tommy Gibson, who snared a line drive and turned an unassisted double play by himself to get the Nittany Lions out of trouble.
"He threw strikes and got outs and was able to limit the damage to one," head coach Rob Cooper said. "You can't worry about the guys that are on [base], you got to take care of each pitch and he did a good job."
Dees said he barely got any time to warm up before entering the game but was ready to go when he got the call.
"You just got to attack guys, go right after these Northwestern guys and make them swing the bat," Dees said. "You can't defend walks, so if we go out there, get ahead with first-pitch strikes and go right at guys, it gives us a much better chance to get hitters out."
Penn State was able to tie the game in the second inning with a sacrifice fly courtesy of Shea Sbranti. What could've been another disaster for the Blue and White flipped around and they seemed to be in the driver's seat.
Dees continued to pitch 2.1 innings and surrendered just two runs in the game. They were the only two earned runs he's allowed in his last four appearances.
Penn State was still at a disadvantage having to go to its bullpen so early in the game, but three more relievers took the mound and kept the Nittany Lions within striking distance all game.
Senior Jake Pilewicz replaced Dees in the third inning and pitched two solid innings of his own. He allowed just one earned run on two hits.
Penn State tallied another run in the third to make it a one-run game via a Braxton Giavedoni sacrifice fly that scored Connor Klemann. At that point in the game, the Nittany Lions had yet to record a hit in the game but still pushed across two runs.
Kyle Virbitsky and Marko Boricich finished the final four innings in impressive fashion, limiting Northwestern to one hit and no runs. Boricich pitched two perfect innings to end the game and tallied three strikeouts, but the offense was unable to come alive and Penn State fell 6-3.
After the bullpen surrendered two late leads to the Wildcats in the first two games of the series, Cooper and Virbitsky said it's encouraging to see the bullpen perform well from the first pitch to the last.
"Just as a staff lately, especially yesterday you can point some fingers toward the staff for what happened, but being able to come out today and at least keep it under control was huge," Virbitsky said.