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Penn State Baseball Owns Souls

With spring ball to talk about and the production of We Are Penn State 2011 going on behind the scenes here at BSD, we haven't found much time to give the Nittany Lion baseball team a whole lot of front page love in the past couple of weeks. Fear not, though, as we're here today to get you up to speed on what has been a productive  run to open Big Ten play for Penn State.

As junior infielder Sean Parvin might tell you, the crew has been "owning souls" lately, taking series from Illinois and Northwestern to begin conference play as well as adding a victory against Pittsburgh last night at Medlar Field to push its record to 20-10 on the season. Here's a look back on the action.

Illinois, April 1-3

In game one Friday afternoon, Penn State came ready to play by opening up a 6-0 lead in the first inning. The Fighting Illini fought their way bit by bit, however, and Penn State dropped its Big Ten opener at home 7-6. It wasn't a pretty way to get things going in the league, but the team's luck did get better from there.

On Saturday afternoon, starter John Walter turned in an excellent start, scattering seven hits, conceding just one run and striking out nine in a 3-1 complete game victory. The game also included probably the most bizarre play of the season to date. We'll let take it from here:

In the inning, Penn State turned one of the more unusual triple plays in baseball. With runners on second and third, Davis Hendrickson fired a rocket to first. After snagging the ball on a hop, [Joey] DeBernardis stepped on the bag to retire the batter. Noticing the two Illinois runners standing around third, DeBernardis began sprinting across the infield as Brandon Hohl, who started the play on second, tried to retreat back to his base.

With confusion sweeping the field, DeBernardis fired to Glantz, who quickly tagged Hohl for the second out. Briefly thinking he could score on that throw, Matt Dittman made a break for home before reconsidering his decision. Stranded in no man's land, he tried to scoot back to third, but Glantz tossed a strike to Steranka, who made a great tag on Dittman to complete the incredible play.

In the rubber match on Sunday, Penn State put together a big rally, scoring eight runs in the fourth inning to topple the Illini 13-4 and take the series. Jordan Steranka had a monster day for the Lions, finish 3/5 with a home run and six RBIs. Starter Heath Johnson allowed just two hits and struck out six in five innings to earn his first victory of the season.

After the game, coach Robbie Wine was pleased with the victory and the series win.

"Everybody I thought did a pretty good job," Wine said. "They put the ball in play, they did things that we were trying to do, pitching did well enough to keep us in the game and...Illinois's a good club. We were lucky to score eight on them."

@ Northwestern, April 9-10

Penn State opened its series at Northwestern with a twin bill this past Saturday and things were clicking early and often for the Lions.

In game one, Penn State clobbered the 'cats 12-0 thanks to great hitting and pitching performances. Starter Steven Hill posted his third complete game of the season, striking out two and scattering seven hits in nine innings to earn his fourth win of the campaign. The bats had a great day, too, as Steranka picked up three more hits and drove in three runs to pace the offense. Luis Montesinos went 2-4 for Penn State, driving in three runs and Joey DeBernardis had a big day as well, earning three hits in six at bats along with two RBIs.

The Lions carried the momentum of game one over in to game two, beating the 'cats 7-3 with another balanced performance. Walter earned the victory yet again, allowing just seven hits and two runs in six innings to push his record to 4-3. Ryan Ignas picked up his fourth save and DeBernardis led the offense again with two hits in four at bats for three RBIs. Mario Eramo and Ryan Clark homered for Penn State.

After sweeping the doubleheader Saturday, however, the Lions couldn't secure the series sweep as the pitching staff struggled in a 9-8 finale loss. Heath Johnson had another shaky start, walking five batters, allowing three runs and throwing three wild pitches in just 2.1 innings of work. The bullpen wasn't much better as it surrendered six runs after Johnson's departure.

Pittsburgh, April 13

The Lions were supposed to take a mid-week break from conference action starting Tuesday against Mount St. Mary's, however, that game was rained out, leaving Penn State with just Pittsburgh inside Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Wednesday evening before re-entering the league schedule against Purdue over Blue-White weekend.

The team made the most of its opportunity to earn a win against a rival, though, jumping out to an early 3-0 lead before hanging on for a 5-4 win.

On the mound, Mike Franklin struck out three and allowed three unearned runs on seven hits to pick up his second win. Ryan Ignas closed things out in the ninth for his second win. Freshman catcher Alex Farkes made a key start for the Lions in the game replacing the injured Bobby Jacobs in the lineup. He was 0-3 at the plate, but managed the pitching staff well.

At the plate, it was a big day for left fielder Ryan Clark, who finished 3-4 with three RBIs including two on his go-ahead two run double in the home sixth.

After the game, Clark was pleased with his performance and was happy to help the team win.

"The good thing is, I was hitting off-speed pitches and going the other way with it," Clark said. "It was a good night for me."

Coach Wine thought so, too, parsing not only Clark, but his team in the clubhouse afterward.

The Week Ahead

For those of you looking to check out the team in person while you're in town for the Blue-White game on Saturday, you're in luck. Penn State will host Purdue in a three game set beginning Friday at 6:35 inside Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

The Boilermakers currently sit in a tie for fourth in the conference at 3-3. They took two of three against Michigan at home last weekend and will look to maintain that momentum when they roll into Happy Valley. A series win for Penn State in this one, however, should help fortify the Lions' second place spot in the standings, so it'll be interesting to see how things play out.

Penn State will host Maryland in the next week, colliding with the Terrapins Wednesday at 6:05.