Penn State Baseball Swept By No. 8 Illinois In Weekend Series
Penn State baseball (13-26, 2-12 Big Ten) has struggled mightily on the road this season, so it was happy to return home to the confines of Medlar Field to finish the season with a seven-game home stretch. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, they had to start that stretch against No. 8 Illinois (36-6-1, 13-1 Big Ten), who entered on a 14-game winning streak heading into the series. Penn State didn’t have any momentum in the first game, couldn’t withstand extra innings in the second, and couldn’t come back from an early deficit in the third, resulting in a disappointing sweep.
How It Happened
Nick Hedge (4.0 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 1 K, 2 BB) couldn’t produce a strong showing on the mound in the series’ first game. Hedge allowed two runs in the first two innings, but fell into big trouble in the third when he allowed a grand slam over the center field wall on a 3-1 count. He then allowed two more runs in the fourth inning, enough to end his day. Tom Mullin came in for relief and allowed two runs on two hits in three innings while striking out two. Freshman right-hander Schuyler Bates came in to finish the game, facing six batters and sitting them all down in the process. Hedge received his sixth loss on a struggle of a season (1-6).
The offense didn’t do much better. The Lions were down 6-0 by the third inning and needed to score runs fast. Unfortunately, they could only muster up six hits in the game and scored one lone run in the third inning. Left fielder Greg Guers (2-for-2, 1 RBI, 1 BB) led the team as he brought in Penn State’s sole run off an RBI-single through the left side to bring home Malinsky. Penn State would fall to the Fighting Illini, 10-1.
Penn State challenged the No. 8 team in the country for fifteen innings, and some batters even batted more times than they would in a three-game series. The Lions weren’t able to hold up against Illinois, however, dropping the lengthy game 4-2.
Freshman left-hander Taylor Lehman (7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 K’s) had another nice start to his freshman campaign, but unfortunately got the no decision because of the extra inning bout. Jack Anderson (5.o IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 K, 3 BB) had a fine showing in relief and Jared Fagnano (3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 K, 1 BB) was the last pitcher of the day, but ultimately got the loss for the second time this season.
The Lions improved in the hits category from the first game, at least partially due to its length, with 11, and came out swinging by scoring first on three hits in the first inning. The team then fell behind 2-1 heading into the ninth, but were able to score a run off a clutch RBI-single up the middle by Taylor Skerpon to send the game into extras. Penn State was led by Jim Haley (3-for-6, 1 R, 1 RBI) along with Skerpon who provided the only other RBI. Penn State managed just three more hits in six innings of extras as Penn State fell 4-2.
The third game of the series was very similar to the first, as the Lions fell behind early and couldn’t come back. Freshman right-hander Nick Distasio (1.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 BB) had another rough start as he allowed all four runs in the second inning off three consecutive hits. Sal Biasi (3.1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 2 K, 5 BB) came in to relieve toward the end of the second and only allowed one run, but scared many as he walked a season-high five batters in the process. Marko Boricich and Dakota Forsyth finished the game with a combined line of 4.0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 K’s. Distasio received his fifth loss of the season (1-5) in the series’ concluding game.
The Lions had a formidable 10-hit performance, but could never score enough to come back from their early four-run deficit. The team was led again by Guers (1-for-3, 2 RBIs) who brought in two of the the three runs for Penn State. Tyler Kendall provided Penn State with the third RBI. There were also a handful of players who notched multi-hit performances: Riotto, Kendall, Skerpon, and Graham. Penn State failed to tie up the game after facing a 4-0 deficit and didn’t put up much of a fight toward the end, as it only had one hit in the final two innings. The Lions eventually fell to Illinois, 6-3.
This Nittany Lions team still has trouble scoring early runs. In two of the three games in this series, the Lions faced a large deficit early and couldn’t come back because they couldn’t ride any momentum from earlier in the games. This team needs to learn how to score in the first innings if it wants to win 20 games this year. It only has four games left in Happy Valley, and I’m sure that Rob Cooper’s squad would like to win out for its fans.
Penn State will be home for four more games this season, and faces in-state rival Pitt in the first game on Wednesday, April 29 at 6:30 p.m. before facing Rutgers for a three-game weekend series starting on May 1 at 6:30 p.m.
Photo: Mark Selders/GoPSUSports.com