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March 4, 2011
RALEIGH, N.C. - Heath Johnson carried the Penn State baseball team through the first six innings before Bobby Jacobs capped off a late Nittany Lion rally with a game-winning single in the top of the ninth that lifted the squad to a 3-2 victory over North Carolina State during a non-conference battle on a sunny Friday afternoon at Dail Park.
Johnson was lights-out on the mound as the senior right-hander allowed just two hits over 5.2 scoreless innings. He held the potent Wolfpack line-up silent until the Penn State attack plated three late runs to overpower NC State (4-4) and come away with the victory.
Jacobs and Sean Deegan both knocked in runs for Penn State (4-3), while Mario Eramo launched his second home run in as many games. Jordan Steranka also scored the game-winner in the ninth, while Elliot Searer finished 1-for-3 with a run scored.
Following a phenomenal pitchers' duel in the early going, the offenses started to find their rhythm in the later innings. Penn State struck with single runs in the sixth and seventh before NC State knotted the game with a pair in the eighth. Although the momentum slowly began to shift, the Lions mounted one last rally in the ninth.
Steranka opened the inning with a clutch double to right. With the go-ahead run in scoring position, Wolfpack reliever D.J. Thomas settled down. He retired the next two hitters, including Eramo on an incredible 10-pitch battle that momentarily left Steranka stranded.
With two down, NC State summoned Chris Overman from the bullpen to face Jacobs. The senior catcher eventually worked the count full before connecting on a knock to center that just found open spaces and allowed Steranka to fly around from second with the winning run.
After retaking the lead, Penn State called upon Ryan Ignas to close out the game. Although the Wolfpack eventually put a runner on third with two outs, Searer made a nice play at second to knock down a shot by Pratt Maynard before regrouping and firing a strike to first to seal the victory.
Dave Walkling (3-0) earned the win after tossing 1.2 innings out of the bullpen, while Ignas picked up his first save of the season following his performance in the ninth. Thomas (0-1) took the loss for NC State after allowing one run on one hit in 1.2 innings of work.
Although the offenses were the story at the end of the game, Johnson and NC State's Cory Mazzoni were dominant on the mound in the early going. The two aces matched each other pitch-for-pitch while tossing zeros on the scoreboard.
The Wolfpack escaped a minor scare in the top of the third after Luis Montesinos started the inning with a line-drive double to left center. Despite the threat, Mazzoni quickly recorded two of his career-high 13 strikeouts before inducing an inning-ending fly out.
In the bottom of the frame, NC State moved a runner into scoring position as well, but Johnson never relented. He eventually got Pratt Maynard to line a ball up the middle where Searer had settled. After snagging the rocket, he immediately flipped to Michael Glantz to double-up the runner and end the inning.
Penn State continued to benefit from strong defense in the middle innings. Deegan made a great grab on the warning track after snaring a ball in-stride just before hitting the wall in the fourth. Searer also kept up his outstanding glove work in the bottom of the fifth. On a hard-hit bouncer, he sprinted to his left and made a nice grab in his out-stretched glove before tossing an off-balanced strike to first.
Fittingly, the two defensive standouts showed off their offensive skills as well in the top of the sixth. Engaged in a scoreless struggle, Searer kicked off a rally with a single through the left side of the infield. After advancing to second on a failed pickoff attempt, he came around to score the game's first run when Deegan smacked an RBI single just inside the rightfield line.
After finding his swing in the series finale against Eastern Kentucky last week, Mario Eramo continued his hot streak in the top of the seventh. For the second straight game, he went deep with a titanic blast. On a 1-1 pitch, he unloaded a shot to right that easily cleared the trees and found its way towards the construction zone well beyond the fence.
Now trailing by two, NC State pieced together a major threat in the bottom of the seventh. The hosts loaded the bases after Tarran Saray was hit by a pitch, Chris Diaz lined a single to right, and Peter Bako drew a walk. Despite the situation, Walkling calmly worked out of the jam. He eventually got Brett Williams, NC State's leading hitter, to ground out to short to end the frame.
One inning later, the Nittany Lions were not as fortunate as the Wolfpack clawed back into the game. Although Walkling retired the first two batters, NC State benefited from three straight doubles, including a pair that just barely eluded Montesinos' grasp in right, to even the game at two heading into the top of the ninth.
Despite the shift in momentum, Steranka and Jacobs landed the final blow with their heroics in the ninth to clinch the victory.
Due to the threat of an approaching storm front, Penn State and NC State will wrap up their series with a doubleheader on Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. Previously, the teams were scheduled to play a pair of single games on Saturday and Sunday.