Eight-Run Fourth Helps Minnesota Sink Penn State, 8-2
May 26, 2011
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Backed by an eight-run fourth inning, the Minnesota Golden Gophers put an end to the Penn State baseball team's 2011 campaign as the Nittany Lions could not overcome their imposing deficit and dropped an 8-2 decision on a dreary Thursday afternoon at Huntington Park.
With the setback, Penn State (32-22) was eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament during the squad's first postseason appearance since 2008. Meanwhile, Minnesota (23-23) lives to fight another day in its quest to defend the team's 2010 conference championship.
Ryan Clark clubbed his fifth home run of the season and Bobby Jacobs chased in another run with a bases-loaded walk, but Minnesota's huge fourth-inning surge held up against Penn State's late-inning rallies.
After both teams failed to land a blow during a pair of missed opportunities in the early going, Minnesota finally struck in the bottom of the fourth. Although Steven Hill fired 12 scoreless innings against the Golden Gophers dating back to his shutout two weeks ago, he hit a rough patch after three pristine frames on Thursday. Nick O'Shea pumped a two-run home run to open the scoring before Troy Larson and Matt Puhl collected back-to-back RBI singles to continue the surge.
With a four-run lead, Minnesota continued to roll. Following a pitching change, the Gophers did just as much damage against the Lion bullpen as AJ Pettersen, Andy Henkemeyer, and Justin Gominsky ripped three straight doubles before O'Shea finished what he started with an RBI single that capped off the eight-run surge.
Facing a daunting deficit, Penn State never stopped battling. With two outs in the fifth, Clark roped a line-drive smash into the leftfield seats to put the Nittany Lions on the board. One inning later, PSU made things interesting after the squad loaded the bases with one out.
Following a walk to Jordan Steranka and a single by Joey DeBernardis, Mario Eramo drew a free pass to pack the bags. With incredible patience, Jacobs dug in and watched four pitches sail out of the strike zone to chase in Penn State's second run of the game. With the bases still loaded, the Lions had a chance to make a big dent in their deficit, but Minnesota called on reliever Billy Soule, who proceeded to strike out the next two batters to end the threat.
Down 8-2 entering the final few innings, Penn State pieced together one last comeback attempt in the top of the eighth. Once again, the Nittany Lions were able to load the bases after Eramo, Jacobs, and Blake Lynd all worked walks. Unfortunately, Minnesota was able to escape again as Soule induced an around-the-horn double play, which proved to be the final dagger in the Lions' 2011 campaign.
Eventually, Soule returned to the mound in the top of the ninth and used just four pitches to send Penn State packing. For his efforts, he earned his first save of the season, while Phil Isaksson (4-4) picked up the victory after striking out eight while surrendering just two runs during 5.1 innings on the mound.
Hill (6-5) took the loss for the Lions after surrendering five runs in 3.1 innings of work. The backend of the PSU bullpen proved effective, though, as Geoff Boylston, Evan Dixon, Jesse Alfreno, and Mike Pierce combined to fire four innings of shutout ball during the game.
Although the setback put a premature end to Penn State's year, the squad certainly took a step forward during the 2011 season. Making their first postseason appearance since 2008, the Lions finished the year with 32 wins, which marked the program's highest total since reaching the Super Regionals in 2000.
Looking forward, the future looks even brighter as the squad returns Hill and John Walter, who earned All-Conference honors while anchoring the Penn State rotation. Furthermore, the squad now has a roster filled with players who have experienced the postseason, which should prove beneficial in the coming years.