Penn State Baseball Splits the Opening Day Doubleheader at Gardner-Webb
BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. - The Penn State baseball program split an opening-day doubleheader, winning the game one by a final of 6-4 and dropping the second game 7-3 at Gardner-Webb. The win in the opener marked head coach Rob Cooper’s first career win as a Nittany Lion.
Junior first baseman J.J. White (Landsdowne, Va.) starred at the plate in the two game set, going 3-for-6 on the day with a double, three RBI’s, a run and three walks. White came up with the heroics in the top of the ninth in the victory, roping a double to right field to break a 3-3 tie by scoring two runs and putting the Nittany Lions on top 5-3.
On the mound, junior T.J. Jann (Westford, Mass.) turned in a great outing in his season debut. The junior went seven strong innings, allowing just two earned runs while scattering six hits and striking out three to put the team in position for a victory.
GAME ONE: The Nittany Lion hitters displayed patience at the plate to open the game, drawing four walks in the first two frames to start the season. Unfortunately, Penn State was unable to capitalize on the opportunities, stranding three runners with no runs to show for.
In Gardner-Webb’s first at bat, JJ Nazzaro singled through the left side to lead off the frame. After a flyout and a groundout to move the runner to second, Nazzaro stole third and scored the game’s first run off an overthrow from the catcher to give the hosts an early 1-0 advantage.
The Nittany Lions fought back and leveled the score in the top of the fourth. White led off the stanza with a walk and advanced to second on a one-out single from Tyler Kendall (Boynton Beach, Fla.), the Blue and White’s first of the game. After a strikeout, sophomore Ryan Richter (Wayne, Pa.) blooped a single into shallow right field to drive in White and tie the score at 1-1.
Jann then tossed a scoreless fourth and fifth to send the game into the sixth tied at 1-1. The Penn State bats were held in check in the top of the sixth and Gardner-Webb managed to retake the lead in the bottom half of the frame by scoring two runs.
As in the first inning, Nazzaro was once again the catalyst in the sixth for the hosts, leading off with a double to left field. Jann retired the next two Bulldog hitters before Henry Rundio recorded an infield single to put GWU up 2-1. Matt Simmons followed it up with a double down the left field line to increase the Bulldog lead to two before the Lions got out of the inning.
Penn State showed its resiliency and scraped two runs across the plate in the top of the seventh to even the score at 3-3. Senior Steve Snyder (West Chester, Pa.) got the rally started with a double into the right-center gap. After James Coates (Girard, Ohio) drew a walk, both baserunners moved up 90 feet after the Gardner-Webb pitcher balked. Greg Guers (Langhorne, Pa.) then grounded out to first to score Snyder and move Coates to third, cutting the Bulldog lead to 3-2. White followed by driving in Coates with a sacrifice fly to center to knot the game up at 3-3.
Jann recorded his final inning of the game in the bottom of the seventh, stranding one runner in the frame before giving way to reliever Jack Anderson (Evanston, Ill.) for the final two innings.
Neither team managed to score in the eighth inning, setting up a dramatic finish.
Snyder led off the ninth with a walk to set the table for the Nittany Lions. Coates then laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Snyder into scoring position and managed to reach first safely when the Bulldogs’ third baseman recorded an error on the throw, causing both Nittany Lions to move into scoring position. GWU then decided to load the bases by intentionally walking Guers. White stepped up to the dish and made the Bulldogs pay by ripping a double to deep right field, driving in Snyder and Coates and giving the Lions their first lead of the game at 5-3. Two batters later Kendall singled to right to score Guers and increase Penn State’s lead to 6-3.
Gardner-Webb made it interesting in the bottom of the ninth. The Nittany Lions retired two of the first three batters to move one out away from their first win of the season. With a runner on third, Nazzaro singled to left center to cut Penn State’s lead to two at 6-4. The next two Bulldog runners reached by way of hit by pitch and a single to load the bases. Anderson got out of the jam by getting Rundio to ground out to first and end the threat.
Anderson recorded the win in relief, the first of his Penn State career. The sophomore pitched two innings in relief, allowing no earned runs.
GAME TWO: The Nittany Lions carried the momentum from the game one win into the first frame of the second game of the doubleheader. Coates and Guers recorded back-to-back singles to place runners on first and second. White followed by lining a comebacker off the pitcher’s glove to record an infield single to load the bases. The Blue and White then grabbed an early 1-0 lead by way of a sacrifice fly off the bat of Taylor Skerpon (Sayre, Pa.). Despite giving up the lead, Gardner-Webb minimized the damage by escaping the inning with just one run allowed.
The Bulldogs quickly answered, pushing across a run in the bottom of the first off a Rundio single to tie the game at 1-1.
After a scoreless second stanza, the Bulldogs put three runs on the scoreboard in the third to take a 4-1 lead, thanks in large part to back-to-back doubles from Scott Coleman and Rundio. Gardner-Webb added two more in the fourth to push its lead to five runs at 6-1.
The Penn State bats were held at bay from the second through seventh innings before coming alive again in the eighth. The Nittany Lions staged a two-out rally, as Colin Keefe (Woodbury, Minn.) got hit by a pitch followed by a James Haley (Upper Darby, Pa.) walk. Ryky Smith (York, Pa.) came on to pinch run for Keefe and scored off a single from Snyder to make the score 6-2. Coates followed by drawing a free pass to load the bases. During Guers’ at bat, Haley scrambled home on a wild pitch to cut the host’s lead to 6-3. Gardner-Webb walked Guers to load the bases but escaped the scare by getting the next PSU batter to groundout to the pitcher.
GWU tacked on a run in the bottom of the eighth off a solo home run from Brantley Smith to seal the Bulldogs a 7-3 victory.
The Blue and White wraps up the opening series with a getaway game tomorrow against Gardner-Webb that is slated to begin at 1 p.m. The Nittany Lions then travel to Tampa, Fla. next weekend for a three-game set with the University of South Florida. Game one is scheduled to start on Friday, Feb. 21 at 7 p.m.