Rob Cooper’s Nittany Lions played host to a historic non-conference doubleheader with No. 10 TCU (32-12, 11-7 Big 12) on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Happy Valley after Friday evening’s scheduled opener was postponed due to inclement weather.
In its first game ever against a school from Texas, Penn State (25-22, 10-7 Big Ten) surrendered a handful of early runs en route to a 6-2 loss. The Nittany Lions kept things closer in game two, but couldn’t quite hang with TCU, as they fell 5-4 under the lights.
How It Happened
Sophomore southpaw Taylor Lehman took the mound for Penn State, while towering junior right-hander Brian Howard, who stands all of 6-foot-9, gave TCU an impressive seven innings of work. Lehman, on the other hand, was pulled after 3.2 for Mullin, who dazzled against one of the nation’s premier programs.
TCU third baseman Elliott Barzilli made the first dent on the scoreboard, crushing a lazy Lehman pitch deep to left for a solo homer to make it 1-0 in favor of head coach Jim Schlossnagle’s Horned Frogs. Aussie second baseman Cam Warner stole second with only one out, then an inopportune Lehman walk loaded the bases; another gave TCU a 2-0 lead. Lehman drew a nice double-play ball, but the first-base umpire called Barzilli safe on a bang-bang call that was unpopular with the home crowd, making it 3-0.
Center fielder Dane Steinhagen belted a double to the right gap to kickstart the top of the fourth for the Horned Frogs. Lehman’s attempt to pick him off, however, trundled into the outfield allowing Steinhagen to reach third, and eventually home, on a passed ball a few pitches later. Wade hit a chopper over Kendall’s head to plate another easy run, giving TCU added breathing room before coming around to score himself and make it 6-0.
Cooper pulled Lehman for Mullin with the bases chucked and two outs in the top of the fourth, hoping to prevent the Horned Frogs from inflicting more damage. Barzilli nearly slugged his second home run of the afternoon — a would-be grand slam — but there was just enough real estate in left for Greg Guers to track it down at the warning track, thus ending a lengthy three-run inning.
Mullin picked up right where he left off, mowing TCU down in order in the top of the sixth. Horned Frogs reliever Dalton Brown took over for Howard, who pieced together an outstanding five-hit, no-runs effort, to start the bottom of the eighth. Jim Haley came through with a single up the middle to plate freshman center fielder Jordan Bowersox for Penn State’s first run of the ballgame, making it 6-1 TCU.
Mullin completed 5.1 innings of fantastic relief work by forcing freshman Luken Baker to ground into a double play and give the Nittany Lions a chance to rally back in the bottom of the ninth. Preston Guillory came on to close the game one victory for the Horned Frogs, but not before a single from catcher Ryan Sloniger scored senior Tyler Kendall for Penn State’s second and final run.
After about an hour intermission, both sides trotted back out for the second leg of Saturday’s doubleheader. TCU traded its purple tops for some black ones, while the Nittany Lions stuck with their home whites. Cooper tapped sophomore Sal Biasi to oppose lefty Dalton Horton, who made his first-career start, in game two. Biasi rolled through the top of the first, retiring the Horned Frogs in order, striking out two.
Penn State enjoyed a productive bottom half of the first, as Kendall drove Riotto in with a single up the middle to make it 1-0 Nittany Lions. Bowersox picked up an RBI of his own after beating out a double-play ball that allowed Guers, who reached on a walk, to score.
Biasi surrendered a double to Baker to start the second, setting the table for left fielder Josh Watson to crank one off the top of the right-field wall and into the bleachers for a two-run homer to tie things up at 2-2. Moments later, Steinhagen ripped a double to center, scoring Connor Wanhanen to give the Horned Frogs a 3-2 advantage. Horton’s first collegiate outing was short-lived, as the Center, Texas, native was pulled for redshirt freshman Jared Janczak after only one inning of work.
Biasi settled in during the third, retiring each Horned Frog he saw in order. Penn State loaded the bases thanks to singles from Kendall, Bowersox, and James Coates, but Janczak and TCU managed to escape unscathed. After five solid innings of work, Biasi stayed in the dugout as junior Dakota Forsyth came on in relief, going three up, three down in the sixth.
The Horned Frogs finally found a hole in Penn State’s defense in the top of the seventh, as shortstop Ryan Merrill scored an unearned run off a fielding error to make it 4-2. Guers came up big for the Nittany Lions in the bottom half of the inning, poking a single through the infield to score Riotto and close the gap to one run with no outs. Haley tied it up at 4-4 by coming around to score on a fielder’s choice throwing error, prompting TCU to go with Durbin Feltman out of the pen.
Penn State’s all-time saves leader, submarine senior Jack Anderson, took the hill to start the eighth. Baker, the 2014-15 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year, drove a single to right, giving catcher Evan Skoug a chance to get on his horse and slide headfirst into home for the eventual game-winning run, 5-4. However, Penn State turned a double play to limit the damage.
Lefty Ryan Burnett came on for Feltman in the top of the eighth. With runners on the corners and two down, Haley struck out swinging. Redshirt junior Brian Trieglaff closed out the Nittany Lions’ comeback hopes in the home half of the ninth despite them loading the bases. In fact, Penn State managed five more hits than the Horned Frogs in game two (13-8).
Player Of The Game
Cam Warner | Junior | Second baseman
The Canberra, Australia, native turned in a tremendous series opener for the Horned Frogs, going 4-for-5 with an RBI and two stolen bases.
Nick Riotto | Junior | Right fielder
Riotto, who hails from Washington, Pa., went 2-for-4 with a walk and scored twice, while making a series of nifty plays in right.
The Nittany Lions and Horned Frogs will return to Medlar Field on Sunday for the series finale at 1 p.m. Fun fact: Penn State will open its 2017 season against TCU in Fort Worth.