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Mario Eramo (Photo Courtesy of Dennis Hubbard)
March 20, 2011
WICHITA, Kan. - The Penn State baseball team battled hard all day and overcame a pair of deficits before the Nittany Lions capped off a tremendous road trip with a huge five-run 11th inning to top No. 26 Wichita State, 9-4, on a blistering Sunday afternoon at Eck Stadium.
With the victory, Penn State (12-6) captured the series from the surging Shockers (13-6). Coming into the weekend, Wichita State swept No. 11 Arizona and looked primed to jump in the national standings before the Nittany Lions crashed the party.
Mario Eramo was the offensive star of the game, going 3-for-5 with two runs scored and a tremendous three-run blast that capped off Penn State's five-run rally. Elliot Searer and Jordan Steranka also added two hits apiece, while Sean Deegan landed the biggest blow of the contest after breaking the extra-inning deadlock with a clutch RBI triple.
Not to be overlooked, the Penn State pitching staff looked strong as well. Starter John Walter teamed with relievers Greg Welsh, Dave Walkling, and Ryan Ignas to strike out 15 Shockers while allowing just three hits during the 11-inning marathon.
Through the first seven innings of the contest, each team was struggling to find its footing at the plate. Both pitching staffs were keeping their counterparts off balance while tossing zeroes on the scoreboard. Wichita State eventually secured a slim 2-1 advantage heading into the eighth before Penn State erupted.
Trailing by one, the Lion offense exploded in the top of the eighth. Leading off the inning, Steranka quickly evened the score with one swing of the bat as he launched a line drive solo shot down the rightfield line that came crashing down on the hill behind the wall.
With new life, the Lions continued their surge. Eramo ripped a one-out single to center before Bobby Jacobs and Ryan Clark worked back-to-back walks to load the bases. Blake Lynd followed by lacing a hot shot to short. The ball squirted away from infielder Tyler Grimes, which allowed both Jacobs and Eramo to score go-ahead runs.
Trailing 4-2, the Shockers quickly responded and erased their first deficit of the game in the bottom of the eighth. Following his error, Grimes drew a walk before Chris O'Brien was hit by a pitch. With two on and two down, Johnny Coy landed a tough blow with a two-run double to center that knotted the game at four.
After Walkling settled back in and worked out of the inning, he traded scoreless frames with the WSU bullpen in the ninth to send the game into extras. Later, he once again worked a pristine 10th before the Penn State lineup found its rhythm at the perfect time.
In the top of the 11th, Lynd drew a leadoff walk before swiping second. After advancing to third on a well-placed ground ball by Searer, he came home when Deegan dropped a shot into right that he eventually stretched into an RBI triple.
With a one-run lead and a man on third, Penn State had little interest in slowing down. Luis Montesinos fired a single to center that drove in Deegan before Steranka added his own base hit. Although the Shockers were able to retire the next batter, they could not do the same with Eramo. On a 2-1 pitch, the senior slugger got exactly what he was looking for and absolutely obliterated a fastball that eventually traveled deep into the picnic area in right center and put the perfect exclamation mark on the five-run rally.
Holding a comfortable 9-4 advantage, Penn State called upon Ignas to close out the contest following a leadoff single. Needing a quick inning in order to make their flight home, the Lions put the ball in great hands as Ignas struck out Coy before inducing a game-ending 6-3 double play to clinch the victory.
Walkling (5-0) earned his fifth win of the season after striking out six while scattering two runs and two hits over 4.2 innings. Although he earned the victory, his performance was set up by a dominating effort by Walter in the early part of the game.
After Walter allowed an early run on an RBI triple in the first, the right-hander looked relaxed on the hill. He eventually retired eight straight at one point, highlighted by three strikeouts. Although the streak was snapped with two outs in the fourth, Bobby Jacobs quickly erased the runner after gunning him down on an attempted steal.
Meanwhile, the PSU offense evened the score in the top of the third. Searer opened the inning with a line drive single to left. Following the hit, the Lions took advantage of some shaky defense as the Shockers flubbed a pair of sacrifice bunt attempts. Each time, Wichita State fielded the ball cleanly but fired throws into the outfield, which eventually allowed Searer to score the tying run.
With the game knotted at one, the pitching duel continued in the fifth as Wichita State's Brian Flynn retired the Nittany Lions in order before Walter struck out the side in the bottom of the inning. With both pitchers dealing, the offenses finally found some life in the sixth.
In the top of the inning, Penn State strung together a pair of hits after DeBernardis and Eramo both roped base hits to right. With two on and only one down, the Lions had a decent opportunity to take the lead, but following a call to the bullpen, reliever TJ McGreevy induced an inning-ending double play.
After escaping the top half of the inning with the game still tied, Wichita State broke the deadlock in the bottom of the frame. Grimes opened the rally with a walk, moved to second on a balk, and advanced to third following a PSU miscue. With runners on the corners and nobody out, Penn State called on lefty specialist Welsh, who quickly struck out the only batter he faced. Following another change, the Lions brought in Walkling, the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week.
With runners still on first and third, Walkling got a much-needed groundball, but a high throw to second eliminated any chance at a double play and allowed the go-ahead run to score.
Dealt a tough blow, the Nittany Lions never gave up and displayed an unrelenting determination throughout the contest. Playing from behind, the squad quickly battled back and fired three runs on the board in the eighth. Even after Wichita State shot back, Penn State simply answered the bell again with the extra-inning rally to capture a crucial early-season victory.
Eramo posted a game-high three RBI for the Nittany Lions, while Steranka scored twice. On the other side of the field, Wichita State was led by Johnny Coy and Chris O'Brien, who both knocked in a pair. Coincidentally, O'Brien's father, Charlie, finished second to PSU head coach Robbie Wine in the 1982 All-American vote determining the top collegiate catcher in the nation.
During the contest, the high temperatures blanketing the stadium were matched only by the elevated tempers on the field. Following a bench-clearing incident on Saturday, Wichita State's coach was ejected after an argument on Sunday before a minor collision at the plate in the eighth led some players to empty onto the field. Eventually, the coaches and umpires restored order without much of an incident.
Penn State will return to action on Wednesday when the squad caps off its early season road swing with a trip to Pittsburgh. The Nittany Lions will open the home portion of their season on Friday against Le Moyne at 3:30.
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