Penn State Clinches a Playoff Spot with an 11-8 Victory over Michigan
May 21, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - For the first time since 2008, the Penn State baseball team will battle for Big Ten supremacy as the Nittany Lions earned a berth in next week's conference tournament after the squad used a huge six-run rally in the fifth inning to pull away from Michigan before holding off a furious late-inning surge by the Wolverines to post an 11-8 victory to wrap up the regular season on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon at the Wilpon Complex.
With the victory, Penn State (32-20, 12-12 Big Ten) locked up the sixth seed in next week's Big Ten Tournament that kicks off on Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio. The Nittany Lions will open up the postseason at 3:35 p.m. with a game against Purdue, which captured the third seed in the playoffs.
Although technically Penn State clinched a berth after Illinois' victory earlier in the day, the Nittany Lions had no interest in backing into the tournament. Wanting to make one last statement in the regular season, PSU capitalized on home runs from Jordan Steranka and Sean Deegan and a solid start by Mike Franklin to ease into the playoffs with the victory over Michigan (17-37, 7-16).
Deegan finished the day with two hits and four RBI, while Steranka added three hits and knocked in a pair. Joey DeBernardis also tallied three hits to round out an impressive 13-hit attack for Penn State.
In the early innings, pitching and defense were the highlight of the action as Franklin and Matt Gerbe engaged in an impressive duel. Both pitchers held their opposition quiet through the first three innings and were backed by some great defensive gems. Gerbe benefited from the first highlight reel grab as his centerfielder made a nice running catch on a blast by DeBernardis in the first inning that was destined for extra bases.
One inning later, Steranka made a gem for the Lions. On a rocket down the third base line in the second, he ranged over to his right and made a sliding, backhand stab. After regrouping quickly, he fired a strike across the diamond to nail the batter by a stride.
After the defenses flashed some leather, both offenses found their stride in the middle innings. Although Michigan struck first in the fourth, plating a pair of unearned runs aided by three Nittany Lion miscues, Penn State answered emphatically with a six-run surge in the top of the fifth. Despite struggling to find a rhythm during the first two games of the series, the Lion lineup exploded for the first time against Michigan.
PSU loaded the bases with no outs after Bobby Jacobs smacked a single to left, Michael Glantz drew a walk, and Elliot Searer placed a perfect bunt to beat out an infield hit. Deegan came through next as he unloaded on a 1-1 offering and lined a two-run double to center, which quickly evened the score at two. Later, Luis Montesinos continued the surge with a sacrifice fly before Steranka added the big blow.
On a 1-0 fastball, Steranka demolished the pitch and sent the ball whistling over the rightfield fence before it clanked high off the scoreboard for an impressive two-run blast. Still not quite finished, DeBernardis smoked a single to left and Mario Eramo added an opposite field double that eventually allowed DeBernardis to plate the sixth and final run of the inning.
Needing some insurance, Penn State continued full throttle and plated three more runs in the sixth and seventh. During the first rally, Glantz fired a leadoff single to left before Deegan came through again. With two outs, the junior centerfielder turned on an 0-1 offering and launched a titanic shot that traveled right past the scoreboard and clocked the brick façade adorning the indoor track building well behind the wall.
One inning later, Penn State added another insurance run as Steranka reached on a two-base error, moved to third on a base hit by DeBernardis, and scored when Jacobs lofted a tailing drive towards the leftfield line. Although Michigan's Coley Crank made an outstanding diving grab to take extra bases away from Jacobs, Steranka easily tug up and scored from third on the sacrifice fly.
Holding a 9-2 lead, the Nittany Lions could not relax as the Wolverines continued to battle hard. Despite being eliminated from postseason contention before the series began, the hosts never relented at any point. Looking directly at a seven-run deficit, Michigan chipped away and made the game quite interesting with a five-run rally in the bottom of the eighth.
With their seven-run cushion cut all the way down to a slim two-run edge, Penn State immediately responded in the top of the ninth. During their final trip to the plate, the Lions tossed a quick two-spot on the board, aided by a pair of Michigan miscues. DeBernardis got things rolling with an RBI single down the rightfield line before some fresh faces helped the squad plate its last run of the game.
With one on and one out, Zach Ell drew a walk to move DeBernardis into scoring position. Following a pitching change, Alex Farkes stepped in and pumped an RBI single to center, which capped the scoring and gave Penn State an 11-7 lead.
Although Michigan eventually rallied with a run in the bottom of the ninth, Greg Welsh was summoned from the bullpen and quickly picked up his second save of the series to close out the victory. Franklin (4-1) earned the victory after scattering five hits over six innings of work. Gerbe (1-1) suffered the loss after allowing four runs on four hits in 4.1 innings of work.