The Rob Cooper era is off to a good start.
Penn State baseball took two of its three games to kick off the season against Gardner-Webb, giving the Nittany Lions its first winning record after its opening series since 2011.
The Nittany Lions trailed early in game one, which was part of a doubleheader, as Gardner-Webb scored a run in the first inning on a throwing error by catcher Alex Farkes. Penn State was able to get the run back in the top of the fourth, when second baseman Ryan Richter drove in first baseman J.J. White with a single to right field.
Things looked bleak for Penn State as the Runnin’ Bulldogs scored two runs off Nittany Lion starter T.J. Jann in the bottom of the sixth to take a 3-1 lead. However, Penn State responded with two runs in the top of the seventh and three in the top of the ninth to take a 6-3 lead. Jack Anderson (W, 1-0) allowed an unearned run in the bottom of the ninth, but the Nittany Lions held on, 6-4.
Game two wasn’t nearly as dramatic, nor did Penn State get the result it wanted. Despite taking an early 1-0 lead on an RBI sac fly by catcher Taylor Skerpon, Gardner-Webb hammered starting pitcher Nick Hedge (L, 0-1) for seven hits and five runs over three innings, and topped the Nittany Lions, 7-3.
The series’ rubber match featured the most dramatic game the two teams played. Penn State got on the board in the top of the first with an RBI groundout by designated hitter Greg Guers, who drove in left fielder James Coates. The Nittany Lions extended their lead in the top half of the fifth, when Richter drove in Skerpon and Coates drove in Richter, giving the team a 3-0 lead.
However, the Runnin’ Bulldogs battled back, racking up three runs — two earned — in the bottom of the sixth against Penn State starter Taylor Patton, who threw 8 innings of six hit ball and struck out five en route to a no-decision.
The game went to extra innings, and in the top of the tenth, shortstop Jim Haley scored on a throwing error by Gardner-Webb shortstop Ryan Hodge. The Runnin’ Bulldogs were unable to respond, and Penn State won 4-3 in extras. Anderson (2-0) picked up the win, while Ryan Harper got his first save of the season.
Penn State returns to the diamond this Friday, February 21, for a three-game weekend series against the University of Southern Florida in Tampa.