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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Senior Nick Riotto (Washington, Pa.) started his final homestand off in thrilling fashion, rocketing an 0-2, two-out pitch to the right gap for a walk-off, 8-7, win over No. 22 Nebraska in Big Ten baseball action Thursday night in Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Penn State (18-35, 4-18 Big Ten) overcame a three-run deficit over the final two innings, scoring three in the bottom of the ninth for its first win over a nationally-ranked team since 2015, and its third win in the last nine days against a current top-40 RPI team (West Virginia, 19; Indiana, 31; Nebraska, 38). Of the six batters sent to the plate in the inning by the Lions, four were true freshmen.
Nebraska (32-18-1, 14-7-1 Big Ten), which entered the game just .010 behind Minnesota (14-7 Big Ten) in winning percentage in the race for first place in the Big Ten, was let down by its defense, committing one error in the eighth and two in the ninth, resulting in all four runs of the rally scoring unearned.
It was a back-and-forth game featuring four lead changes and two ties after Nebraska centerfielder Jake Meyers led the game off with a home run.
The contest was tied 4-4 after the seventh inning, but Nebraska took the largest lead of the game with three, two-out runs in the eighth. With runners on the corners and two outs, shortstop Angelo Altavilla doubled to clear the bases, and designated hitter Scott Schreiber singled to score him in the very next at-bat, but was caught trying to advance to second on the throw to end the inning. Altavilla went a game-high 3-for-4 at the plate.
Down 7-4, Penn State got one run back in the bottom half of the inning, as catcher Ryan Sloniger (Punxsutawney, Pa.) hit a grounder to first with runners on second and third and two outs, but it was dropped, allowing one run to score to make it a 7-5 game.
RHP Nick Distasio (Oley, Pa.) (4-1), who allowed the go-ahead runs to score in the eighth, worked a perfect inning to give the bats a chance in the bottom half.
Eight-hole hitter Brett Davis (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) was the first of three consecutive true freshmen to step to the plate for Penn State. He drew a walk, and then shortstop Logan Goodnight (Wheeling, W.Va.) hit a potential double play ball to third but it went off the third baseman's glove and everyone was safe. Centerfielder Mason Nadeau (Lansdale, Pa.) then roped a double to the left gap, allowing Davis to score, but Goodnight was thrown out at home trying to score on the play too for the first out of the inning.
Second baseman Conlin Hughes (Holly Springs, N.C.) followed with a groundout to short, allowing Nadeau to advance to third. Nadeau then scored on an error at first base to tie the game, as right fielder Braxton Giavedoni (Punxsutawney, Pa.) reached first on the botched fielding effort
That brought Riotto to the plate. He fell into an 0-2 count, but squared the third pitch he saw into the right gap, and the throw home was not in time to catch Giavedoni as he scored all the way from first.
Giavedoni factored in on five of Penn State's eight runs, tallying a career-high three RBIs and scoring twice by going 2-for-5 with a double.
Nebraska's Meyers, who scored four runs after reaching base five times by going 2-for-2 with three walks and two RBIs, led the game off with a home run, but Penn State answered in the bottom half. Nadeau led off with a base hit, stole second with one out and then scored from there on a single through the right side from Giavedoni. After another out, first baseman Willie Burger (Lancaster, Pa.) hammered a 1-0 pitch well past the 410-foot "Nook" in left centerfield for a 3-1 lead.
The next three innings were scoreless, and then Nebraska tied the game at 3-3 with two runs in the top of the fifth, as Meyers and first baseman Ben Miller tallied RBI-singles.
The Nittany Lions went back ahead in the sixth on back-to-back doubles by Hughes and Giavedoni, but Nebraska tied the game again in the seventh after Meyers led the frame off with a walk, advanced to third on a base hit and scored on a groundout by Schreiber.
Nebraska went ahead with three runs in the eighth, but RHP Chad Lunesmann (3-4) was unable to hold the lead over the final 1 1/3 innings, allowing three unearned runs on two hits and a walk.
Neither starting pitcher made it past the sixth inning. RHP Sal Biasi (Hazle Township, Pa.) worked five innings for the Nittany Lions, allowing three runs on five hits and four walks with six strikeouts. He finishes the 2017 season with 88 strikeouts, tying him for the ninth most in a single season in Penn State history.
RHP Jake Hohensee worked 5 1/3 innings for the Huskers, allowing four runs on five hits and striking out one.
Penn State will conclude its season with two more games against Nebraska. Dogs will be welcome to attend Friday at 6:30 p.m. for "Bark in the Park" night (one dog allowed per person and must have proof of up-to-date vaccinations).
The Saturday season finale includes several promotions. Members of the Penn State football team will sign autographs for the Nittany Lion faithful on the stadium concourse from when gates open at 10 a.m. until first pitch at 11 a.m. The Big Ten Championship trophy and a championship ring will also be on the concourse for fans to take pictures with. Additionally, the Penn State athletics marketing department will have its annual Spring Cleaning promotion, handing out extra giveaways and prizes from previous Nittany Lion contests across all sports. It will also be Senior Day, as the baseball team's senior class will be honored on field postgame, and Alumni Day, as members of the Penn State Alumni Association can show their membership card and receive up to four tickets at a discounted price of $2.00 per ticket.
Tickets can be purchased at GoPSUsports.com or by calling the Medlar Field at Lubrano Park ticket office at 814-272-1711.
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