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No. 8 Seed Penn State Baseball Defeats No. 4 Seed Michigan 7-6 In Big Ten Tournament Semifinals

Penn State baseball (29-23, 12-12 Big Ten) beat Michigan (32-28, 14-10 Big Ten) 7-6 in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Saturday.

An extra-innings home run off the bat of Adam Cecere and more clutch hitting from JT Marr and Bryce Molinaro powered the Nittany Lions past Michigan. A solid game from the Nittany Lions’ bullpen gave the team a chance to win it in extra innings.

How It Happened

Penn State went down in order against Michigan starter Kurt Barr to begin the ballgame, and the Wolverines responded with traffic on the basepaths in the bottom half of the opening inning. Mitch Voit ripped a single into left field with Collin Priest and Cole Caruso working two-out walks, loading the bases. After a visit from the Nittany Lions pitching coach, Frankie Sanchez forced a groundout to escape the inning and keep the Wolverines off the board.

Grant Norris smacked a ball against the wall in left field to give the Nittany Lions their first base runner of the afternoon and was joined by Molinaro, who worked a five-pitch walk. With runners on first and second with just one out, Barr battled back to strikeout the next two batters and end the Penn State half of the inning.

Matt Morash took over on the mound for Penn State after Sanchez worked a scoreless inning, and the new left-hander tossed a scoreless inning of his own that included a pair of strikeouts. Aside from a Joe Jaconski walk, Barr cruised through his third inning of work to hold the Nittany Lions scoreless for a third consecutive inning. Morash found success in his second inning as he held the Wolverines’ bats at bay, working around a single off the bat of Stephen Hrustich.

Penn State threatened with more baserunners in the fourth inning and Norris reached with a single to center and Molinaro walked, giving the Nittany Lions runners on first and second with one out. Maloney kept the line moving with a ground ball through the infield that Hrustich did not come up with, causing both runners to score and Maloney to advance to third. With the Nittany Lions now up 2-0, Kelley drove in Maloney on a line-drive sacrifice fly to left field to extend Penn State’s lead to three.

With two outs, Barr forced Michaels to fly out to left field to end the inning. Morash provided Penn State with an easy shutdown inning in the bottom of the fourth as the left-hander retired the Wolverines’ bats in order.

In the top half of the fifth inning, Jacob Denner replaced Barr on the mound for the Wolverines and tossed a scoreless inning, retiring Penn State in order. After Kim reached on an infield single that triggered a lengthy review only to determine he was safe, Morash forced Voit to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the Wolverines’ half of the inning.

Denner again retired the Nittany Lions in order after Hrustich made a fantastic diving catch in right-center field to retire Molinaro for the final out in the top half of the sixth inning. After he made the improbable catch in right field to retire the Nittany Lions, Hrustich greeted new pitcher Mason Horwat with a booming double off the wall in left field. After he was moved to third by a Priest groundout, Hrustich got Michigan on the board as he scored on an RBI groundout off the bat of Caruso.

After plunking Dylan Stanton with two outs, Horwat walked Mack Timbrook to give Michigan runners on first and second. On the first pitch of the ensuing at-bat, Kyle Dernedde smacked a two-run double into the left-field corner to tie the game at three. Horwat hit his second batter of the inning to once again give the Wolverines a pair of runners on base but was able to escape further trouble as he forced Jonathan Kim to ground out to the shortstop Norris.

The Nittany Lions offense continued to struggle in their half of the seventh inning as Denner again held the team scoreless, working around a Michaels single. After the base hit from Michaels, Mike Gambino sent out Kyle Hannon to pinch run, who was picked off at first base by Denner to end the inning.

Voit began the Michigan half of the seventh with a scorching single to center field and was immediately driven home by a Hrustich triple down the left field line to give the Wolverines a 4-3 lead. The right fielder later came around to score on a wild pitch that snuck past Maloney, extending the Michigan lead to two. Still with no outs, Horwat was replaced by Will Perkowski after surrendering a walk to Priest. The new pitcher forced Caruso to pop up a bunt for the first out but hit the next batter to give Michigan two runners on with one out.

Perkowski settled in after the hit batter and retired the next two Wolverine hitters while recording a strikeout to end the inning. While heading back to the dugout, the home plate umpire tossed Perkowski from the game for screaming an obscenity after recording the final out.

Needing two runs to avoid playing Michigan for a second time on the same day, Jaconski led off the eighth inning with a towering home run into the bullpen in right field to pull the Nittany Lions within one run. Marr dunked a single off the glove of Alfredo Velasquez and was moved to second on a bloop single to left field by Cecere, giving Penn State runners on first and second with no outs.

Derek Cease entered the game as a pinch-hitter and was retired via a clock violation. Norris, the next batter, blooped a single over the head of the shortstop to load the bases for Thursday’s hero in Molinaro with just one out. The infielder once again came through for the Nittany Lions, as he lined a single into right field to score Marr and tie the game at five. Cecere was thrown out attempting to score on the hit, meaning Penn State would have runners on first and third with two outs. Seeking to keep the game even, Denner battled back to strike out Maloney and end the inning.

Anthony Steele replaced Perkowski to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning and allowed a single and a walk to give the Wolverines runners on first and second with a chance to take the lead. During Hrustich’s at-bat, Michigan successfully executed a double steal, but Steele battled back to record the strikeout for the second out of the inning. With Priest batting and two runners still in scoring position, Steele forced the freshman to fly out to shallow center, keeping the game tied.

With Denner still in the game, the Nittany Lions went down to send Michigan back to the plate with a chance for a walk-off win. Caruso drew a leadoff walk to begin the Michigan half of the inning and after Steele recorded a 2-0 count to Velazquez, Gambino called on Ben DeMell to hold the Wolverines and continue the game. The right-hander retired Velazquez and the following two batters he faced to escape the inning with the game still tied at five.

Marr led off extra innings with a single to center field and was driven in by a laser two-run home run into the right field bullpen off of the bat of Cecere to give Penn State the 7-5 lead. Seeking to avoid a further deficit in the bottom half of the inning, Denner retired the next three batters to end the inning.

With Penn State just three outs from playing for a Big Ten Championship, DeMell blew a fastball past Cooper Mullens for a strikeout and the first out of the inning. Kim grounded out on the first pitch he saw for the second out, but Voit launched a home run to left field to pull Michigan within a run. With Hrustich a swing of the bat away from tying things up, DeMell forced a deep flyout to center to send Penn State to the Big Ten Championship.

Takeaways

  • Cecere transferring to Penn State is a huge reason why this team is where they are, and the right fielder proved this again with his mammoth go-ahead home run in extra innings. The bomb was the right fielder’s second of the tournament and he has driven in runs in all three games of Penn State’s tournament.
  • With a potential game two later in the evening looming, this game turned into a bullpen game for the Nittany Lions and the pitching staff responded well. Sanchez and Morash both tossed scoreless outings and Steele escaped a jam in the eighth inning to keep the game tied.
  • Down two heading into the eighth inning, Penn State needed its starts to make its presence felt and it did just that. Jaconski led off the inning with a homer to close the gap, and Cecere once again came through with a clutch hit. Penn State’s best players must show up if the team hopes to move on to the NCAA tournament.
  • One of the many things Penn State had done well in this tournament was getting multiple runners on base across multiple innings, forcing the opposing pitching staff to execute many high-stress pitches. This skill was absent in today’s game, and it allowed the Michigan pitching staff to cruise through the game except for the fourth inning, where the Nittany Lions scored three.

What’s Next?

Penn State baseball will take on the winner of the upcoming Nebraska/Indiana game for a Big Ten Championship and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2000. The championship game is set for 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 26, and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

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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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