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Penn State Baseball Walks Off Rutgers 7-6

Penn State baseball (22-21, 8-11 Big 10) defeated Rutgers (26-22, 4-15 Big 10) in the opening game of its three-game set with the Scarlet Knights.

Bryce Molinaro smacked two home runs, including one that tied the game late. Not to be outdone, Tayven Kelley laced a triple in the eighth inning to give Penn State the lead late and Grant Norris walked things off in the ninth.

How It Happened

In a stark contrast from Mason Butash’s first inning against West Virginia, Travis Luensmann worked a scoreless first inning that included one strikeout. The Nittany Lions were also unable to get anything going in their half of the inning, as Sonny Fauci struck out one on his way to a clean inning.

After Luensmann dealt his second consecutive one-two-three inning, Bobby Marsh led off the Penn State half of the inning with a single to right field. Marsh stole second with one out and was joined on the basepaths by Matt Maloney after he worked a two-out walk. Hitting with two runners on and two outs, Kelley struck out swinging to end the Penn State threat.

Rutgers got to Luensmann in its half of the third inning as Ty Doucette and Tony Santa Maria grounded a pair of RBI singles through the left side of the Penn State infield, giving the Scarlet Knights the opening runs of the game and a 3-0 lead.

Kevin Michaels led off the bottom of the third with a single and was followed up by Joe Jaconski with a walk. With two runners on and no outs, JT Marr fought off an inside fastball into left field that scored Michaels and cut the Penn State deficit to 3-1. After Adam Cecere flew out for the first out of the inning, Marr was tagged out after attempting to tag up, effectively killing the Penn State momentum as Fauci struck out the next batter he faced to end the inning.

The Nittany Lions and Luensmann rebounded in the top of the fourth, as the right-hander worked a scoreless inning and was helped by an impressive diving play courtesy of Jaconski at first base. With one out in the Penn State half, Molinaro fought the rough conditions in State College to power a solo home run over the wall in right-center field, cutting the Rutgers lead to one.

Penn State hitters continued to find success against Fauci after the Molinaro home run as Maloney ripped a single to center and Kelley worked a four-pitch walk, giving the Nittany Lions two runners on with one out. Already with one hit in the contest, Michaels hit a towering fly ball to left field that one-hopped the wall for an RBI double, tying the game 3-3. The hit scored Maloney from third while Michaels and Kelley remained in scoring position for the top of the order.

With Fauci chased from the game, Joe Mazza took over on the mound for Rutgers and retired the first two batters he faced to avoid any further damage in the inning.

Rutgers tacked on a run in the fifth inning after Cameron Love and Johnny Volpe led off by smacking a pair of singles, with Love eventually coming around to score on an RBI groundout. Penn State was unable to respond in its half of the inning, as Mazza retired the Nittany Lions in order.

With Rutgers threatening to add to its one-run lead after loading the bases against Luensmann, Mike Gambino made a call to the bullpen and called upon Mason Horwat to get the final out of the sixth inning and keep the Penn State deficit at one. The reliever stepped up to the task and struck out one of the best hitters in the country in Josh Kuroda-Graue to pick up Luensmann and hold Rutgers scoreless to end the top half of the sixth.

Molinaro reached on an error by Kuroda-Graue and immediately stole second to lead off the Penn State half of the inning, which was immediately followed up by an infield single off the bat of Maloney to give the Nittany Lions runners on the corners with no outs. Penn State was unable to come up with the big hit, however, as Mazza struck out the next three batters he faced to hold the Scarlet Knights’ lead.

Horwat worked around a pair of hits in the seventh inning to hold Rutgers scoreless and continue to keep the Nittany Lions’ bats within striking distance. Facing a new arm in Ben Gorski, Marr led off the inning with a single through the infield and stole second base with one out in the inning. Continuing a troubling trend for the Nittany Lions, Marr was stranded at second base after Gorski secured a strikeout and forced a deep flyout of Norris to end the inning.

The Nittany Lions’ pitching continued to come up big in the eighth inning as Horwat tossed another scoreless inning. Much like he has all season, Molinaro came up big for Penn State as he demolished a ball over the left field fence to tie the game at four a piece. After Maloney reached on a single and was pinch-ran for by Michael DiMartini, Kelley smacked a triple past a diving Volpe to give Penn State a 5-4 lead.

Hoping to keep its deficit at one, Rutgers called on Sam Portnoy to stop the bleeding. Jaconski met the new pitcher with a scorching single back up the middle to drive in Kelley and extend Penn State’s lead to 6-4. As Penn State kept the bats rolling, Marr blooped in his third hit of the night to set up Cecere with runners on first and second. With one out, Cecere was unable to come through and rolled over to second for a double play to end the inning.

Going into his third inning of work, Horwat forced Doucette to ground out for the first out of the ninth inning. After Santa Maria singled, defensive replacement Derek Cease made a nice play behind the mound for the second out of the inning with Santa Maria moving up a base. Down to the final strike, Pete Durocher lined a triple into the gap in left field to cut the Penn State lead in half and keep the Scarlet Knights alive.

One out away from the victory but a runner 90 feet away from tying the game, Gambino called on Anthony Steele to close out the Scarlet Knights. Once again down to their final strike, Trevor Cohen snuck a single into left field to tie the game at six. Steele eventually worked out of the inning to send Penn State to bat with a chance for a walk-off win.

After fighting back to tie the game in the top half of the ninth inning, Rutgers called on Jake Marshall to keep Penn State from scoring to end the game. He drew into the game as a defensive replacement, but Kyle Hannon led off the inning with a single to put the winning run on base. With Hannon running on the pitch, Norris grounded a single into right field that scored the winning run to give the Nittany Lions the walk-off and a much-needed conference win.

Takeaways

  • It was a mixed bag for Luensmann in his final home start for the Nittany Lions. The senior pitched 5.2 innings and surrendered four runs while allowing 10 Rutgers hitters to reach base. Despite allowing four runs, working as deep into the game as Luensmann did was a massive win for Penn State with the bullpen remaining taxed from Wednesday’s debacle against West Virginia.
  • Molinaro continued to swing a hot bat on Friday as the infielder smashed a pair of home runs, one of which tied the game in the eighth inning as Penn State chases a Big Ten tournament birth. His big game brought his season average up to .335 and now has nine home runs on the year.
  • Having initially come back from down 3-0 and winning the game after blowing a lead in the ninth, Penn State once again faced adversity and won. Fans would likely prefer easier wins, but the Nittany Lions continue to find ways to win.
  • As the Nittany Lions continue their chase for eighth in the Big Ten and a birth in the conference tournament, they will likely need to win at least three of the team’s five remaining conference games. Rutgers is far more talented than their record shows, but Penn State cannot afford to drop more than one game to the Scarlet Knights if they hope to play postseason baseball.

What’s Next?

The Nittany Lions will continue their series with Rutgers as game two is set for noon on Saturday. For those who cannot make it to Medlar, the game 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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