Penn State Baseball Wins Five Straight, Sweeps Central Connecticut
It seems like the Nittany Lions like the confines of their home in Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, winning five straight games. Chilly conditions kept Penn State from playing on Saturday, which forced a doubleheader on Sunday for the second straight weekend. Penn State was on its A-game during the three-game series against Central Connecticut as it swept the Blue Devils by final scores of 5-2 on Friday, and 4-1 and 13-3 on Sunday. The offense was sharp in this series along with a stellar bullpen that has yet to miss a beat this season, especially at home.
How It Happened
In the first game of the series, there wasn’t much offense until late, which is something fans are used to seeing this season. Sophomore lefty Nick Hedge (5.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 8 K’s, 2 BB) had another solid outing for the Nittany Lions along with the bullpen. The pen, consisting of Marko Boricich, Jack Anderson, and Sal Biasi, combined for 3.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, and 3 K’s. Boricich allowed the only two runs of the game for Central Connecticut on an RBI-single in the seventh and a fielder’s choice to third base in the eighth. RHP Sal Biasi is continuing his dominant freshman campaign for this club, getting another save while sitting down all three batters he faced and striking out one after being named Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week.
Senior right fielder Aaron Novak was again the leader for the Nittany Lions at the plate and in the field. Novak swung a perfect 1.000, going 4-for-4 with two runs in the game. Senior third baseman Ryky Smith went 2-for-4 with one run and three RBIs.
Penn State fell behind 2-0 going into the eighth inning when Novak led off with a double followed by Jim Haley’s walk one batter later and Ryan Richter’s single to put the bases loaded. Ryky Smith came to the plate with two outs and hit a clutch 3-RBI double into right field. This hit would be the dagger in Central Connecticut’s hopes as Biasi closed the game with a 1-2-3 inning, giving Jack Anderson another win, making him 3-2 on the season.
Coming into the 2015 season, there was only one freshman on the Big Ten Players to Watch list and that was LHP Taylor Lehman. Lehman has struggled this season, starting 0-2 with a staggering ERA of 10.53. He lucked out in his start against Indiana as he would have gotten another L were it not for Penn State scoring 13 runs. However, Lehman looked different out on the mound in game one of the Sunday doubleheader, finally living up to his potential. Lehman (7.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 8 K’s, 2 BB) was dominant along with fellow freshman Sal Biasi (2.0 IP, 1 H, 3 K’s). Lehman got his first win (1-2) while Biasi got his third save of the season.
The Nittany Lions wanted to come out and take the early lead in this one. They did just that as they scored a run in the first inning thanks to Taylor Skerpon’s triple followed by Greg Guers’ groundout to second, which sent Skerpon home. Lehman pitched a perfect game until the sixth inning as there were only four hits — all by Penn State — until Central Connecticut scored its only run off of an error. However, Penn State made up for it quickly in the seventh as it scored two runs off of errors and one run on a deep RBI-triple by Greg Guers to help secure the victory for Penn State, 4-1. Guers finished 1-for-4 with a hit and two RBIs, while Ryky Smith went 3-for-4 with one run.
There was no shortage of offense in the second game of the Sunday doubleheader as Penn State scored 13 runs on 15 hits with 10 RBIs in this one. Another freshman was dominant on the mound as RHP Nick Distasio (6.1 IP, 4 R, 5 K’s, 1 BB) got the start. The only three runs allowed were Tom Mullin (1.0 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 K, 1 BB) and the rest of bullpen — Forsyth and Fagnano — pitched well, going 2.2 IP, 2 H, and 1 K combined.
The offense was very strong in this game as the Nittany Lions scored double-digit runs for a third time this season. This is a big improvement from last season as they only scored double-digit runs twice all year. Four players had 2 RBIs — Guers, Novak, Helsel, and Smith — and the team was led by Ole Miss transfer Christian Helsel (3-for-5, 1 run, 2 RBIs). The first two runs were scored off of a Guers RBI-double to center and a Novak RBI-single to center. Penn State then scored 11 runs to cap off their fifth straight win of the season. Novak had another RBI-single in the fifth inning followed by Helsel’s single to center to score one more. The sixth and eighth innings were defined by more errors by Central Connecticut as all four runs scored were unearned.
Penn State stayed true to its winning ways this weekend by scoring late in games and relying on its dominant bullpen. Sal Biasi has proven to be a dominant closer. I would not be surprised if this kid gets another Big Ten award before the end of the season. Yet another freshman, Tyler Lehman, had an important start. Lehman had a shaky start to his freshman campaign, but maybe after Sunday’s dominant performance, he’ll get back on track.
The offense was great this weekend, paced by senior Aaron Novak. Novak is hitting a staggering .390 — second in the Big Ten — while already launching three homeruns and 18 RBIs. Coach Rob Cooper commented on Aaron Novak’s improvement over the past year.
“I’m proud of him,” Cooper said. “This is a guy that didn’t start a lot of games last year and he didn’t enter this season in the starting lineup. We needed him to be more consistent, and now he has done that. We had some injuries, he got put in and hasn’t let go of it and he is also an unbelievable defender who can really throw.”
This team is scoring runs late in games consistently, which can be troubling if they fall behind and can’t gain momentum late. When asked if they are comfortable with gaining an identity being a late-inning ball club, Cooper said, “I just want to win by one more run than the other guys and we have to do a better job earlier in the game, but we don’t get down, we don’t give in and I like the fact that we’re showing that we aren’t going to quit.”
Penn State will stay home for two games this week, against Binghamton on Tuesday, March 31 at 6:30 p.m. and against Kent State on April 1 at 6:30 p.m. before going to Columbus to face off against Ohio State for a three-game series this weekend.