Baseball vs Ohio State, Conor Larkin

Conor Larkin (8) pitches during the baseball game against Ohio State at Medlar Field on Saturday, April 14, 2018. The Buckeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 5-1.

In Penn State’s matchup against Lafayette on Wednesday, second baseman Kris Kremer saw the field for less than two innings.

However, it was Kremer who made the biggest play of the night.

With the Nittany Lions leading 3-2 in the top of the ninth, the Leopards had a runner in scoring position with two outs. Looking to tie the score, Lafayette left fielder Trey Durrah hit a hard ground ball to the right side.

Kremer, who was substituted into the contest during the previous frame, tracked the ball into shallow right field.

“I knew there was a guy on second base, so a ball to the outfield [and] that guy is going to try to score,” Kremer said. “Honestly, I just tried to knock it down.”

All in one swift motion, the sophomore made a sliding stop, got to his feet and fired a laser to the plate, as Leopards shortstop Justin Johnson was making a desperate break for home.

“I saw him hesitate at third base, and I had a play at home,” Kremer said. “About a couple steps past third base he stutter-stepped, and then, that’s when I realized I had a play.”

The throw was right on target, and catcher Ryan Sloniger applied the game-ending tag, sealing Penn State’s win. The exhilarating play served as a bookend to the close 3-2 victory, which snapped the Nittany Lions’ seven-game losing streak.

“That’s a winning baseball play by two winning players,” coach Rob Cooper said.

After falling by a run in each of its last three contests, Penn State edged its opponent by a single run for the first time in over two weeks. The Nittany Lions are now 8-7 in one-run games this year.

Aside from the final defensive stop, Penn State rode the arms of its young pitchers all night long. Sophomores Conor Larkin and Mason Mellott and freshman Tyler Shingledecker combined for the complete game, stifling the Lafayette offense.

Larkin took the ball first and tossed arguably the best start of his career. The right-hander threw a season-high six frames of shutout baseball on his way to earning the victory.

“He gave us six, solid, quality innings, which is big” Cooper said about Larkin. “He struck out seven and he walked zero, and that’s big-time.”

Larkin kept the Leopards stranded on the base paths, marooning runners on third base in three separate frames. He finished his outing in the sixth by working out of a one-out, bases loaded jam.

“You got to trust that you’re good enough that even if the bases are loaded, you can pitch out of it,” Cooper said. “That’s the thing that I thought Conor [Larkin] did a good job of today.”

Shingledecker and Mellott cleaned up the remaining three innings, holding the Nittany Lions’ lead. The relief duo allowed just one earned run on five hits.

Third baseman Justin Williams opened the scoring in the second with a towering 445-foot home run to left-center field. The freshman hit the ball over the wall in the deepest part of the park for his third big fly of the 2019 campaign.

Penn State added a run in the fifth and another in the sixth with some smart base running. Right fielder Mac Hippenhammer slapped his first career triple to lead-off the fifth and scooted home to score on a fielder’s choice.

“That definitely felt good,” Hippenhammer said. “I’m just glad Sloniger could put something in play and let me use my speed to get a run on the board.”

Lafayette responded with a pair of runs in the seventh. In conjunction with two singles, the Leopards took advantage of a walk and a Nittany Lions’ fielding error to cut the deficit.

Lafayette’s offense was wildly inefficient, mustering just two runs on 11 hits. Overall, the Leopards stranded 12 runners on base in the matchup.

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