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Penn State Baseball Loses Close One 5-4 To Rutgers In Big Ten Tournament

No. 6-seeded Penn State baseball (26-28, 1-1 Big Ten Tournament) fell to No. 2-seeded Rutgers (43-14, 2-0 Big Ten Tournament) 5-4 in extra innings Friday at Charles Schwab Field Omaha in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Both starting pitchers had their best stuff, as Jordan Morales and Nathan Florence each turned in exceptional outings for their respective clubs. However, chaos ensued with both starters out of the game, as Penn State rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth once Florence had exited to tie the game up.

Rutgers retook the lead in the top of the 10th and was able to shut the door in the bottom half to secure its second win of the tournament. With the loss, Penn State now enters the loser’s side of the bracket and will get a rematch with Iowa in a win-or-go-home game Saturday morning.

How It Happened

The Nittany Lions sent left-hander Jordan Morales to the mound, while Rutgers started right-hander Nathan Florence.

Both pitchers started off the game by tossing scoreless frames, which would set the tone for the early portion of Friday’s matchup. Morales cruised through the first four innings by giving up no runs, just two hits, and striking out four batters. Florence was just as, if not more, dominant through the first four, striking out eight and retiring nine in a row as the game went into the fifth inning.

Morales ran into some trouble in the top of the fifth, as Chris Brito reached on a walk and later advanced to third with two outs in the inning. Penn State opted to pull Morales after his 4.2 sparkling innings in favor of Jaden Henline. Morales finished his day by giving up just two hits and a walk while striking out five Scarlet Knight hitters.

Henline induced a grounder to shortstop to strand Brito at third and keep the game scoreless going to the bottom of the fifth. With the game still scoreless as the bottom of the frame got underway, it was the furthest into a Big Ten Tournament game that the score has remained 0-0 since game three of the 2019 tournament.

Florence started the inning with a groundout and another strikeout, but Johnny Piacentino followed that up with a two-out single to snap Florence’s streak of 11 consecutive batters retired. For the first time all day, Florence found himself in some trouble after a walk to Kyle Hannon. However, Florence got Derek Cease to pop out in foul territory to keep this scoreless battle going.

The game would take a turn in the top of the sixth inning. Henline hit the first batter of the inning, Ryan Lasko, and after a wild pitch and sacrifice bunt, Lasko was on third with one out. An RBI double from Nick Cimillo broke the scoreless tie and gave the Scarlet Knights a 1-0 lead. Henline retired the next two batters to limit the damage and keep it a one-run game.

Following a scoreless bottom of the sixth, Rutgers’ bats were back in business to start the seventh inning. After a Josh Kuroda-Grauer one-out double, Richie Schiekofer sent him home with an RBI single to make it a 2-0 game.

Florence came back out for the seventh inning and, you guessed it, kept mowing down the Nittany Lions. A 1-2-3 inning sent the game to the eighth inning with Florence at just 82 pitches.

For the third straight inning, Rutgers added to the scoreboard. After Henline loaded the bases, Mason Mellott came in and gave up a two-run single to Brito that allowed the Scarlet Knights to extend their lead to 4-0.

Florence once again set Nittany Lions down in order and finished the eighth inning at 96 pitches. Carson Kohls came on for Penn State in the top of the ninth and found himself in a bases-loaded jam with two outs. He escaped unscathed to give the Nittany Lions a chance in the bottom of the ninth.

Florence came out eyeing a complete-game shutout, but after walking the leadoff man, he was pulled in favor of Ben Gorski. The Nittany Lions showed fight and loaded the bases with just one out in the inning to bring the tying run to the plate. Anthony Steele drove in a run with a groundout, and Billy Gerlott drove in another with a single. Suddenly, Penn State had the winning run at the plate with Piacentino up with runners at the corners and two outs.

Then, Piacentino ripped a two-run triple to left field to tie this game after the Nittany Lions trailed 4-0 at the start of the inning. However, Rutgers’ Sam Bello would strike out CJ Pittaro to send this game to extras.

The Scarlet Knights answered right back in the top of the 10th with a Schiekofer sacrifice fly to give Rutgers a 5-4 lead. The game went to the bottom of the 10th with Penn State trailing by one.

Bello closed it out for Rutgers to give the team a 5-4 win over the Nittany Lions.

Takeaways

  • Despite the tough loss, this team fights, man. Down four runs with just three outs remaining, the Nittany Lions fought back and tied the game. The bats were silent for most of the game, but to its credit, Penn State turned in a gritty, explosive ninth inning to make it a ballgame.
  • Nathan Florence utterly dominated the Nittany Lions during his tenure in the game. Florence tossed eight innings, gave up just three hits, and struck out 10 batters. It may be forgotten because of what happened after he exited the game, but Florence’s performance was absolutely splendid.
  • Give yourself a pat on the back, Jordan Morales. The left-hander turned in his longest outing of the year and kept the Rutgers bats awfully quiet. He turned in 4.2 scoreless innings and struck out five batters in the game. While the game didn’t go the Nittany Lions’ way in the end, Morales kept them in it and turned in his best outing of the year.
  • With Penn State’s first loss of the tournament, it now gets dicey for the Nittany Lions. Every game Penn State plays from here on out will be an elimination game. Either keep winning, or return home to Happy Valley. First up will be a rematch with Iowa, which will surely be trying to get revenge after dropping game one of the tournament to Rob Cooper’s squad on Thursday.

What’s Next

Penn State will rematch with No. 3-seeded Iowa at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 28, in an elimination game. The Nittany Lions must win in order to keep their season alive.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, 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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