It took 10 innings for Penn State’s offense to wake up on Saturday.
But once the Nittany Lions found their swing, their offensive exploded.
After being held scoreless in game one of its doubleheader, Penn State flipped a switch in the second leg, piling up the runs. The Nittany Lions went on to split the twin bill against Ohio State, falling 2-0 before winning 10-6.
With the split, Penn State concludes its 2019 Big Ten schedule, finishing with a conference record of 4-18. The Nittany Lions have clinched a last place finish in the Big Ten standings, the third straight year in which they will finish at the very bottom of the conference.
“It’s hard to look at the 4-18 [record] in the Big Ten conference,” coach Rob Cooper told GoPSUsports. “It’s very easy to give up when things aren’t going well, so for them to continue to fight and battle and represent Penn State in the way that it should be represented, I’m proud of those guys.”
The first contest on Saturday was a pitchers’ duel from start to finish, as Nittany Lion Erick Mock and Buckeye Seth Lonsway were both exceptional. The two arms allowed zero runs over a combined 13 frames.
Mock pitched the shorter outing, tossing five innings on his way to a no-decision. The right-hander was suffocating, allowing just two hits while striking out six.
Lonsway hurled eight long frames, throwing 123 total pitches. The southpaw fanned a career-high 13 batters to earn the victory.
The only scoring in the matchup came in the seventh when Ohio State struck for a pair of runs. The Buckeyes knocked a single and a double before second baseman Matt Carpenter hit a two-RBI double to left center field.
Penn State had its best scoring opportunity in the 9th, as the Nittany Lions had the bases loaded with just one out. Ohio State closer Andrew Magno worked out of the jam, however, striking out the last two batters to end the game.
Despite seven hits, Penn State’s offense was not opportunistic whatsoever. The Nittany Lions left 10 runners stranded on base, and went 0-for-11 with men in scoring position.
Right fielder Mac Hippenhammer was the lone offensive bright spot for Penn State. The sophomore went 3-for-3 with a walk.
The second half of the double dip was nothing like its predecessor, as the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes battled in a high-scoring affair. Penn State recorded 14 hits, four walks and posted a .350 batting average in the win.
“We finally broke loose,” Cooper told GoPSUsports. “It was good to see.”
The Nittany Lions used small-ball rallies to score chunks of runs. Penn State scored three in the second, two in the fourth and produced five runs in the fifth.
The Nittany Lions’ offense was powered by the bottom of their batting order. First baseman Ryan Sloniger, catcher Jacob Padilla, designated hitter Shea Sbranti and shortstop Conlin Hughes combined for nine hits, eight RBIs and nine runs.
Sloniger led the way for Penn State, going 3-for-5 with an RBI, a double and three runs. Four other Penn State batters also recorded multiple hits.
The Nittany Lions recorded a staggering six doubles, which proved to be pivotal. Sbranti led the team with a pair of two-baggers.
Ohio State was unable to pitch effectively early in the contest until the bullpen settled things down later in the matchup. Starting pitcher Griffan Smith and reliever T.J. Brock each allowed five earned runs.
On the opposing side, Penn State right-hander Bailey Dees was scheduled to start the second game on Saturday, but was scratched just prior to first pitch. Therefore, right-hander Conor Larkin made the spot start for the Nittany Lions and earned the victory.
“He was lights-out,” Cooper told GoPSUsports. “He quieted them down pretty quickly.”
The sophomore threw six innings, allowing just two runs on three hits. Larkin recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts and remains undefeated as a starter this season.
“I’m very, very proud of him,” Cooper told GoPSUsports. “It’s been fun to watch him get better and better and trust his stuff.”
Dees would appear in the game, as the sophomore relieved Larkin. In total, Penn State used three relief pitchers in the final three frames of the contest.
The Buckeyes had good success against the Nittany Lions’ bullpen, scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth. However, the comeback fell short, as sophomore reliever Mason Mellott recorded the final out.
“It was a really good team win overall,” coach Cooper told GoPSUsports. “We played really good defense.”