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Dominant Starting Pitching Propels Penn State Baseball To First Series Win

Penn State baseball (6-11) won its first series of the 2021 season this weekend with two wins over Rutgers (9-8).

In fact, after winning the first two games of the series, the Nittany Lions led 4-0 going into the eighth inning of Sunday’s series finale. However, six Rutgers runs in the eighth inning allowed the Scarlet Knights to escape with a narrow 6-4 victory.

Despite the late-game collapse Sunday afternoon, Penn State simply winning the series alone is a tremendous step in the right direction for Rob Cooper’s group. Before this weekend, the last Big Ten series win for Penn State came back in 2018 when the Nittany Lions won two of three over Michigan State.

Dominant starting pitching was the catalyst for Penn State’s impressive weekend. It started Friday when ace Bailey Dees took the mound fresh off a great start in a win over Michigan last weekend.

Dees gave up no runs and struck out three batters over six stellar innings in game one. The bullpen, led by Tyler Shingledecker, Ralph Gambino, and Steven Miller, came on to pitch three shutout innings as well.

The lockdown pitching performance was needed. Penn State’s offense mustered just one run all game, which came on a Justin Williams solo home run. After winning the first game of the series 1-0, the Nittany Lions sent Conor Larkin to the mound for game two of the series Saturday afternoon.

Larkin followed up Dees’ performance with an absolute gem of his own. He gave up no runs, just three hits, and struck out seven over six innings.

Jaden Henline and Mason Mellott combined to give up just one run and two hits the rest of the way, as Rutgers scored just one run the entire game.

Penn State’s offense showed a little more life in the second game by scoring five runs and grinding out 13 hits. Williams and shortstop Jay Harry led the way with three hits and an RBI each, while center fielder Johnny Piacentino collected two hits and an RBI, too. The other two runs were driven in by Matt Wood and Cole Bartels.

While the final game of the series ended in heartbreak, starter Kyle Virbitsky showed signs of dominance for much of the outing. He was efficient throughout the entire game and managed to throw seven scoreless innings before faltering a bit in the eighth.

Virbitsky’s final line has him allowing seven hits and three runs in 7.1 innings, though, the start was certainly an encouraging sign. After Virbitsky departed from the game with the bases loaded, Shingledecker and Mellott weren’t able to get out of the jam. Mellott gave up a grand slam to Jordan Sweeney later in the inning that gave the Scarlet Knights the lead.

Penn State’s offense did launch three home runs in the contest, which is another positive sign despite the loss. Williams, Piacentino, and Gavin Homer are the three Nittany Lions who went deep in the series finale.

While missing out on the sweep definitely hurts, Penn State’s weekend in Piscataway is an overall positive, especially after Cooper’s team was on the brink of winning last weekend’s series against then-No. 18 Michigan if it wasn’t for a late-game collapse in the final game.

Penn State now carries some momentum into next weekend’s matchups against Michigan State and Purdue in East Lansing, Michigan.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a sophomore majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, NY and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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