Penn State baseball falls to Illinois in series opener
After beginning the season 8-0 at home, the Penn State Nittany Lions (17-17, 5-4 Big Ten) registered their first loss of the season at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, after a 6-3 loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini (19-14, 7-3 Big Ten).
Illinois sophomore Tyler Jay (2-0, 1.11 ERA) was credited with the win in relief, while right-handed submariner Jack Anderson (4-1, 3.90 ERA) was charged with the loss for the Nittany Lions. Fighting Illini redshirt-junior Reid Roper played the first eight innings of the contest at second base, before pitching a scoreless bottom of the ninth, and earning his second save of the season.
Despite the loss, Penn State head coach Rob Cooper drew a few positives from the game.
“I thought our guys played extremely hard, and I thought our energy was great,” Cooper said post-game. “That’s extremely important to me because that’s a choice, and our guys did a great job of that.”
Senior left-hander Tim Dunn started the game on the hill for the Nittany Lions, his fourth start of the season. Dunn was lights out in the early innings, retiring the first eight Illinois batters that he faced before surrendering a single to Fighting Illini DH Michael Hurwitz in the third.
“I was just trying to get ahead with the fastball, just attack with the fastball, and let my defense work for me,” Dunn said in the team lounge, after the game.
When it was all said and done, the California native received a no-decision after throwing 6 2/3 innings, surrendering two unearned runs on five Illini hits, and recording five strikeouts. The outing was the longest of Dunn’s four-year career, with his previous career-high being five innings of work.
“He was awesome. He gave us a great start,” said Cooper. “You’re seeing a guy who is really trusting himself, and I think he appreciates the fact that we trust him.”
Both unearned runs that Dunn surrendered came in the sixth inning, when errors by 3B Ryan Richter, and SS Jim Haley, helped to plate two Fighting Illini runs. Despite some excellent defensive plays in the early innings, the Nittany Lions’ struggles in the field were the main factor contributing to the loss.
“We’ve got to play better defense,” Cooper said. “I’ve never seen it not happen, where you give up two errors in an inning, and don’t give up a run.”
Dunn departed the game in the seventh inning, with the game locked in a 2-2 tie. After Jack Anderson struck out Illinois CF Will Krug to end the top half of the frame, Penn State fought their way to a 3-2 lead in the bottom half of the seventh, thanks to an RBI groundout from junior 1B J.J. White.
In the eighth, Anderson remained on the mound, but was not able to replicate the success that he had an inning prior. The Evanston, Illinois, native struggled with his command, hitting one batter, walking two, and surrendering three hits, en route to a four-run inning for the Fighting Illini, which gave the visitors a 6-3 lead.
“He was lights out that first hitter, and that’s Jack Anderson,” said Cooper. “I thought he started second-guessing himself a little bit. [He] didn’t trust himself that inning where it kind of blew up.”
Despite a ninth-inning rally that saw three Nittany Lions reach base, the scored stayed cemented at 6-3, with Reid Roper closing out the win for Illinois.
Even though it was an unfavorable outcome for Penn State fans, the atmosphere was electric at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, as Penn State celebrated Military and Local Wounded Warrior Appreciation Night. The Nittany Lions donned special camouflage jerseys, rather than the trademark blue and white, to honor those serving in the armed forces.
“I love them [the jerseys], but more importantly, the military people, the personnel, the ROTC, the Wounded Warriors, loved them,” said Cooper following the game. “The whole point is to honor those guys, and I wish we could’ve gotten a win for them.”
Penn State will have two chances for revenge against Illinois this weekend, with games scheduled for Saturday at 2:00 P.M. and Sunday at 12:00 p.m. T.J. Jann (1-5, 3.78 ERA) is expected to start on Saturday against John Kravetz (3-1, 3.05 ERA) of Illinois.
Uriah Tagle is a junior majoring in communication arts and sciences and economics. To contact him, email email@example.com