Pitt Series Recap
Last weekend, Penn State took on their in- state rival Pittsburgh in a battle of North Atlantic West powerhouses. Pitt came into State College undefeated in conference play and ranked number 6 in the nation. Unfortunately, the weather did not hold up for the club’s first home series of the year, and only two of the three games of the series were played on Sunday. Penn State came away with a dramatic 8-7 win in the first game, but fell to the Panthers 5-2 in the second. The rubber game will be made up later this spring.
After two heartbreaking losses in his appearances against Pitt last year, senior Michael Dunlap was looking for revenge as he took the mound in the first game against the Panthers. After walking the first batter of the game, Dunlap seemed to have settled down as he retired the next two batters, until falling behind to Pitt’s cleanup hitter, Kyle Semetti. Semetti took a fastball to dead center field, clearing the fence and putting the Panthers up 2-0. Perhaps a little tired from raking the fields at 8 AM, the Nittany Lions’ bats were quiet for the first two and two third innings until senior third baseman Joe Picard singled home senior centerfielder Tanner Witter, cutting Pitt’s lead to 2-1. After getting two quick outs to start the top of the fourth, Dunlap surrendered his second home run to Pitt’s Jared Pestcoe which put the Panthers up 3-1. The Nittany Lions could not manufacture anything in the bottom of the fourth inning, and things did not get better in the top half of the fifth. After two walks and a hit by pitch to start the inning, Semetti singled in two runs to put Pitt up 5-1, chasing Dunlap from the game.
With their backs against the wall, the Penn State Baseball Club began to chip away at Pitt’s lead. Senior catcher Will Ziefel tacked on a run in the bottom of the fifth with a ground out to shortstop, scoring Witter and closing the gap to 5-2. Junior pitcher and newly elected PSBC president Shaemus Lunney entered the game for Dunlap and retired the Panthers in order to start the sixth. Down three runs with only six outs remaining, the Nittany Lions exploded for one of the most memorable innings in recent history.
Picard led off the inning and reached on a costly error by Pitt’s third baseman. Junior first baseman Pat Barder came to the plate, looked out to the record home crowd of over a whole hundred spectators, and elevated a fastball into the outfield. Pitt’s centerfielder ran out of room and watched the ball sail over the fence, giving Barder his first home run of the season. Down only a run, senior right fielder Sean Fitzgerald kept the fans on their feet by belting a single to left. Pitt began to unravel with two mishaps on fielder’s choices from senior Ty Yazujian and senior shortstop Tommy Williams that loaded the bases. In a one run game with the bases loaded, Witter stepped to the plate looking to do a job and at least tie the game with a sacrifice fly. Instead, Witter lifted a fly ball to the outfield that he will never forget. The entire park fell silent as Pitt’s right fielder continued to drift back towards the fence, and soon erupted as the ball went over for a grand slam. Witter’s dramatic home run put Penn State up 8-5, and ignited the dugout and the fans in attendance. When asked about the hit, Witter said, “I didn’t think it was gone at first, but when the right fielder turned his back that’s when I knew. Rounding the bases was probably the best feeling I have had in my baseball career. I have never seen a group of guys more excited once I got to the dugout.”
Up two runs and having to retire the last three Panther batters, Lunney returned to the mound trying to seal the first Penn State win over Pitt in two years. Of course, more drama was needed before the final out was recorded. Two cheap hits and an error to start the inning put Pitt in a prime position to create their own magic with a bases loaded situation. Semetti flew out to Fitzgerald in right, but the runner from third tagged up to make it a two run ballgame. Pitt scraped another run across with a fielder’s choice and cut the lead to one run. Not willing to let the game get away from him, Lunney dug deep and was able to end the game with a fly ball to the infield, giving the Nittany Lions an 8-7 victory.
After the final out, Witter received the game ball and said that “The energy of the team was remarkable, and it was awesome to be able to pull off such a crazy comeback against a quality opponent in Pitt.” Witter ended the game going 3-3 with three runs and four RBIs from his grand slam. Barder went 1-3 with two RBIs from his homerun in the sixth inning as well.
Trying to keep their momentum going in the second game of the double header, the Penn State Baseball Club ran junior Matt McDonough out to the mound. The tall right- hander was unable to repeat his strong first inning, as Semetti struck again with a home run to lead off the second frame. Two Pitt singles and a hit by pitch loaded the bases, and a messy fielder’s choice scored two more in the inning. Down 3-0 in the second, Penn State was able to claw back on a two- out bases loaded RBI single from senior left fielder Ryan Hooven. The Nittany Lions could not capitalize any further, as Picard struck out looking on a very questionable call to end the inning with the bases still loaded.
The Panthers stayed sharp at the plate, tagging McDonough for two more runs in the top of the third by going station- to- station with four singles. Just like last game, Penn State found themselves down 5-1 going into the last couple of innings. This time, Pitt was able to stop any magic. An RBI double from Barder in the bottom of the fifth brought the Lions within three runs, but again, the club could not capitalize with runners in scoring position. Barder had another opportunity to bring home more runs with two outs in the sixth as he came up with the bases loaded, but a stellar diving play up the line by Pitt’s third baseman took away another double and more runs from the squad, killing the rally.
One of the lone bright spots of the second game was the relief performance of senior Matt McCarthy. McCarthy came into the game in the fourth inning in relief of McDonough and threw four scoreless innings, holding Pitt to five runs. McCarthy gave up three hits and two walks while walking two, earning him the North Atlantic West pitcher of the week. The Nittany Lions could not get him any offensive support, leaving McDonough with the loss.
Senior DH Derek Brady and Hooven both had two hits on the day, while Barder and Hooven were the only ones able to knock runs in.