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Penn State Baseball Wins First Series Of 2021 Against Rutgers

Penn State baseball (6-11) won its first series of the year this weekend 2-1 over Rutgers (9-8).

After taking games one and two in commanding fashion thanks to dominant starting pitching and timely hitting, the Nittany Lions came up an inning short of completing the sweep over the Scarlet Knights Sunday afternoon.

Game One

In the first game of the series, both team’s aces took the mound and didn’t disappoint. A solo shot off the bat of Justin Williams was all that the Nittany Lions needed, as Bailey Dees got the win 1-0.

Dees toed the rubber for Penn State, and he finally looked like the ace he’s supposed to be this year for the Nittany Lions. He only struck out three, but was able to get out of some key situations en route to a victory, improving his record to 2-1 on the season.

Rutgers ace Harry Rutkowski had a stellar outing himself, fanning seven and walking none. However, Rutgers’ offense couldn’t provide Rutkowski much assistance as the Scarlet Knights were shutout.

Although the production wasn’t completely stagnant. The Scarlet Knights recorded 10 hits but weren’t able to knock any home. 

Penn State only recorded four hits, but a solo home run courtesy of Williams was the difference-maker. He needed every inch of it as centerfielder Richie Schiekofer was incredibly close to making the play, but lost his glove over the wall after he crashed into it.

Rutgers threatened in the top of the ninth as Gus Sosa lined a single into centerfield, and one batter later Josh Rodriguez reached on a 3-0 ball, but Steven Miller shut down the rally as he got Evan Sleight to ground into a double play to end the game.

Game Two

Offense was hard to come by in game one of this series. But in game two, Penn State’s bats started off hot and didn’t let up. The Nittany Lions recorded 13 hits in the game compared to Rutgers’ four, winning the game 5-1 and clinching their first series victory this season.

Penn State starter Conor Larkin dominated, pitching his first shutout of the season. Larkin followed up Bailey Dees’ game one performance seamlessly, as he was locked in through six innings, commanding his pitches flawlessly and striking out seven.

On the other hand, Rutgers starter Ben Wereski was rattled from the get-go. Gavin Homer led off the game with a single, followed by a Tayven Kelley double. Johnny Piacentino and Justin Williams would knock both in by way of a sac-fly and a single. Wood would then smack a double into the gap, bringing Williams around the bases to score to put Penn State up 3-0 at the end of the first inning.

The Nittany Lions earned the fourth run in the third inning on a Cole Bartles sac fly, and the fifth via a Jay Harry base hit in the sixth.

Five different Nittany Lions recorded an RBI, making the win a team effort on offense. However, Williams, who hit the difference-making home run in the first game of this series, stood out again. He led the Nittany Lions, going 3-5 with a double and an RBI. Jay Harry also impressed, as the true freshman went 3-4 with an RBI and a stolen base.

Rutgers’ only run of the game would come in the top of the seventh, immediately after Larkin was pulled from the game. Jordan Sweeney saw one pitch from Jaden Henline and took him yard. Henline would settle down after that and hand out three strikeouts in two innings, while Mason Mellott would come in to finish off the job in the ninth.

Between strong stating pitching from Larkin and some timely hitting featuring a slew of singles and doubles, the Nittany Lions were able to formulate a win.

Game Three

The story in the final game of this series was more of the same for the Nittany Lions — dominant pitching and spotless hitting. Until the bottom of the eighth inning, where Jordan Sweeney changed the narrative with one swing.

Sweeney took Mason Mellott yard, and following a pair of bases loaded walks, the score sat at 6-4, which would end up being the final as the Scarlet Knights were able to salvage the series.

Sweeney continued the sensational series he’s had against Penn State, going 7-12 with two home runs. There was certainly no shortage of dingers in this game, as Penn State hit three of them off of Rutgers starter Brent Teller, courtesy of Gavin Homer, Justin Williams, and Johnny Piacentino.

The fourth run came off the bat of Justin Williams, who also had a monstrous series. Williams went 5-12 with two home runs recorded at least one RBI in each game against the Scarlet Knights.

Outside of that, Rutgers’ bullpen shutdown the Nittany Lions’ lineup, and they weren’t able to build more of a cushion.

Kyle Virbitsky got the start for the Nittany Lions and had an excellent outing, going over seven innings and striking out six. At one point, Virbitsky retired the Scarlet Knights 1-2-3 in three straight innings, sending down 11 straight batters.

He made light work of the Scarlet Knights’ lineup for the majority of the afternoon. It was Tyler Shingledecker and Mason Mellott who couldn’t secure the final outs for the Nittany Lions to complete the series sweep.

Takeaways

  • Penn State’s starting rotation has the potential to be dominant. Bailey Dees, Conor Larkin and Kyle Virbitsky all pitched gems and dominated most of the series. Dees seems to be settling into his role as an ace, Larkin owned Rutgers’ lineup with his arsenal, and Virbitsky’s arm and fiery energy has the ability to make some noise in the Big Ten.
  • Penn State showed that it is capable of being competitive in the Big Ten this season. Rutgers entered the series 8-6 near ranked near top of the conference, and the Nittany Lions made it appear like they belong.
  • Penn State entered the series with nine home runs and seven stolen bases on the year. The Nittany Lions tallied five home runs and five stolen bags in the series versus Rutgers alone. Rob Cooper’s players are beginning to find their footing as well as their identity as an entire squad.
  • The bullpen continues to be a concern for Penn State. The Nittany Lions would have swept Rutgers and been able to have some momentum on their side entering the next upcoming series, but the Scarlet Knights were able to win in the final game’s waining moments due to poor relief pitching.

What’s Next?

The Nittany Lions will travel to East Lansing, Michigan to take on both Michigan State and Purdue, beginning on Friday, April 9.

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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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