Penn State Baseball Swept By Minnesota In Home Series
By Matt Paolizzi, Patrick Arnold, and Will Pegler
Penn State baseball (13-6, 0-3 Big Ten) dropped three in a row to Minnesota (9-13, 3-0 Big Ten) in its Big Ten series opener over the weekend at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
The Nittany Lions lost the opening game of the series 5-1 on Saturday afternoon in large part thanks to four errors. After Friday’s game was postponed due to inclement weather, the two squads played a doubleheader on Sunday — Minnesota won both games by final scores of 7-5 and 8-6, respectively.
Penn State struggled with the error bug again in the first game of the doubleheader and lost a close one, but the Nittany Lions just couldn’t keep pace with Minnesota’s powerful offense in the final game.
How It Happened
Penn State’s offense got off to a strong start this weekend. It pressured starting pitcher Max Meyer with strong, defensive at-bats that rose up his pitch count, and the Nittany Lions abused Meyer’s quickly-tiring arm of Meyer for easy walks. After loading the bases, Gavin Homer drove home the first run of the game on a single to the shortstop.
Dante Biasi was dominant on the mound for Penn State by holding the Gophers to no hits and striking out six going into the top of the fourth. However, an error at second base gave Minnesota its first hit of the game and runners on second and third. Another error on a fly ball to right field sent those runners home and put the reigning Big Ten champs on top 2-1.
The fielding horrors weren’t over for Penn State. An infield bobble gave the Gophers another score. Another run came in off a double to left field along the foul line to extend Minnesota’s lead to 4-1, but Biasi was able to strike out two more to escape the inning.
Biasi would strike out a total of 12 batters before being replaced at the top of the seventh by Conor Larkin. The sophomore struck out the first batter he faced, but the immediate impression was soured a bit after allowing a run off a walk and a double. Minnesota took a 5-1 lead before a quiet final two innings in Happy Valley.
Reigning Big Ten pitcher of the year Patrick Fredrickson started the game for Minnesota, but he struggled to find the strike zone. The Gophers’ ace walked three batters and allowed a double that resulted in his three earned runs on the day. His start lasted a third of an inning before he was pulled.
Minnesota quickly responded in the top of the second inning. An error from Penn State third baseman Justin Williams and a walk put runners on first and second. Second baseman Zack Raabe came through with a two-run single to cut Penn State’s lead to just one after a textbook sacrifice bunt advanced the runners into scoring position.
The Gophers’ bats started to come alive in the top of the third. They got two men on base after a pair of infield singles, and first baseman Cole McDevit smacked an RBI double down the left-field line to tie the game at 3-3. Shortstop Jordan Kozicky then stepped to the plate and hit a sacrifice fly to left field to bring in another run and put the Gophers ahead 4-3.
After two scoreless innings, Penn State came back in the bottom of the fifth and regained the lead thanks to a clutch two-run double off the bat of left fielder Kris Kremer. Kremer’s clutch hit put the Nittany Lions up 5-4 heading into the top of the sixth.
In the top of the seventh, Minnesota’s Eduardo Estrada worked a six-pitch leadoff walk before Gavin Homer failed to turn a double play by throwing the ball away after a grounder by the next batter. Cole McDevit came in clutch for the Gophers again with another single down the right-field line that Bertrand to score from second. His second RBI hit of the day tied the game at 5-5.
Left fielder Easton Burtrand hit a go-ahead solo home run to put the Gophers up 6-5 in the top of the ninth, and a pair of errors allowed them to take a 7-5 lead before retiring the side in the bottom of the inning.
The Golden Gophers jumped out to a 1-0 lead to start the final game of the series on Sunday afternoon. Leadoff hitter Ben Mezzenga ripped a double to left field and was soon driven in on a single by Eduardo Estrada. Penn State starting pitcher Eric Mock worked his way out of more possible damage by striking out two batters in the top of the first.
Penn State failed to record any hits through the first three innings of play while Minnesota had six. The Golden Gophers put up another run in the top of the third inning on a Jordan Kozicky single to center field, stretching their lead to 2-0.
Eric Mock was pulled from the game after 3.1 innings of work. The junior gave up two solo home runs in the top of the fourth inning to Jack Wassel and Andrew Hmielweski, respectively, that gave the Golden Gophers a 4-0 lead.
Jordan Kozicky capitalized on a bases loaded situation and opened the gsme up for Minnesota. He hit an awkward fly ball down the right field line that a diving Ryan Ford couldn’t haul in. All three Minnesota baserunners scored on the play, and the reigning Big Ten champions took a 7-0 lead.
The Nittany Lions finally started to figure out Minnesota starting pitcher Joshua Culliver in the bottom of the fourth inning. Penn State put up two hits in the frame and scored one run on a Gavin Homer sacrifice fly.
After its semi-productive fourth inning, Penn State’s offense couldn’t get much else going for the next few innings other than a Ryan Sloniger two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth.
Pinch hitter Mason Nadeau drove in a run on a ground out to second base, followed by a Mac Hippenhammer double with two outs that drove in two runs in the bottom of the ninth. Right-hander Brett Schulze forced Jordan Bowersox into a groundout to second base to finish the game. The rally came up just short as Penn State couldn’t avoid the sweep in an 8-6 defeat.
- Despite finally getting things together in the final game of the series, Penn State’s defense made a combined eight errors through the first two games of the weekend. When facing bats as hot as Minnesota’s, you need to capitalize on opportunities to get easy outs.
- Penn State’s pitching staff finally met its match in this series. Other than a quiet performance in game one, Minnesota’s offense was dominant with 12 hits in game two and 11 in the final contest. Most notably, Nittany Lion ace Eric Mock had his worst performance of the season in the final game of the series. Coming into the game with a 2-0 record and a 1.31 earned-runs average, the junior pitcher allowed eight hits and five runs over 3.1 innings of work.
- Penn State has now lost 15 straight games to Minnesota. The Golden Gophers have quite simply had the Nittany Lions’ number over the past few seasons.
Penn State will host Binghamton for a single game on March 26. The game will be played at 6:30 p.m. at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
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