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Penn State Baseball’s Hard-Fought Series With No. 18 Michigan Provides Optimism

Despite what the final scores reflected, the Diamond Lions controlled most of their series this weekend against No. 18 Michigan.

Friday’s contest was the Nittany Lions’ only victory of the weekend against the Wolverines, and it was one of the better games Rob Cooper’s squad has played all season.

Ace Bailey Dees took the mound for Penn State, opposing Michigan’s top-15 college baseball prospect Steven Hajjar. Dees bounced back from recent struggles and outlasted Hajjar by throwing 6.2 innings with seven strikeouts and only two earned runs allowed. Seeing his best pitcher return to form, Cooper believes there is still more in store for Dees.

“Here’s the awesome thing about [Dees’ performance]: I still don’t think his stuff, his pitches, were as good as they can be,” Cooper said. “And it just shows you that when you really go out there and believe that you can win, good things can happen even if you don’t have your A-game.”

The big righty’s ability to embrace that winning attitude and step up to a daunting challenge was exactly what Penn State needed in the game, as the bullpen carried the momentum and did not allow a single run to cross the rest of the day.

The offense did not wilt under pressure either, and although they struck out 16 times (11 versus Hajjar), the group managed to eke out enough runs to win the ballgame for the Nittany Lions.

Game two was extremely forgettable in terms of pitching and defense. But Johnny Piacentino’s ability to bust out of his recent slump was a welcome sign for the offense. The freshmen centerfielder went 3-4 with two doubles and a home run in the loss.

“He’s starting to settle in and see the ball well,” Cooper said. “He’s a really good player and a guy that I think is only going to get better and better.”

Piacentino’s big game was all the Nittany Lions got in a 17-4 drubbing, but the next game was a completely different story.

The rubber match of the series was controlled for most of the time by Penn State. Great pitching from Kyle Virbitsky and Mason Mellott paved the way for a Nittany Lion victory, as the Nittany Lions held the lead from the third inning all the way until the top of the ninth.

They were so close. Penn State came one inning away from getting its first series win in the 2021 campaign over the best team in the Big Ten conference just to lose in extra innings. To be in that position after suffering a huge loss just a few hours prior shows incredible resilience on the part of the Nittany Lions.

Still, Cooper expressed pride in his guys following the crushing defeat.

“I am extremely proud of our player’s efforts,” Cooper said. “There’s a lot of hurting kids [in the locker room] right now because they wanted to win and knew they should.”

The drive to win was there all game, and no moment encapsulated that more than Mason Mellott’s strikeout to end the eighth inning.

The passion that the Diamond Lions squad showed all through the series as they played right alongside the No. 18 team in the country is a sign of good things to come for the rest of the year. The team has come so close to victory on too many occasions to count it out. Penn State is only a few pieces away from putting together a complete, and dare I say dominant, series.

Coming up, Penn State will embark on a seven-game road trip beginning with a series against Rutgers on Friday, April 2.

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About the Author

Matt Rudisill

Matt is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism from a little town called Parkesburg in Chester County, PA. More often than not, you can catch him yelling about the Phillies and the Steelers on his Twitter (@mrudy26). Matt is also an elite wiffleball pitcher and is not afraid to back up that claim. Direct all wiffleball challenge invitations, or other legitimate requests, to [email protected]

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