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Penn State Baseball Walks Off Michigan 4-3 In Big Ten Opener

Penn State Baseball (12-7, 1-0 Big Ten) defeated Michigan (7-15, 0-1 Big Ten) 4-3 in the first game of the Nittany Lions’ opening series of Big Ten play.

Travis Luensmann worked four scoreless innings and Adam Cecere had two hits, while Grant Norris delivered the winning run on an error in the Friday night matchup.

How It Happened

Luensmann struggled to find the strike zone in the top of the first, loading the bases with three walks. With the threat of falling behind early, the right-hander settled in and retired the next two hitters he faced on a popout to first and blew a fastball past Collin Priest to escape without allowing a run.

Joe Jaconski led off the Nittany Lions half of the inning with a single to right but was immediately sent back to the dugout as Adam Cecere grounded into a 6-3 double play. J.T. Marr legged out a dribbler in between the mound and third base and was moved to third on Bobby Marsh reaching due to a dropped third strike. With two runners on, Matt Maloney grounded out to the pitcher to end the Penn State threat.

Luensmann continued to struggle with command in his second inning of work, walking two batters and often found himself behind in the count. Maloney helped out his pitcher by catching Brock Leitgeb leaning at first base and throwing behind him for the pickoff. Much like he did to end the first, Luensmann notched a strikeout to end the top half of the inning.

Michigan starter Dylan Vigue settled in to retire the Nittany Lions’ side with ease to end the second inning, striking out two and getting Kyle Hannon to line out to right field.

In the top half of the third inning, Luensmann began with his sixth walk of the game but immediately bounced back with two consecutive strikeouts to end the inning, with the first being a classic strike ’em out, throw ’em out to clear the bases.

Cecere hit a rocket to right field for a single to begin the bottom half and was followed by Marr walking on four pitches, prompting a mound visit by Michigan pitching coach Brock Huntzinger with Marsh looming. After getting ahead in the count 3-1, Marsh laced a single back up the middle to drive in Cecere, giving the Nittany Lions the opening run of the contest.

Maloney hit a grounder back up the middle that was booted by Michigan shortstop Kyle Dernedde, appearing to score Marr from second base, but Penn State batted out of order and Maloney was called out, sending the runners back to their original bases.

After a long delay and Norris stepping up to the plate now with two outs, he hit a grounder to third that beat the Michigan third baseman five hole and into left field, scoring Marr from second base to give Penn State the 2-0 lead. Maloney then stepped up to bat in his rightful spot and made the final out of the inning.

Continuing to navigate a lack of command, Luensmann once again escaped trouble unscathed in the top half of the fourth inning. Having hit Priest with a pitch and walked Leitgeb, the right-hander battled back to end the inning with a nasty splitter to send AJ Garcia down looking.

Leading off the Penn State half of the inning, Billy Gerlott legged out a double on a grounder down the left-field line. Having advanced to third on a wild pitch, Gerlott scored on a Hannon sacrifice fly to extend the Nittany Lions’ lead to 3-0. Cecere rocked a double off of the right-field wall but was stranded as Marr struck out swinging to end the inning.

Mason Horwat replaced Luensmann in the top half of the fifth inning and worked a scoreless inning, striking out two while navigating two Michigan batters reaching base. Marsh led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a walk but headed back to the dugout as Bryce Molinaro grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. After hitting Norris with a backfoot slider, Vigue was given the hook by Michigan head coach Tracy Smith and replaced by lefty Jacob Denner with another lefty in Maloney looming. Denner worked out of the inning by getting Maloney to pop out to the shortstop.

Priest began the top half of the sixth inning on first base as he was hit by a wild slider and advanced to second on a passed ball. Will Rogers hit a rocket on the ground to short that caught Priest in between bases and Norris tossed the ball to second to send Priest back to the dugout.

With the right-handed bat of Bradley Navarro entering the game, Penn State head coach Mike Gambino went to his bullpen and called on Anthony Steele to get the final out of the inning. Steele walked Navarro and hit Joonsung Park, loading the bases. Michigan scored its first run of the game as Steele walked Dernedde, sending Rogers home and cutting the Penn State lead to 3-1.

Gambino once again called on his bullpen with Steele struggling, this time going to closer David Lee. The Nittany Lions’ closer walked Stephen Hrustich on four pitches, allowing Navarro to cross the plate and put Michigan within one run. Stephen Voit worked a 3-2 count against Lee and was hit in the back by a pitch, scoring Park and tying the game at three. Penn State finally escaped the inning with Lee catching Cole Caruso looking.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Gerlott led off with a walk but was stranded at first base as the following Nittany Lion hitters retired in order.

Freshman Will Perkowski took over for Lee in the top of the seventh inning and much like his predecessors, walked the leadoff batter. The right-hander battled back and worked around an error by Hannon to record three strikeouts in the inning and sent the Nittany Lions back to the plate. Penn State was unable to get the bats going in the bottom half of the inning as it continued to search for the go-ahead run.

The combined no-hit bid for Penn State came to an end in the top of the eighth inning as Hrustich laced a ground-rule double down the left-field line. Perkowski worked around the double without allowing further damage.

Leading off the Penn State half of the inning, Norris hit a weak fly ball to right that was dropped by Joe Longo, allowing Norris to reach second. After a walk to Maloney, Gerlott hit a fly ball to right that moved Norris to third with one out. After striking out Hannon, Denner got Jaconski to line out to center and escaped the inning.

Perkowski got the first two outs of the top of the ninth inning before Gambino opted to go to his bullpen, calling on Chic DeGaetano to get the final out of the inning. The right-hander did just that as he forced a flyout to center field to give Penn State a chance to walk it off.

The bottom half of the ninth nearly ended with Tayven Kelley grounding into a double play, but a bobble by Voit allowed him to reach first. Molinaro blooped a single into right, giving Penn State runners on the corners with two outs. Norris hit a dribbler back to the mound that Denner bobbled, scoring Kelley from third to win 4-3.

Takeaways

  • Luensmann worked four scoreless innings for the Nittany Lions but struggled mightily with command. Despite striking out six batters and not surrendering a hit, the right-hander walked seven batters and hit another.
  • Walks were the name of the game for Penn State pitchers with the staff amassing 13 walks and four hit-by-pitches.
  • Grant Norris had one hit and notched the walk-off error in the ninth to win it for the Nittany Lions. Penn State struggled to score throughout but came through when it mattered.

What’s Next?

Penn State will continue its series with Michigan as it takes on the Wolverines in game two of the three-game set. The game is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 23, and will be streamed on BTN+.

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About the Author

Dennis Wilkins

Dennis is a third-year journalism major from Brick, New Jersey. He has a love-hate relationship with every team he roots for, especially the New York Giants. When he's not watching Jack Hughes highlights, he can be found playing golf or listening to music. Direct all complaints to him via email ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@denniswilkins27).

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