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No. 8 Seed Penn State Baseball Falls To No. 2 Seed Nebraska in Big Ten Championship

Penn State baseball (29-24, 12-12 Big Ten) was defeated by Nebraska (37-21, 16-8 Big Ten) 2-1 in the 2024 Big Ten Championship game.

Travis Luensmann gave Penn State seven strong innings in the biggest start of his collegiate career and was the lone bright spot for the Nittany Lions. Penn State batters reached base just five times in the loss as their season is now over.

How It Happened

Facing a sea of red and a raucous Nebraska crowd, Luensmann retired the Cornhuskers in order while recording a pair of strikeouts to begin the ballgame. Joe Jaconski worked a leadoff walk in the bottom half of the inning and moved to second after a Grant Norris single through the left side of the infield, giving the Nittany Lions runners on first and second with two outs. Facing a two-strike count, Bryce Molinaro legged out an infield single to third base to load the bases, still with two out.

Nebraska starter Jackson Brockett attempted a pickoff to second base before he threw a pitch to Bobby Marsh, but the throw went into center field and allowed Jaconski to score. Down a run and facing loaded bases after Marsh rocked a line drive single to right field, Brockett escaped further trouble by forcing Tayven Kelley to groundout to second.

Pitching with a lead, Luensmann worked another scoreless inning after striking out a pair of Nebraska batters. Brockett responded with a clean inning of his own, forcing a deep flyout to right field and a pair of groundouts. In the top of the third inning, Luensmann continued to mow down the Cornhuskers’ bats as he retired them in order for a third consecutive inning while notching his fifth strikeout.

Penn State was again held off the board in its third time at the plate, as Brockett recorded a one-two-three inning. The Cornhuskers got traffic against Luensmann in the top half of the fourth inning, with Joshua Overbeek reaching on an error and Case Sanderson lining a single to left field. With runners on the corners and one out, Luensmann caught a bunt attempt from Ben Columbus and proceeded to double off Overbeek at third base to end the inning.

Brockett continued to shut down the Nittany Lions’ bats as the left-hander recorded another clean inning and retired his tenth straight batter. Like Brockett, Luensmann faced smooth sailing in his fifth inning of work as he retired the Cornhuskers in order. The struggles at the plate continued for the Nittany Lions in the bottom half of the fifth inning, as the team again went down in order.

Luensmann recorded his sixth scoreless inning of the ballgame after he worked around a two-out line drive single into center field by Overbeek, inducing three weak grounders to do so. The Nittany Lions recorded their first base runner since the first inning in the bottom of the sixth, as Adam Cecere smacked a one-out double into the corner in right field. Much like he had done all game, Brockett retired the next two batters to strand the runner at second.

Josh Caron opened up the seventh inning in a big way as he smacked an opposite-field home run to tie the game at one, giving him a recording-breaking sixth home run of the tournament. With one out, Gabe Swansen lined a single into left field to put the go-ahead run on base for the Cornhuskers. Luensmann responded, recording two pop-outs to end the inning and silencing a revived Nebraska crowd.

The Nittany Lions continued to have zero answer for Brockett, as the left-hander struck out two batters en route to another clean inning. Mike Gambino called on Jaden Henline to replace Luensmann at the beginning of the eighth inning, and the right-hander responded with a scoreless inning that included a strikeout of Overbeek.

In the Penn State half of the inning, Jaconski and JT Marr both had bids to take the lead with deep fly balls to right and center field, but neither got the extra bit of carry needed to take the lead and as a result, Brockett worked another clean inning.

After recording the first two outs, Henline allowed Columbus to single back up the middle to put the go-ahead run on base. Cayden Brumbaugh entered the game as a pinch-runner and stole second base to move the go-ahead run into scoring position with two strikes to Swansen, who rocked a double up against the left field wall to give Nebraska the lead. Dylan Carey nearly extended the lead with a home run, but Cecere reached up to make the grab and end the inning.

After making the outstanding grab to end the top of the ninth, Cecere led off for the Nittany Lions as they hoped to keep their season alive. New pitcher Brett Sears forced the right fielder to fly out to shallow center field for the first out and got Norris to swing through a fastball for the second out. Down to the final out, Molinaro flew out to left field to end the game, meaning Nebraska had captured its first Big Ten Championship.

Takeaways

  • It’s disappointing anytime a team comes up short in a championship game, but this Penn State team should hold their heads high. In year one under Gambino, the Nittany Lions exceeded anyone’s expectations by simply making the tournament, never mind winning three games and nearly winning the first conference championship in the school’s history. The sky is the limit for this program under the direction of Gambino.
  • Penn State’s ace was exceptional on the biggest stage of his career, as right-hander Luensmann surrendered just one run over seven fantastic innings, striking out six Nebraska batters. In the final start of his collegiate career, Luensmann left his mark on Penn State baseball and gave the fanbase an outing to remember, regardless of the outcome.
  • The Nittany Lions bats went silent today, as the team had no answer for the stellar pitching of Brockett. Luensmann kept them in the game for as long as possible, but it is hard to win big games when your offense provides just one run.

What’s Next?

With the Nittany Lions coming up just short of an auto-bid into the NCAA Tournament, their season is over. It is on to the offseason for Gambino and the rest of the program.

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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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