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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – True freshman RHP Mason Mellott (State College, Pa.) protected a one-run lead over the final 2 2/3 innings, as Penn State defeated UC Santa Barbara, 8-7, in non-conference baseball action Monday afternoon in Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
Penn State (4-5) led from the first inning on and led by as much as six after the top of the fifth and seventh innings, but UCSB (4-7) rallied with a five-run seventh to make the game a nail-biter until the end.
Mellott (2) entered with one out in the seventh with a runner on second, but was able to strand him at third. The Gauchos then loaded up the bases with two outs in the eighth, but second baseman Conlin Hughes (Holly Springs, N.C.) fielded a grounder up the middle and underhand-tossed it to shortstop Tommy Gibson (Williamstown, N.J.), who caught it on the run to beat the runner to the bag and end the inning.
The Nittany Lions tried to add an insurance run in the top of the ninth, as left fielder Braxton Giavedoni (Punxsutawney, Pa.) led the frame off with a base hit and Hughes singled to the gap in left with one out for runners on the corners, but they lined into a double play to end the inning.
Mellott did not need an insurance runs though, as he only yielded a hit in the bottom of the ninth for his second career save.
The middle of the Nittany Lion batting order had a strong day at the plate, as catcher Ryan Sloniger (Punxsutawney, Pa.) went 2-for-5 with a run and three RBIs, Giavedoni went 2-for-4 with two runs a double and a walk, designated hitter Parker Hendershot (Barton, N.Y.) – a true freshman making his first career start – went 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a double, and Hughes went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a walk. Additionally, third baseman Connor Klemann (Royersford, Pa.) hit a solo home run, right fielder Jordan Bowersox (Winter Springs, Fla.) doubled, walked and scored both times reached and center fielder Mac Hippenhammer (Fort Wayne, Ind.) tallied his first career hit and run scored.
Penn State wasted no time getting on the scoreboard after suffering a shutout Sunday. Bowersox led the game off with a walk, and with two outs, moved into scoring position by stealing second base, which allowed Sloniger to drive him home with a single into shallow left-center.
The Nittany Lions took a 2-0 lead in the third inning on a solo home run by Klemann. The shot cleared the scoreboard for his second home run of the season.
UCSB started battling back in the third. The Gauchos loaded the bases with one out, but hit into a bizarre double play to end the inning. Gibson was unable to handle a sharply-hit grounder, but it deflected right to second base, where Hughes picked up the ball, stepped on the base and threw to first to end the inning.
UCSB broke through in the fourth for a run. Left fielder Thomas Rowan led the inning off with a base hit, and while Penn State LHP Dante Biasi (Hazle Township, Pa.) appeared poised to escape, getting two outs and an 0-2 count, he then plunked shortstop Andrew Martinez to move Rowan into scoring position. Third baseman Jason Willow, who tallied a game-high four RBIs on the day, singled up the middle to score him.
Penn State responded by batting around in the fifth, bringing 10 batters to the plate to jump out to a 7-1 lead. Sloniger and Hendershot drove in two each, and Hughes drove in a runner from third on a sacrifice bunt.
Hippenhammer, who had struck out batting left-handed in his first at-bat of the day against the left-handed pitcher, Ben Brecht (0-1), led off the inning batting right-handed. The switch paid off as he slapped a single into right-center for his first career hit. Bowersox followed with a double, and after a strikeout, Klemann walked to load the bases and set the table for Sloniger. who delivered with a base hit to score Bowersox and Klemann.
Giavedoni walked to load the bases again, and Hendershot worked a 2-1 count, forcing UCSB to make a pitching change. Hendershot then worked a full count, but drove a single into right-center for a 6-1 lead. Hughes followed by sacrificing Giavedoni home to cap the scoring.
UCSB and Penn State added a run each in the bottom of the sixth and the top of the seventh, respectively. Hughes tripled to center for the Lions in the seventh, scoring Giavedoni for what would prove to be a pivotal run, as UCSB added five runs in the bottom half of the inning.
The Gauchos led off the seventh with a base hit and double for two runners in scoring position, and the first run scored on a sacrifice fly by Rowan. After a walk, the Gauchos drove in runs with three-straight hits. Right fielder Armani Smith singled to center for one, Martinez drove in two with a base hit, and Willow doubled to left for the final two runs.
Mellott, Penn State’s third pitcher of the seventh, was able to get out of the inning and hold UCSB scoreless the rest of the way to snap Penn State’s five-game skid.
Brecht suffered the loss for UCSB, allowing four runs on five hits and two walks and striking out nine. For Penn State, Biasi went 3 2/3 innings in his third career start, allowing just a run, three hits and two walks, while striking out two. RHP Nick Distasio (1-1) (Oley, Pa.) picked up his first win of the season, allowing just an unearned run on a hit and walk with two strikeouts in two innings of work.
Penn State will enjoy an off day in Santa Barbara Tuesday, travel to Phoenix Wednesday, and open a three-game series at Grand Canyon Thursday. Games Thursday and Friday will start at 8 p.m. ET, and the series will conclude Saturday starting at 4 p.m. ET.
Penn State’s home opener is set for Wednesday, March 14. Season, flex and single-game tickets for the 2018 season, presented by Family Clothesline, are available online at GoPSUsports.com or by calling the Medlar Field at Lubrano Park ticket office at 814-272-1711.
Notes: Parker Hendershot made his first collegiate start, batting sixth at designated hitter. Hendershot is the fifth freshman to start as a positon player for Penn State this season … Penn State has had a freshman pitcher pitch in its last five consecutive games … Ryan Sloniger has a hit in all nine games this season … Three of Penn State’s four wins have been by one run.