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April 3, 2011
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Aided by an incredible eight-run rally in the bottom of the fourth and an outstanding individual effort by Jordan Steranka, the Penn State baseball team cruised to a 13-4 victory over Illinois during a Big Ten battle on a cloudy Sunday afternoon at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Steranka was at the heart of the potent Penn State attack as the junior third baseman went 3-for-5 with six RBI and two runs scored. He also clubbed his league-leading sixth home run of the season to lead the Nittany Lions (17-8, 2-1 Big Ten).
After starters Heath Johnson and Corey Kimes both fired a pair of hitless frames to start the game, Illinois (9-12, 1-2) struck first in the top of the third. Although the Illini failed to pick up a hit during the rally, the visitors still plated three runs through an unfortunate series of events. After two walks and a hit by pitch loaded the bases with no outs, Casey McMurray was plunked to bring in the first run. Later, Willie Argo scored on a fielder's choice before a Nittany Lion miscue allowed Josh Parr to scamper home with the third run of the game.
Trailing for the first time since Friday, Penn State immediately mounted a comeback. With two down, the rally started modestly as Sean Deegan drew a walk. One batter later, Ryan Clark popped a single to right before Steranka landed a tremendous blow. Down in the count and battling a tough southpaw, the left-handed slugger finally found his pitch and crushed a three-run blast to deep right center that evened the game at three.
With new life, the Nittany Lions broke the game open with a phenomenal eight-run surge in the bottom of the fourth. As so many rallies do, the inning began with back-to-back walks after Mario Eramo and Bobby Jacobs both worked free passes. Luis Montesinos came through next and broke the deadlock after firing an RBI base hit to center.
Following the first out of the frame, Zach Ell pieced together arguably the most important plate appearance of the inning. After falling behind 0-2 in the count, the freshman rightfielder fought off pitch-after-pitch. Working the count like an experienced veteran, he eventually got it to 3-2 before drawing an incredible 11-pitch walk to load the bases.
After a pitching change, the top of the Lion lineup started unloading on nearly every pitch. Deegan bombed a two-run double to dead centerfield. Following his tremendous blast in the third inning, Steranka added his fourth RBI of the game with a line drive single to right before DeBernardis roped a triple to right center that chased in a pair and gave the squad a 9-3 advantage.
Still not quite finished, DeBernardis scored on a wild pitch before a single by Eramo forced another pitching change. Two batters later, Montesinos picked up his second RBI single of the inning after shooting a hit to right center that brought in Eramo and gave Penn State a commanding 11-3 edge.
Staring squarely at a tremendous eight-run deficit, Illinois tacked one run on the board in the fifth on an RBI single by McMurray. Refusing to let the Illini even think about a comeback, the Nittany Lions called upon their bullpen to close out the final four innings of play.
Freshman southpaw Greg Welsh was the first out of the pen and fired 1.2 scoreless frames before handing the ball to Jesse Alfreno after Illinois put a pair of runners on in the seventh. Capitalizing on a great defensive play, Penn State escaped the inning without any damage when Clark gunned down Matt Dittman with a perfect throw to the plate after he attempted to score from second on a single.
Although Alfreno needed a little defensive assistance in the seventh, the senior reliever retired the Illini quickly in the eighth before Penn State tossed two more on the board in the bottom half of the inning. Following an Illinois error, Deegan ripped a double to right and Clark worked a walk to load the bases with no outs. Capping off his excellent day at the plate, Steranka came through next after ripping a line drive back up the middle that ricocheted off the mound and shot into center for a two-run single.
Leading 13-4, the Lions turned to Neal Herring in the ninth. The sophomore reliever capped off the game beautifully after retiring three straight pinch hitters to seal the victory.
Johnson (1-1) earned his first win of the year after scattering two hits and three earned runs over five innings of work. He also struck out a season-high six batters. Kimes (1-3) took the loss after allowing seven runs on only three hits in 3.1 innings of work.
Penn State will return to action on Tuesday when the squad hosts Kent State at 6:05 p.m.