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Penn State Baseball Defeats Northwestern 8-4 In Series Opener

Penn State baseball (14-12, 2-5 Big Ten) bested Northwestern (10-16, 0-4 Big Ten) in the first game of the Nittany Lions’ third series of Big Ten play.

Travis Luensmann worked a solid five-innings in his best outing of conference play, and J.T. Marr and Adam Cecere hit back-to-back home runs en route to the win. Penn State’s pitching staff rebounded after a dismal previous weekend by allowing just four runs.

How It Happened

Northwestern came out of the gates hot on a frigid afternoon in Happy Valley as it opened the scoring on a base hit from Trent Liolios that scored Vince Bianchina from second base. The Wildcats continued to threaten in the top half of the inning, loading the bases with two outs, but Luensmann forced a weak grounder to first base to get out of the inning.

Marr responded right away for the Nittany Lions, launching a towering fly ball over the wall in right field to tie the game at one apiece. Not to be outdone, Cecere immediately followed with a scorching line drive to right field that carried over the fence, giving Penn State the 2-1 lead on back-to-back home runs.

Luensmann settled down to retire Northwestern in order to begin the second inning, recording his second strikeout of the game in the process.

Bryce Molinaro tripled with one out in the Penn State half and was driven in on a single by Tayven Kelly, giving the Nittany Lions a 3-1 lead. A single by Kyle Hannon set up Bobby Marsh with two outs, and the outfielder responded by ripping a double down the right-field line that scored both Kelly and Hannon, extending Penn State’s lead to 5-1. The offensive onslaught from the Nittany Lions chased Northwestern starter Nolan Morris from the game.

Marr greeted Northwestern reliever Matt McClure with an RBI single up the middle to score Marsh and once again extended the Penn State lead to 6-1. Needing to escape the inning, Tony Livermore robbed Cecere of another hit with a sliding play and putout behind second base to finally end the Penn State half of the second.

Northwestern needed a response to the huge inning by Penn State and got just that, after a leadoff double from Owen McElfatrick, Bennett Markinson knocked him in with a single to cut the Northwestern deficit to 6-2. Preston Knott singled to center and gave the Wildcats runners on the corners with two outs.

Luensmann appeared to get a ground ball that got him out of trouble, but a throwing error by Grant Norris allowed Markinson to score from third as the Penn State lead was cut to 6-3. The Nittany Lions worked out of the inning on the next hitter as Luensmann forced a weak fly ball to right for the third out.

Norris made right on his run-scoring error with a leadoff home run high off of the batter’s eye in center field to begin the bottom half of the third inning, getting a run back for the Nittany Lions as their lead was back to four. After a pickoff of Matt Maloney at first base, Molinaro singled but was sent back to the dugout via Kelley grounding into a double play.

After Luensmann retired Northwestern in order in the top half of the fourth, Penn State also was retired in order for the first time in the contest to end the inning. To begin the fifth inning, Norris made his second error of the game allowing Markinson to reach. Luensmann picked up his shortstop by forcing Liolios to ground into a double play and escape the inning.

Once again making good on an error of his, Norris smacked a two-out double into the left-field gap, setting up Maloney with a chance to extend the Penn State lead. The catcher hit a weak grounder back to McClure, but a throw that was bobbled by the first baseman allowed Norris to score from second, giving the Nittany Lions an 8-3 lead. Maloney stole second after reaching base but was stranded as McClure sat Molinaro down to end the inning.

Mason Horwat came on in relief of Luensmann to start the sixth inning and walked the bases loaded with one out. Bianchina hit a dribbler in front of the plate that appeared to prevent a run, but Maloney couldn’t tag home plate before Knott scored from third. Horwat forced a groundout of Jackson Freeman to escape the inning and keep the Penn State lead at 8-4. Penn State was retired in order to end its half of the inning.

After recording the first two outs in relief of Horwat, Will Perkowski found himself needing to work out of Northwestern having runners on the corners with two outs. On the first pitch to Livermore, Perkowski got the out he needed on a flyout to left field to escape the inning without allowing a run.

With McClure still cruising along in relief, Marsh reached on a leadoff single as the Nittany Lions searched for insurance runs. Attempting to advance on a dropped ball by Markinson, Marsh got a bad jump and was thrown out at second base to wipe his single off the board. McClure retired the next two Penn State batters to send Northwestern back to the plate with six outs left to rally back.

Beginning his second inning of work, Perkowski worked around a leadoff walk to Griffin Arnone and retired the next three hitters he faced to end the top half of the eighth inning. Maloney rocked a double in the Penn State half of the eighth but was stranded at third base.

Coming on to close out the Wildcats, Anthony Steele retired the first two batters he faced with ease. After walking Knott with two outs, Steele forced Griffin Mills to ground out to shortstop and secure the win for Penn State.

Takeaways

  • After a shaky start to his season, Luensmann needed a solid outing against a bad Northwestern team and the right-hander did just that. Across his five innings of work, Luensmann allowed just two earned runs and struck out four batters, lowering his season ERA to 4.86.
  • The offense continued to hum along for the Nittany Lions as four batters enjoyed multi-hit games. After scoring eight runs in the game, this was Penn State’s sixth game of conference play in which it scored six or more runs.
  • After an abysmal performance for the Penn State pitching staff in Champaign, the arms rebounded in game one of this series by only allowing four runs and striking out five Northwestern hitters.
  • Penn State went a combined 1-5 across series with Michigan and Illinois to open conference play, and the Nittany Lions must have this series at home if they want to remain contenders to play postseason baseball. A dominant win in game one helps, but Penn State must close the deal over the remaining two games.

What’s Next?

Penn State will continue its series with Northwestern in game two of this three-game set. The first pitch of game two is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, 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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