PSU Disappoints in Big Ten Tournament Opener
For the first 7 innings of Penn State’s Big Ten Conference Tournament opener against Ohio State, everything was going right. The Lions had collected 13 hits going into the eighth and led the Buckeyes 5-3 when all of a sudden, the momentum swung and the Penn State bullpen and defense fell apart.
In his second inning of relief duty, following a one-two-three seventh, sophomore lefty Greg Welsh allowed the first three runners to reach base on two base hits and a walk when head coach Robbie Wine brought in the Lions’ steady slider-hurling closer, Dave Walkling.
After getting ahead of Buckeye outfielder David Corna 0-2 with some wicked sliders, Walkling left the next one up and Corna ripped a liner into left and knocked in a run to shrink Penn State’s lead to 5-4 with nobody out and the bases still loaded.
Walkling again got ahead of the next OSU batter, Patrick Porter, who grounded a slider hard in the hole between first and second– a sure double play ball. Penn State’s All-Big Ten first baseman Jordan Steranka fired a strike to Elliot Searer at short who threw the ball in the dirt back to Walkling, who was late covering first base. Walkling couldn’t corral the throw, which allowed an extra run to score and put the Buckeyes ahead 6-5.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Lions failed to respond and still trailed by a run heading into the ninth. Leadoff hitter Tim Wetzel walked to start off the inning. Ryan Cypret attempted to sacrifice bunt Wetzel to second to set up a potential insurance run, but when fielding the well placed bunt up the first base line, Walkling threw wide of first base allowing Cypret to reach on an error. The error rattled Walkling as he plunked the following two hitters — both on the first pitch — to force in another run and increase Ohio State’s lead to 7-5.
Casey Kulina came on in relief of Walkling and didn’t fare much better as the Buckeyes tacked on five more runs (three attributed to Walkling) on three hits to put the game out of reach 12-5.
The Lions wasted a solid outing from ace lefty Joe Kurrasch who tossed six innings and gave up just two earned runs on 115 pitches after the Penn State offense jumped on Buckeye righty Jaron Long early in the game. Long was replaced after giving up 5 runs and 11 hits in three plus innings by Brett McKinney. McKinney shut down the Lions’ bats the rest of the way, tossing four and two-thirds scoreless innings in a very efficient 55 pitches.
Despite cranking out 14 hits, Penn State could never put together a big inning to put the Buckeyes away and left 10 runners on base. Jordan Steranka led the way for PSU with 3 hits and an RBI. Also collecting multiple hits for the Lions were Sean Deegan (2-for-4), Steve Snyder (2-for-4), JJ White (2-for-5), and Aaron Novak (2-for-4).
Penn State will fight to keep their postseason dreams alive in an elimination game today at noon against Nebraska. Look for junior right hander Stephen Hill to take the mound for PSU. Hill went 5-3 with a 3.74 ERA for the Lions this year, including his no-hitter on the road against Iowa on April 21.