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Penn State Baseball Collapses Late To No. 18 Michigan 8-6 In Game Two Of Doubleheader

Penn State baseball (4-10) dropped the rubber match to the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (11-4) 8-6 in heartbreaking fashion Saturday night.

Despite leading for the bulk of the game and stellar pitching performances from the likes of Kyle Virbitsky and Mason Mellott, the Nittany Lions weren’t able to secure the win in the end and still have yet to claim a series victory this season.

How It Happened

In the top of the first, the Wolverines were making solid contact on Virbitsky. Christian Molfetta got things started with a single to right field, although one batter later, he decided to swipe second and test the arm of Tyson Cooper. It ended up being a mistake, as he was gunned down with ease to end the inning.

The solid contact continued in the bottom half of the inning for Penn State, as four Nittany Lions put the ball in play. The fifth was Josh Spiegel, who drew a walk following a Justin Williams single up the middle, putting Williams in scoring position. However, Gavin Homer’s soft line drive into right field ultimately ended the first inning for the Nittany Lions.

Once again in the second, each Michigan batter put the ball in play. Clark Elliott was the first to reach base, and the ensuing at-bat Benjamin Sems singled to left, scoring Elliott to put Michigan on the board first 1-0.

The first strikeout of the game wouldn’t be recorded until the top of the third, as Virbitsky’s offspeed pitch bested Michigan’s lead-off man Jake Marti, culminating an eight pitch at bat. The second would come just one batter later as Griffin Mazur fell victim to Virbitsky’s offspeed with two strikes on him.

That may have been the ounce of positive momentum that Penn State needed, as the Nittany Lions’ offense would explode in the bottom half of the inning.

Tyson Cooper got things started with a walk in his first plate appearance of the afternoon. Jay Harry subsequently roped a double down the right field line, sparking a big rally for the Nittany Lions. Johnny Piacentino would ground out into a fielders choice for the first out of the inning, but would knock in Cooper in the process to knot the game at 1-1.

Next in the order, Williams would strike out swinging for the Nittany Lions’ second out, initiating a big two-out rally. A single from Speigel and a walk from Homer would load the bases for Robison, who cranked a base hit into left field to put the Nittany Lions up 3-1, prompting Erik Bakich to go to his bullpen.

The lefty Ben Dragni would enter the game and was visibly immediately rattled. Tayven Kelley recorded his first hit of the game on Dragni’s first pitch, punching an infield single to shortstop to juice the bases once again. Following a wild pitch, a Parker Hendershot walk, and another Cooper walk the score stood at 5-1 heading into the fourth.

Jacob Denner took the mound for the Wolverines in the top of the fifth and wasn’t able to combat the Nittany Lions’ offensive wrath. With two outs, Robison delivered once again, driving in Williams for his third RBI of the afternoon, putting the score at 6-1.

A nuke off the bat offSems to kick off the top of the fifth inning decreased Michigan’s deficit to 6-2, but that’s all the damage that would be done, as Virbitsky stayed dialed in. He fanned three in the inning, bringing his strikeout total to six.

Virbitsky began to lose a little bit of his control in the top half of the sixth, surrendering a hit, a walk and a hit by pitch to load the bases for the Wolverines with only one out. However, he stayed in the game to face Sems and got revenge for the bomb he hit off of him earlier in the game with a strikeout to cap off his stellar outing.

Mason Mellott entered in relief for Virbitsky, but couldn’t finish the job as Jordon Rogers sliced a double down the third-base line and brought two of his teammates across the plate, putting the score at 6-4.

In the top of the seventh, Michigan threatened but wasn’t able to plate any runs. The inning ended on a fantastic play at second base by Homer. The Wolverines were able to make two more nice defensive plays themselves that would highlight the bottom half of the inning, as the Nittany Lions were retired in order.

Mellott noticeably lost a bit of his control in the ninth frame of action, but it was defensive errors that would doom the Nittany Lions. The Wolverines weren’t going down quietly, but it was the two critical errors via Homer and Harry that kept the Wolverines alive, allowing them to manufacture runs.

Molfetta, who reached first safely on Homer’s throwing error ,would ultimately score. In turn, extending the inning and allowing a bloop single from Elliott’s to drive in Riley Bertram, to knot the score 6-6.

Mellott was pulled for Steven Miller, who would throw one pitch to Tito Flores and force him to ground into double play. The Nittany Lions would come up empty in the bottom half of the inning and sent the game into extras.

Michigan wasted no time in the top of the tenth, as Sems was hit by Miller’s pitch with one out and advanced to third base on back-to-back wild pitches. Sems trotted home the ensuing at bat as Rogers sent a laser up the middle, giving Michigan its first lead since the second inning, 7-6. Rogers would then cross home plate on a sharply hit double down the right-field line and the Wolverines led 8-6.

The Nittany Lions weren’t able to muster up anything in the bottom half of the tenth outside of a Cooper single to left field, and a Harry strikeout ultimately sealed their fate.

Takeaways

  • Following an offensive onslaught poured on by Michigan in the first game, Penn State seemed to have flipped a switch for the majority of the game. The Nittany Lions were resilient and had an answer for everything Michigan was throwing at them, but as it’s been all season long, Penn State wasn’t able to put together a complete effort.
  • Mistakes. Penn State played a squeaky clean game up until the ninth and tenth innings, where errors committed by virtue of Homer and Harry and two fumbled pitches arguably cost the Nittany Lions the game and the series.
  • On a positive note, Virbitsky and Mellott both pitched excellent games and had Michigan’s high-powered offense in check for most of the afternoon.

What’s Next?

Penn State will embark on a three-series, seven-game road trip that begins in Piscataway, New Jersey on Friday, April 2 to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights for the first time this season.

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About the Author

Zach Donaldson

Zach is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He is currently an Onward State contrib. and also serves as an editor for Penn State’s CommRadio. He’s hails from Downingtown, Pa. or in other words just outside of Philly. When he's not watching or ranting about Philly sports, you can probably find him at the gym. If you like sports tweets, follow him on Twitter @zachdonaldson_ and all inquires go to [email protected]

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