After receiving the at- large bid to compete in the North Atlantic Conference Regional, The Penn State Baseball Club buckled down and prepared to play against division champions UMass, Drexel, and Pittsburgh. UMass won the North Atlantic North division, Drexel won the North Atlantic East, and division rival Pittsburgh won the North Atlantic West. The Regional Tournament was held at Father Judge High School in Philadelphia from Friday May 12th to Sunday May 14th.
GAME ONE: 5/12 vs. UMass
The Nittany Lions started their regional playoff journey in a matchup against the tournament’s number one overall seed, the UMass Minutemen. Penn State jumped out to an early one run lead in the second inning in part to aggressive base running by senior third baseman Joe Picard. After Picard walked to start the inning, he advanced to second on a passed ball and then stole third base. With two outs, senior catcher Will Ziefel found a gap in center field, doubling and scoring Picard for the game’s first run.
Junior Matt McDonough got the start for Penn State, trying to push the squad into a second round matchup against Drexel. After a solid first two innings, McDonough ran into a little trouble in the third when he walked the leadoff batter. UMass was able to tie the game at one run a piece after good situational hitting to move the runner over, eventually leading to an RBI single. McDonough was able to limit the damage as he escaped the inning keeping the game knotted at one.
After a quiet inning at the plate in the third, the Nittany Lions were able to scrape two runs across in the fourth thanks to base hits from senior shortstop Tommy Williams and junior second baseman Pat Fitzgerald. Senior left fielder Ryan Hooven drove Williams in with a sacrifice fly, and junior first baseman Pat Barder scored Fitzgerald with a base hit to left. Penn State took a 3-1 lead, and never looked back in the ballgame. State scored again in the top of the sixth inning, plating two runs on a double from Hooven to push the lead to four runs.
McDonough was able to preserve the lead for Penn State, not allowing any runs after the third inning. The junior ended up throwing seven innings, giving up six hits and two walks while striking out seven. The Nittany Lion bats were able to continue to back McDonough’s strong performance, tacking on a run in the seventh with an RBI from senior DH Derek Brady and three more from a bases clearing double from Picard in the eighth. Senior right fielder Sean Fitzgerald got in on the action in the eighth inning when he singled in Picard to give Penn State a ten run lead, enough to instate the mercy rule.
Junior Michael Bealmear came in for State in the eighth inning to close out UMass, shutting them down in order and striking out the last batter of the ballgame. The Penn State Baseball Club won with a final score of 11-1.
Hooven went 4-4 on the day with three RBIs and a run scored. Picard went 3-3 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Ziefel and senior center fielder Tanner Witter both went 2-4 to lead the offensive brigade for the Nittany Lions.
With it being his second regional experience, Picard said that, “Entering a big game is always nerve racking but as a senior I found it very important to play well in the first game and lead the team. It helped that I had experience so I just tried to play relaxed like we have been all year, and I knew that if we played relaxed we would be able to beat UMass without a problem. That first win is huge for the confidence of the team.”
GAME TWO: 5/13 vs. Drexel
On a night when everybody in the state of Pennsylvania was staying indoors, the Nittany Lions battled the severe elements in a matchup against Drexel. The Dragons shocked Pittsburgh in the first game of the series, beating the Panthers 3-2 to advance in the tournament. Because of the awful conditions, the game was shortened to a seven inning affair instead of the tournament’s usual nine innings.
Senior Mike Dunlap got the nod in the second game of the tournament for the Nittany Lions but got off to a bumpy start. The southpaw surrendered two runs in the first but channeled his inner Rocky Balboa and worked out of a jam to keep the Dragon’s lead at two. The PSBC bats had Dunlap’s back in the top of the second inning as Sean Fitzgerald lead things off with a triple. Senior DH Josh Castro did a job by grounding out to second base, scoring Fitzgerald. Will Ziefel got things started up again with a single and was able to score on a double by Tommy Williams. Tanner Witter traded places with Williams with another double that gave Penn State a 3-2 lead.
Drexel fought back in the bottom half of the second inning, scoring another run to tie the game at three. Again, the Nittany Lions were able to answer the bell in the third inning. Joe Picard singled, Castro doubled, and with runners on second and third, Ziefel put the Lions back in front with a two RBI single to left. Williams walked, giving Witter an opportunity with two men on. With an 0-1 count against him, Witter belted his fifth homerun of the season over the right field wall to put State up 8-3.
Dunlap was able to keep the five run lead for the PSBC for the next two frames, but struggled in the fifth inning. Three walks and a double for the Dragons pushed Dunlap from the game, as junior Shaemus Lunney came into a bases loaded jam. Lunney walked the first batter he saw on a nine pitch at bat, giving Drexel their second run of the inning. After retiring the next batter, Lunney hit the next man he faced, closing the lead to 8-6. Lunney was able to get the last out of the inning as he left the bases loaded. Dunlap’s final line on the day was 4.1 innings pitched with six earned runs on six hits and five walks as he struck out four Drexel batters.
Penn State could not find an answer in the top half of the sixth inning, and quickly put Drexel back at the dish. Lunney got the first out of the inning, but hit the next batter on a full count. With a runner on first and one out, Lunney surrendered a home run to tie the game at eight, chasing him from the game. Senior CJ Stiles came out from the bullpen with clear bases and a tie game, but could not close the door for the Lions. Stiles gave up two more runs to the Dragons on a hit by pitch and a walk with the bases loaded, putting Drexel up 10-8.
In a game as chaotic as this one had been, the PSBC knew that there was still a chance in their last at bat in the top of the seventh. The Nittany Lions loaded the bases with one out, and Witter closed the gap to one run with a fielder’s choice to second base. Down to their final strike with the rain pouring down, more chaos occurred. In a seemingly fitting play for the game, Ziefel was able to score on a wild pitch to tie the game. On the same pitch, Witter broke for second base. Drexel’s catcher tried to gun Witter out at second, but sailed the ball into centerfield. Witter got up and ran to third, but the ball slid under the centerfielder’s glove allowing Witter to take off for home. Somehow, Penn State scored two runs on a wild pitch and was able to take back the lead in the top half of the final inning.
Michael Bealmear ran out to close the door in the seventh as he did against UMass, but unfortunately was not able to find the same success. The first two Drexel batters reached base in the inning on a hit and another hit batsman. The Dragons tied the game with a single to right, and eventually won it on a sacrifice fly. After all of that, the Nittany Lions dropped an absolute heartbreaker, 12-11.
Ziefel and Witter lead the offensive attack for the club, going 3-4 and 2-4, respectively. Ziefel scored three runs and had two RBIs while Witter scored twice and produced five RBIs, both not enough to power State to a victory.
GAME THREE: 5/14 vs. Pittsburgh
After finishing up the game against Drexel at 10:30 the night before, State returned to Father Judge High School for an 8 AM first pitch against rival Pittsburgh. In order to win the regional championship, Penn State would have to win three games that Sunday. With their backs against the wall, the Nittany Lions were confident they could win their third matchup against the Panthers after beating them twice in the regular season.
State went down quietly in the first inning, but was able to capture a lead in the second frame and never looked back. On a walk from junior second baseman Dave Reitman and singles from Will Ziefel and Derek Brady, the Nittany Lions loaded the bases with no outs. Freshman shortstop Derek Distasio drove in the first run of the game with a fielder’s choice where everyone was safe. Joe Picard then scored Reitman with a sacrifice fly, putting the PSBC up by two. After Hooven was hit by a pitch, Pat Barder came up with the bases loaded and cleared them with a double in the gap. After two innings, Penn State had a five run lead, which proved to be plenty of cushion for junior pitcher James Striebig.
After dominating Pittsburgh in the last meeting, Striebig came out with the same approach in the first elimination game of the day. With the bullpen needing to be reserved for a potential 27 innings in the day, Striebig did exactly what the club needed him to do. In a shut-down performance, Striebig went eight and one-third innings, giving up three runs on four hits while striking out nine and walking only three. Striebig had a shut out going into the ninth inning until he surrendered a three run homerun before he was taken out. Junior Bryan Chesky was able to close the door with the final two outs of the game, but not before allowing a run to cement the final score at 8-4.
When asked about his performance, Striebig said that, “I knew who I was facing going in and knew I had to keep them off-balance. I threw a lot of off-speed and knew I had to go deep into the game so I pitched to contact. I didn’t want the season to end there so I threw until I pretty much couldn’t anymore.”
The Nittany Lions were able to capture three more insurance runs thanks to a sacrifice fly from Sean Fitzgerald in the sixth inning and an RBI double from Tanner Witter and another sacrifice fly from Picard, both in the seventh. Picard finished the game with two RBIs, while Barder had three to lead the offensive charge for the club, propelling them into the championship games against Drexel.
GAME FOUR: 5/14 vs. Drexel (Game One)
In a rematch of the high scoring affair that ended twelve hours earlier, Penn State looked for revenge against the Drexel Dragons. For the club to advance to North Carolina, they would have to beat Drexel twice. The Nittany Lions took the same approach as they did against Pitt- one game at a time.
Penn State fell behind early, trailing 3-0 after three innings. Senior Matt McCarthy got the start for State, but was not able to quiet Drexel’s bats early on. The Nittany Lions were able to chip away at the lead in the top of the fourth when Derek Brady scored Pat Barder on a sac fly. McCarthy settled in and shut Drexel down for the next two innings, but with two outs in the bottom of the sixth the Dragons staged a rally. McCarthy walked the bases loaded, leaving Bryan Chesky to come in in a tough situation. Chesky was not able to hold the runs on base as Drexel scraped two more runs across to push their lead to 5-1. McCarthy ended the day with 5.1 innings pitched, allowing five runs (only three earned) on three hits with five walks, three hit batsmen, and three strikeouts.
The Nittany Lions could not manufacture any runs in the top of the seventh inning as they began to run out of time to work any magic. Chesky started the bottom frame of the seventh inning but was replaced by Matt McDonough after allowing the first two runners on base. After throwing seven innings two days before against UMass, McDonough was able to right the ship and strike out the first batter he faced. However, McDonough could not escape the jam he came into, as Drexel added on another run from a fielder’s choice to extend their lead to five runs.
With only six outs remaining in their season, State finally started to come alive. After three straight walks loaded the bases, Brady reached on an error by the second baseman that also scored Barder. With the bases still juiced, Will Ziefel hit a single up the line to left field that brought home Joe Picard and Sean Fitzgerald. The Nittany Lions could not further capitalize with runners on base, and went into the bottom of the eighth inning down 6-4.
McDonough was able to hold the score and sit Drexel down in order with three straight groundouts to shortstop Dave Reitman. Down to their last licks, the PSBC came up to bat with the top of the order leading off. Senior second baseman Cooper Redding got things started with a line drive up the middle for a single, and Ryan Hooven kept the line moving with a base hit to right field. Barder then smacked a ball up the third base line that was stopped by Drexel’s third baseman, but Redding hustled down the base path and beat the tag to load the bases. Picard cut the deficit to one run with a groundout to shortstop that left runners on second and third. Fitzgerald grounded out to third base, holding Barder and Hooven up at second and third. With one out remaining in the season, Brady hit a ball to shortstop that was just far enough in the hole for him to beat the throw out. On the play, Hooven scored from third base to tie the game, giving a new life to the club. Looking to continue his hot streak, Ziefel stepped to the plate with runners on the corners and drove a pitch to right field, scoring Barder and giving Penn State the lead. Ziefel said that when he hit the ball, “I was feeding off of the energy from my teammates and the crowd as they cheered us on. We prepared as well as we could and this was the moment where it needed to surface in order for us to advance.”
With the Nittany Lions up 7-6 after scoring six runs in two innings, McDonough ran out to try and finally put Drexel away. In his tenth inning in three days, the junior retired the Dragons in order to close the door and put the PSBC in the championship game. McDonough’s effort throughout the weekend was enough to earn him North Atlantic Region pitcher of the week. McDonough stated that, “After the UMass game I assumed my weekend was done, but once we lost Saturday night, I knew we needed all of our arms for three games on Sunday. My arm didn’t feel great Sunday morning, but by the time I came in the game it felt fresh. Maybe it was the adrenaline or the ibuprofen.”
GAME Five: 5/14 vs. Drexel (Championship Game)
One more game separated the PSBC from Holly Springs, North Carolina for the NCBA World Series. The squad was exhausted going into their third game of the day, but nothing was going to stop them from punching their ticket to the World Series. Because Penn State had a higher winning percentage than Drexel going into the final game, they were the home team for the first time all weekend.
Junior Erik Gretzmacher took the mound in the final game of the regional tournament for the Nittany Lions and faced a similar problem the pitchers before him had against the Dragons. Gretzmacher worked through three innings but surrendered six walks and four hits while giving up three runs. With limited arms left, Gretzmacher was able to do a job and keep the PSBC in striking distance.
State could not push a run across until the bottom of the fourth when Will Ziefel plated Sean Fitzgerald on a fielder’s choice to shortstop, cutting Drexel’s lead to two runs. Ziefel stole second base, and on a base hit up the middle by Derek Distasio tried to score at home. A great throw by Drexel’s center fielder gunned Ziefel out at home, and the Lions finished the inning still down two runs.
After throwing on Saturday night, birthday boy Mike Dunlap took care of his arm and was ready to throw in the championship game to avenge his performance. Dunlap took care of the Dragons in the fourth inning, but surrendered a homerun in the fifth inning to put Drexel up 4-1. The PSBC came back up to the plate in the bottom frame of the fifth and scraped two more runs across with a sacrifice fly from Joe Picard and a double from Fitzgerald to close the gap to 4-3.
Dunlap threw a strong one-two-three sixth inning, quickly bringing the Nittany Lions back to the dugout. Ziefel lead off the inning for the club, and continued his amazing weekend with his first homerun of the season, a solo shot to left field to tie the game at four a piece. Distasio raked in his second hit of the game with another single up the middle, and scored the go-ahead run on a double by Ryan Hooven. The lead was short-lived however, as Dunlap gave up his second homerun of the game to the same Drexel player to tie the game again at five.
By the bottom half of the seventh, the Nittany Lions still had life left in their bullpen while Drexel started to scrape at the bottom of the barrel. State started the seventh with the bases loaded, and scratched a run from a four pitch walk from Ziefel. On a wild pitch to Distasio, Fitzgerald scored to put the PSBC up two runs entering the eighth inning. Dunlap escaped a first and second jam to end the top half, and Penn State came back up to the plate trying to salt the game away.
After scoring two runs in each of the last three innings, the Nittany Lions were looking for a crooked number to put on the scoreboard, and they did just that. Hooven and Pat Barder led off the inning with singles and Picard was hit by a pitch to load the bases yet again. Fitzgerald singled home Hooven to put the Lions up three, and then the wheels completely fell off of Drexel’s bus. On the first pitch of his at- bat, Derek Brady drove a double to the fence in left center to clear the bases and extend the lead to six runs, still with nobody out. State loaded the bases again with a walk to Ziefel and a junior catcher Jack Titus getting hit by a pitch. Tanner Witter kept the fun going with a double off the centerfield wall to score two more runs, and eventually scored the game- winning run (via mercy rule) on a two RBI single from Hooven.
Witter crossed the plate and the team stormed the field, dogpiling on top of Hooven at first base. After three wins in one day, the Penn State Baseball Club clinched a berth to the NCBA World Series. Advisor Bill Lippert considered the day “easily one of the greatest days in the distinguished history of the PSBC.” When Hooven hit the game- winner to send the club to the World Series, he said that he felt “good”.
Penn State earned the six seed in the World Series, and will face off against Southern Atlantic Regional champion University of Central Florida in the first round in Holly Springs, North Carolina.
The club would like to extend many thanks to the parents, fans, and alumni that have supported us this far into the season. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms who were at the historic games in Philadelphia!
Game One: Matt McDonough, JR., P: 7 IP, 1 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 7 K
Game Three: James Striebig, JR., P: 8.1 IP, 3 ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 9 K
Game Four: Will Ziefel, SR., C: 3-5, 3 RBI, 2B, Game Winning Hit in top of the 9th
Game Five: Ryan Hooven, SR., LF: 3-5, 2 R, 3 RBI, 2B, BB
Regional MVP: Will Ziefel, SR., C: 11-18, 7 R, 9 RBI, 2 2B, HR, 3 BB, HBP, SB
Notes: McDonough and Ziefel both earned NAR Pitcher and Player of the Week, respectively.