All spring, the Penn State baseball team often displayed brazen scrappiness; a refusal to be booted out of a game without a fight — a confident tenacity that belied the youth on the roster.
So when the season ended Friday, it certainly didn’t on terms with which head coach Rob Cooper was happy.
The Nittany Lions dropped a must-win game to Iowa 8-0 in the opening half of a doubleheader. The loss cost the team the series after a defeat on Thursday night, and also a shot at the Big Ten Tournament as Penn State was knocked from its eighth-place tie with the Hawkeyes.
And the team that had scrapped and clawed its way to a 27-25 record entering its final series with a “blue-collar” mindset, and suffered some narrow losses to top-tier teams like TCU this season, only had three hits against Iowa pitcher Tyler Peyton, who threw a complete game.
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The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, racked up 15 hits off the Penn State pitching corps, including eight and three runs off starter Sal Biasi in five innings pitched (only one of those runs was earned, and he took the loss) and five hits and five runs off normally-clutch senior Jack Andersen in just 2 1/3 innings pitched.
“I’m disappointed because I didn’t want to stop coaching this team, and losing two of three obviously put an end to our season,” said Cooper. “A lot of it is Iowa. Iowa is playing really good right now. They deserve to be in the tournament. And I think it might have been our guys pressin’ because they really wanted to get the win and keep playing.”
Penn State won the second game in extra innings 5-4 in walk-off fashion with a Connor Klemann RBI single that sent the players yelling and fist-pumping into a dogpile on the field.
Greg Guers hit a two-out RBI single to send in Alex Malinsky from third in the bottom of the fourth inning in the second game for Penn State’s first run of the day. From there, the Nittany Lions only managed three more hits in the next 2 2/3 innings.
In the bottom of the seventh, however, Penn State showed a little of the life Cooper had come to expect.
Jordan Bowersox stepped up to the plate as the tying run in the bottom of the seventh with two outs and Nick Riotto and Tyler Kendall on first and second base, respectively. The outfielder singled to left to plate both runners and make it a 4-3 game, but Bowersox was thrown out at second to end the frame. Conlin Hughes tied the game with an RBI single up the middle that sent in James Coates in the bottom of the eighth.
With the game still tied in the ninth, Guers singled and advanced on a wild pitch, and Bowersox walked with two outs. Coates stepped to the plate and Guers stole third on a 3-2 count. Coates popped out to left field to send the game into extra innings.
Iowa’s batters were retired in order in the top of the 10th, and Penn State’s Malinsky walked with two outs but Riotto lined out to end the inning.
Bowersox hit a leadoff single in the bottom of the 12th inning, and with an Iowa shift to a five-man infield, Klemann squirted a grounder past third to send Bowersox in for the win.
Penn State finished its season at 28-27, above .500 for the first time since 2012.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” said Cooper. “I know it’s only by one win, but 28-27, that’s a winning program. And these kids have a lot of pride. Someday Penn State is going to make it to the College World Series, and these kids are going to be a big reason why.”
Notes: Penn State celebrated the careers of eight seniors on Friday night. Guers, Kendall, Coates, Nick Hedge, Jack Anderson, Jared Fagnano and student assistants Jesse Tull and Jordan Donmoyer were honored in front of parents and fans.