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May 15, 2011
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Mario Eramo launched a pair of home runs and Sean Deegan chipped in with his league-leading 10th blast of the season as the Penn State baseball team used a quick-strike offense and some strong pitching to win its series against Minnesota with a 4-2 victory on a rain-soaked Sunday afternoon at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
On Senior Day, the veterans fittingly shined the brightest as Eramo provided the firepower with his two bombs, while fellow senior Heath Johnson capped off the game in style. The flame-throwing closer fired three scoreless frames out of the bullpen to earn his third save of the season.
With the victory, Penn State (30-19, 10-11 Big Ten) reached the 30-win plateau for the first time since 2007 and just the second time since the Lions advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals in 2000. The win also helped Penn State remain in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Following a pair of quiet innings to start the game, Minnesota (20-20, 12-9) nearly got things rolling in the top of the third. The Gophers loaded the bases with no outs after posting three straight singles, including a pair of bunt base hits. With no margin for error, Mike Franklin induced a pop into shallow right. Nearing no man's land, Luis Montesinos made a great play to keep the game scoreless. Tracking the ball into foul territory, he made the snag on the run with his back towards the plate. Although Andy Henkemeyer tagged up at third, Montesinos flipped around and fired an off-balance laser towards the plate to keep the runner from scoring.
Still with only one out, Franklin continued to bear down. Needing to keep the ball in the infield, he did just that as he got the next batter to pop up to short before ending the threat completely with another dunker to Montesinos at second.
After staving off Minnesota's surge in the top of the third, Penn State immediately responded. Elliot Searer lofted a high fly to left, which disappeared in the cloud covering and eventually fell safely to the ground for a well-positioned double. Two batters later, Deegan broke the scoreless deadlock. On the first pitch of the at bat, he turned on a fastball over the heart of the plate and launched his league-leading 10th blast of the season to right.
Following a minor Gopher rally in the top of the fourth which allowed the visitors to cut their deficit in half, Penn State fired back. With one out, Eramo squared up a 2-1 offering and muscled a solo blast to right, which gave the Lions a 3-1 lead.
After Franklin set aside Minnesota in the fifth to sustain the two-run advantage, Penn State went to the bullpen for the final four innings of play. Once again the Golden Gophers pieced together a minor rally and picked up back-to-back hits to plate a single run in the top of the sixth. However, PSU answered again as the squad's senior slugger returned to the plate in the bottom of the inning.
With two outs, Eramo did more damage on a 1-1 fastball that caught a little too much of the plate. Refusing to miss a golden opportunity for his second career multi-home run game, he demolished the pitch and sent the ball sailing past the light pole behind the fence in right center.
Clutching another two-run lead, Penn State did not mess around and immediately handed the ball to its closer in the top of the seventh. Needing nine outs from Johnson, the Lions were not disappointed. After blowing away the first batter, he surrendered a walk but settled in after that. Marching right through the Minnesota lineup, he put away the next eight batters to close out the victory.
For his efforts, Johnson picked up his third save of the season and continued his outstanding work as a reliever. Since moving to the bullpen, he has yet to allow an earned run while scattering just five hits over 13.0 stellar innings of work. Meanwhile, Franklin (3-1) picked up the win after allowing just one run over his five innings on the mound.
Austin Lubinsky (4-5) suffered the loss for Minnesota after allowing all four runs during his seven innings on the hill.
Penn State will return to action on Tuesday for its home finale against intrastate rival Villanova at 3:35 p.m. After that, the squad will trek to Ann Arbor on Thursday for its all-important three-game series against Michigan, which will wrap up the regular season.