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March 18, 2011
WICHITA, Kan. - Coming off of an impressive road stretch in North Carolina and Virginia, the Penn State baseball team ran into its toughest opponent of the season as No. 26 Wichita State built up an early lead and held on for a 9-0 victory over the Nittany Lions on a windy evening at Eck Stadium.
Following back-to-back victories over No. 11 Arizona during a midweek series, the Shockers (13-4) continued their strong play against Penn State (10-6). The hosts burst out to a 3-0 lead in the first and added six insurance runs in the middle innings on the way to the victory.
Facing one of the hottest pitchers in the nation, Bobby Jacobs ripped two hits against Wichita State's Tim Kelley, while Jordan Steranka also reached base safely three times with a single and two walks. Despite those efforts, Kelley worked out of a pair of early jams and eventually settled in while cruising through seven innings on the mound.
After tossing a three-hit shutout against No. 24 Tulane last weekend, Kelley allowed a pair of early singles to Penn State in the first. During the rally, Luis Montesinos and Steranka collected back-to-back hits, which quickly put some pressure on the senior right-hander. Despite the situation, Kelley eventually worked out of the jam after inducing a 5-3 double play.
Following Penn State's early threat, Wichita State went right to work in the bottom half of the opening frame. The Shockers benefited from some PSU assistance as the hosts capitalized on two walks, a passed ball, a hit batsman, and two wild pitches to grab a 2-0 lead. Later, Tyler Coughenour picked up the squad's first hit of the inning after punching a single back up the middle that chased in the third run of the frame.
Trailing by three early, the Nittany Lions once again found themselves in prime position to plate a run in the top of the second. After Kelley struck out the leadoff hitter, Jacobs and Ryan Clark lined base hits through the left side of the infield to put a pair on with only one out.
Following a failed pick-off attempt that went sailing down the rightfield line and allowed both men to advance, Penn State had a pair of runners in scoring position with an opportunity to cut into the deficit. Once again, Kelley remained unfazed on the mound and calmly escaped unscathed. Following an infield pop up, the ace struck out his third batter of the game to cap the inning.
After posting four strikeouts in his first four starts of the year, PSU starter Heath Johnson showed off his best stuff in the second while keeping the deficit at three. Mixing a low-90s fastball with a tough breaking pitch, he struck out the side to quiet Wichita State.
Unfortunately, following the scoreless second, WSU all but put the game away with a four-run surge in the third. The Shockers put their first two runners on base before Coughenour poked an RBI single to right and Ryan Hege knocked in a run with a groundball. Later, Walker Davidson and Tyler Grimes each chased in a run with base hits to give the squad a 7-0 advantage.
With Wichita State's offense and pitching doing its job, the defense looked strong as well. In the fourth, Joey DeBernardis opened the inning with a rocket towards short. Tyler Grimes quickly ranged deep into the hole and made a nice backhand pick. After setting his feet, the junior shortstop completed the play by putting his strong right arm on full display as he fired a strike across the diamond that cut down DeBernardis by a stride.
While receiving a little help from his defense, Kelley continued to silence the Penn State attack. He retired 10 straight Lions in the middle innings before Blake Lynd snapped the streak with a two-out single to left in the fifth. Although the senior speedster quickly swiped second, Lynd was left stranded as Kelley forced an inning-ending ground out to keep the shutout in tact.
After Wichita State plated two more runs in the bottom of the fifth on a bases-loaded walk by Grimes and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Preston Springer, the Penn State bullpen settled down. Evan Dixon fired two pristine frames against the high-powered offense before Mike Franklin and Neal Herring each worked a scoreless inning to keep the deficit at nine.
Unfortunately, Penn State's lineup could never quite find its rhythm against the Shocker staff. Eventually, the Lions posted their largest threat of the game during a last-ditch effort in the top of the ninth. Steranka and Alex Farkes both worked walks while DeBernardis reached on an error to load the bases with one down.
As Wichita State did throughout the game, the hosts calmed down in the face of adversity. With the bases packed, reliever Chance Sossamon sent the next two batters down on strikes to close out the win.
Kelley (3-0) earned the win after striking out seven while scattering six hits over seven innings of work. Johnson (0-1) took the loss after surrendering six runs on four hits in two innings on the mound.
The two teams will continue their series tomorrow at 3 p.m. ET.