UNIVERSITY PARK — Scoring runs had not been a recent problem for the Penn State baseball team. Prior to Friday’s game against Michigan State, the Nittany Lions had averaged just under nine runs in their previous eight games.
The three they scratched out against right-hander Mike Monterey and the Spartans might have been enough for a win anyway — had the Nittany Lions remembered to play defense.
Four Penn State errors in the first five innings helped Michigan State pile up six unearned runs and cruise to a 7-3 win in the first of a four-game series at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
“In a nutshell, we gave them a lot of runs,” said Penn State coach Robbie Wine, whose team lost at home for second time in nine games. “But on the other side of that, you have to compliment them for taking advantage of what we gave them.”
The Spartans (19-22, 8-12 Big Ten), who entered the game with the conference’s lowest team batting average (.281), racked up 14 hits and didn’t allow Penn State starter Ryan Stobart (2-4) to escape the numerous jams his teammates left him in.
A second-inning error by second baseman Landon Nakata gave Michigan State an extra out, which it used to score three runs. Penn State (19-25, 10-11) scored two runs in its half of the inning and tied the score on Rick Marlin’s RBI single in the fourth before its defense fell apart again.
Chris Roberts, who recorded a hit in each of his first four at-bats, led off the fifth with a single, took second when Cory Wine couldn’t scoop Stobart’s pickoff attempt to first, and scored on Justin Potes’ single. Eric Roof then hit what looked like a double-play ball to Nakata, but his throw to second sailed into left field. A walk, two singles and a sacrifice fly later, the Spartans led 7-3.
“We got ourselves in a hole,” said Penn State catcher Joe Blackburn. “And just from the get-go there was a kind of sense of pressure, an undue sense of pressure, and it kind of led to us getting a little bit behind, and we put more pressure on ourselves, and before you know it, it kind of snowballed.”
Stobart lasted five innings, allowing seven hits and just one earned run while walking three and striking out two.
“He was throwing well,” Blackburn said. “I just told him, ‘Keep throwing ground balls.’ Because that’s what most of them were.”
The Nittany Lions, who entered the game with 74 errors, second-most in the Big Ten, improved their defense the rest of the way, helping relievers David Lutz and Paul Cianciolo combine for four shutout innings, but the offense didn’t follow.
Monterey (2-3), who threw only five more pitches in eight innings than Stobart threw in five, nibbled at the corners, changed speeds and allowed just three baserunners — all on walks – in his final three innings. Tyler Newsome and Kurt Wunderlich combined for a perfect ninth, and the Nittany Lions’ weekend was off to a sour start.
“I really sensed tension, that they felt pressure for some reason, and we’ll address that,” Wine said. Blackburn thought the Nittany Lions might have felt pressure to sweep Michigan State, one of the few teams they’ve played lately that was below them in the conference standings. That won’t be a concern today. “Now we just gotta worry about the first game of the doubleheader,” he said.
Mike Wanamaker (4-4) will start for Penn State in Game 1, scheduled for 4:05 p.m. T.J. Macy (2-1) will get the ball in Game 2.
Notes: Marlin had two of Penn State’s four hits. ... Nittany Lions third baseman Wes Borden went 0-for-4, ending his 16-game hitting streak. ... Penn State fell a half game behind Northwestern, idle Friday, and stayed 1 1/2 games ahead of the Spartans and in sixth place in the Big Ten standings. The top six teams make the conference tournament.