PSBC Heads to East Carolina and the Sunshine State
The Penn State Baseball Club took full advantage of its week off for spring break by traveling down to Tampa, Florida to compete in the NCBA’s Spring Training Showcase. Before arriving in the Sunshine State, the squad took a pit stop in Greenville, North Carolina to take on the second ranked team in the nation, the East Carolina Pirates. After playing seven games in six days, the Nittany Lions took a twenty hour bus ride back to State College with five more quality wins under their belt.
After getting off the bus in Greenville at around 2 AM, the team rested up and made their way to Guy Smith Stadium for a 10 AM first pitch against the #2 ECU Pirates. Wanting to avenge his loss in last year’s matchup with the Pirates, senior Mike Dunlap took the mound for the Nittany Lions and had a stellar outing. After striking out three men in the first two innings, Dunlap ran into his only troubles of the day in the third inning when he surrendered one run on a sacrifice fly. That would be the only run Dunlap gave up through his five innings of work, as he struck out 5 Pirates and allowed 5 hits. When asked about his performance, Dunlap said, “I had a chip on my shoulder from last year when we played ECU, so I knew I had to come out and dominate by mixing my pitch selection up. Once I started locating my pitches for strikes, I knew I would keep every batter off balance.”
Penn State’s bats were silenced by a dominant first four innings by ECU pitcher Tanner Duncan, as he struck out nine men in the first four innings. When it came time for the third time through the lineup in the fifth inning, the Nittany Lions took advantage and exploded with six runs. Senior shortstop Tommy Williams led the inning off with a blistering line drive to center field, and senior centerfielder Tanner Witter followed up with a walk. With men on first and second and no outs, senior catcher Will Ziefel laid down a perfect bunt up the third base line. Ziefel’s speed put pressure on Duncan who ended up rushing his throw, sailing it into the outfield. Williams scored on the error, and the Nittany Lions had two men in scoring position with nobody out. Witter scored the next run of the inning on a fielder’s choice by senior left fielder Ryan Hooven, advancing Ziefel to third. Junior right fielder Pat Barder then smacked an RBI single into opposite field, plating Ziefel and putting Penn State up 3-1. After another fielder’s choice by junior third baseman Dave Reitman scored Hooven, junior second baseman Pat Fitzgerald knocked in the sixth run of the inning with a single to left.
After taking care of business in the bottom of the fifth, Dunlap relieved his duties to junior pitcher Shaemus Lunney. In two innings of work, Lunney gave up only one hit while striking out two. Barder padded Penn State’s lead in the sixth inning with a two run double, leading to the final score of 8-1. Dunlap earned the win in a game where he was “motivated by the hard work the team put in before the game.”
After an emotional game one victory for State, ECU flipped the script in the second game of the double header. The Nittany Lions faced a tough test with one of the league’s ERA leaders, Hatterus Brooks, on the mound for the Pirates. Penn State was only able to push across one run in the game and could not capitalize on multiple opportunities with men in scoring position. Hooven and Reitman each had two hits on the day.
Junior Matt McDonough got the start for the Lions, giving up four runs (three earned) through three and two-thirds innings. In a sloppy game, not much help was given to McDonough or the rest of the pitching staff as Penn State committed four errors in the field.
State ended up dropping the second game with a final score of 9-1, recording six hits. Three of ECU’s runs were unearned.
After the game, senior first baseman Josh Castro was overheard saying, “it was definitely the Carl’s Jr. in between the games that made me strike out twice today.” Before leaving Greenville, the team took a well-deserved trip to Parker’s Barbeque, Pat Barder’s favorite restaurant east of the Mississippi. Parker’s did not let down, as Barder remarked “owner and manager Bill Parker provided great service for the second year in a row and both teams left after finishing a good ole’ fashion southern meal.”
After completing their journey down to Florida, Penn State took the field against the Central Michigan Chippewas in the first game of the Spring Training Showcase. The Nittany Lions started off on the right track with senior third baseman Ty Yazujian doubling home senior second baseman Cooper Redding to give State a 1-0 lead. The Lions struck again in the third inning with Yaz driving home Hooven on a screaming line drive to left field. The Penn State Football long snapper then used his superior quickness and baseball IQ to reach second on a delayed steal, allowing freshman shortstop Derek Distasio to drive him in on a base hit which put the squad up three runs.
After Central Michigan scored in the bottom of the fourth, Penn State tacked on three more insurance runs in the next inning. Castro drove home Hooven on a base hit to right field, and Distasio singled in two more runs after that.
Junior right handed pitcher Erik Gretzmacher held the lead for Penn State, giving up only one run through four innings. Gretz started to struggle in the fifth inning as he gave up three more runs, but still left the game with his team out in front. After five innings, Gretz gave up four runs on eight hits, striking out four Chippewas along the way. With a two run lead entering the sixth inning, junior set-up man Bryan Chesky came in and struck two men out, holding the game for junior closer Dave Reitman. Reitman earned the save with a 1-2-3 final frame and Gretzmacher walked away with the win.
In his first start of the season, Yazujian went 2-4 with two RBIs and a run scored. Yaz said, “Our game against CMU was a defining moment for me and for the team. I knew I was going to be put in situations where I would have critical at-bats that I had to capitalize on.” Yaz was also excited about the week coming off the win, saying, “All of the hard work we had put in prior to our trip was showcased in that game, which helped give our team the identity we were looking for.”
In the second game of the day on Monday, Penn State squared off against the Ferris State Bulldogs. Senior pitcher C.J. Stiles took the mound for the Nittany Lions in his first starting appearance of the year, and ran with his opportunity. Needing only 80 pitches, Stiles threw a shutout gem striking out six and allowing only three hits. Stiles ran into trouble in the second inning when he loaded the bases with two walks and a hit batsman, but escaped by striking out the next three batters. Stiles said his performance was motivated by the fact that he now gets to take batting practice since he threw a shutout. Stiles is currently batting 1000% this year, thanks to a bunt single in his one at bat against Syracuse.
On the offensive end, Penn State didn’t pick up their bats until the fourth inning when Yazujian lead off the inning with a base hit. Just like in the previous game, Yaz took advantage of an unaware catcher and executed a perfect delayed steal. Senior catcher Derek Brady laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Yaz to third, where he then scored on a base hit by Fitzgerald. Up 1-0, Penn State struck again in the fifth inning, adding three insurance runs. Ziefel led the inning off with a base hit, and scored from first on a double down the line from Hooven. Yaz continued his hot day with a single to center, scoring Hooven. Of course, Yaz did not stop there as he stole second and proceeded to move to third on a passed ball. On a ground out to shortstop by Reitman, Yaz scored to put State up 4-0. Stiles made quick work of Ferris State to close out the game, with Penn State scoring another run to finish Monday with a 5-0 win.
On their day off on Tuesday, members of the club explored Florida. Some players went to the beaches of Clearwater, while others toured Epcot at Disney World. When asked about his experience at Disney World, Hooven said, “I liked it.” Truly magical.
After their day off, the club returned to Mike Sansone Park to take on Bowling Green. State got off to a tremendous start, scoring six runs in the first inning and five in the second. Castro, Distasio, junior catcher Jack Titus, and Witter all produced RBIs in the first frame, thanks in part to four walks and an error by Bowling Green. The club picked up where they left off in the second inning, with Hooven leading off with a double. More walks and wild pitches led to RBIs from Reitman, Distasio, and Witter. Already up 11-2 in the third inning, Distasio drove Castro in on a line drive back up the middle, giving State a 10 run lead. The pitching staff held Bowling Green for two more innings, leading the Nittany Lions to a five inning mercy victory.
In the field, Lunney got the nod for Penn State and went three innings, giving up two runs. Lunney fanned three Bowling Green batters while surrendering four hits and a walk in a solid outing. Senior right hander Jon Neseth came in relief for the fourth and fifth innings and did not give up any runs, hits, or walks. Neseth also earned the win, his first as a D1 pitcher.
Even in a shortened game, Castro reached base in all three of his at bats, going 2-2 with a walk, an RBI, and three runs scored. Although he states that he does not remember anything about the game, he did say that he was happy he did not eat Carl’s Jr. before it.
Penn State matched up against the number 22 ranked Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the second game on Wednesday. Neither team scored until the fourth inning, when the Nittany Lions scraped across a run on an RBI single from Castro. The lead did not last long though, as SIUE knotted things up in the bottom of the fifth. Penn State struck right back in the top of the sixth, thanks to lead off singles from Hooven and Barder. Hooven advanced to third on a fly ball from Castro and scored on a sac fly by Yazujian. One batter later, Brady put Penn State up 3-1 with a single that scored Barder.
Coming off an arm injury that sidelined him all of last season, junior pitcher James Striebig got the start for the Nittany Lions. Striebig was lights out for five innings, surrendering one unearned run on two hits while striking out six men. As he did against CMU, Chesky entered the game in a hold situation. Chesky struck out three in the inning, but some timely hits and walks from SIUE allowed them to score two runs to tie the game yet again.
Penn State fired back in the top half of the final inning, with Witter and Ziefel both reaching on singles. Hooven sacrificed bunted the men into scoring position, putting the Nittany Lions in a great position to start the inning. A walk by Barder loaded the bases with one out and Witter scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch. The squad was unable to produce any other runs that inning, but went into the field protecting a one run lead.
Trying to earn his second save of the week, Reitman took the ball in the bottom of the seventh. Unfortunately, SIUE continued their timely late-game hitting and scored two runs off of a lead-off single and two straight doubles, the final one being the walk-off dagger. Penn State dropped a tough one, 5-4.
In its final game of a long week, the club battled Northeastern. State was motivated, trying to bounce back from the loss against SIUE and avenge last year’s spring training loss against the Huskies. The Nittany Lions got off to a great start, posting four runs in the first inning. Ziefel started the game with a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Hooven singled on the next pitch and Ziefel beat out a throw from right field to score the game’s first run. Barder continued his great spring with a double down the right field line, scoring Hooven all the way from first base. Later in the inning, Yazujian picked up his fifth RBI of the week on a ground ball to short, scoring Barder from third. After Redding walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch, Distasio recorded his seventh RBI of the week with a single to left.
Penn State relied on a platoon of pitchers in the last game of the week, as sophomore Mike Bealmear, Dunlap, McDonough, and senior Matt McCarthy all got innings. The four stifled Northeastern’s bats, allowing only two runs on five hits. Bealmear and McDonough each struck three batters out and did not allow a hit in both of their two innings of work. McCarthy also struck one out without allowing a base runner in his inning of work.
The Nittany Lions were able to pad their lead throughout the game thanks to more RBIs by Hooven and Witter. Hooven ended the day going 2-4 with 2 RBIs as well as his eighth run scored of the week.
After the game, the award for the best player of the week was given to Derek Distasio. Distasio went 5-9 during the week with a team-high 7 RBIs in three games played. The award given to the “King of Spring” was a Hooter’s calendar. Distasio and the calendar were nowhere to be found that night after the game.
Game One (vs. ECU): SR. Mike Dunlap, P: 5 IP, 1 R, 5 K, 5 H
Game Three (vs. CMU): SR. Ty Yazujian, 3B: 2-4, 2 RBI, R
Game Four (vs. Ferris State): SR. CJ Stiles, P: CG Shutout, 6 K, 3 H
Game Five (vs. Bowling Green): SR. Josh Castro, 1B: 2-2, RBI, 3 R
Game Seven (vs. Northeastern): SR. Ryan Hooven, LF: 2-4, 2 RBI, R
King of Spring (pres. by Hooters): FR. Derek Distasio, SS: 5-9, 7 RBI, 2 SB