Penn State might be a little disappointed to leave Houston.
It seemed like the longer the team stayed there, the better it played baseball. After being swept in a two-game series to Houston on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Nittany Lions (5-9) nearly took a 180-degree turn, coming extremely close to taking three in a row against Houston Baptist on Friday and Saturday.
The Lions won their first two games against the Huskies, 9-3 and 8-4, which allowed them to enter the third game already having won their first series of the season.
Just when it appeared that the Lions were going to earn their first sweep of the season, though, they ran into a few speed bumps in the second contest of Saturday’s doubleheader, which ended in a 11-10 loss in 10 innings.
“I just think on the mound, in the last inning there, we didn’t execute,” pitching coach Jason Bell said. “We didn’t execute pitches we needed to and gave up a couple walks that came back to bite us.”
After falling down early, the Lions had to battle back from a 9-4 deficit and caught a break with a five-run rally in the eighth inning.
They began the inning at the sixth spot of the batting order with Ryky Smith. A hit-by-pitch and two walks loaded the bases right away, and Zach Ell then walked to bring Smith home. Centerfielder Steve Snyder tied the game with a two-RBI single that yielded four runs after a fielding error.
The inning forced the game into extra innings, and Luis Montesinos brought shortstop Taylor Skerpon home on a triple in the top of the tenth. However, the Huskies got their first two men on base with walks to start their half of the inning, tied the game with a sacrifice fly, and won with a Curtis Jones single to left field.
“Our left fielder, Zach Ell, he ran over and tried to make a nice play on it, [but] it just dropped in,” Bell said.
Snyder noted that the single was a hard-hit ball.
“It was a very difficult play; I don’t even know if it could’ve been made,” he said.
The Lions’ offense was never missing during the last stop of a road trip that featured eight games in nine days – it produced plenty of runs in the team’s two losses to the Cougars, which came as 14-8 and 15-5 decisions.
With the lowered run totals in the first two games against the Huskies, Skerpon noted that he saw some improved pitching during the series. It kept the damage down for the most part, allowing the Lions to win their first series of the season.
During Friday’s series-opening contest, starting pitcher Dave Walkling allowed only two hits and two earned runs, striking out four in 4 2/3 innings of work. T.J. Jann stepped in for relief and picked up his first win of the year by allowing just one hit.
The first game of Saturday’s double-header went the same way as Friday’s win.
Steven Hill picked up his first win of the season, as he struck out eight batters in a complete-game effort. He gave up four runs, but the Lions’ bats backed him up, doubling the Huskies’ run total.
Coming away with those two wins, Snyder said the team still felt good about the series as a whole, despite blowing the extra-inning lead Saturday night.
“We thought we should have won the game,” Snyder said. “We’re a little bit down, but we won the series, so that’s what matters.”