Nittany Lions Drop Home Opener to Niagara

Story posted March 18, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by John McHugh

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The Penn State Nittany Lions dropped their home opener by a score of 4-3 to the Niagara Purple Eagles on Friday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Freshman Willie Burger led the Nittany Lions at the plate, going 1 for 3 with 2 RBIs and a double, but his efforts weren’t enough to overtake Niagara.

Penn State took the lead in the bottom of the second when Burger grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and no one out, scoring the game’s first run.

Penn State added to their lead in the bottom of the fourth when Burger again came up with men in scoring position and stroked a double to centerfield that a diving Tanner Kirwer couldn’t handle. The two-bagger drove in Conlin Hughes and Tyler Kendall, giving the Nittany Lions a 3-0 lead.

Sophomore lefthander Taylor Lehman started the game for Penn State and was impressive through five innings, holding Niagara to five hits while striking out five with 50 pitches. Despite this success, Lehman would fall apart in the sixth inning.

After efficiently throwing strikes throughout the first five innings, Lehman began to miss his spots and walked the leadoff hitter Julian Gallup. A subsequent single by Geoff Seto and a double steal put runners on second and third when Lehman threw a wild pitch past catcher Ryan Sloniger, plating the first run of the game for Niagara.

On the next pitch, Greg Cullen doubled to left field, driving home Seto and making the score 3-2 Penn State. A groundout advanced Cullen to third base, and another wild pitch by Lehman brought him home, tying the game.

After a groundout, Taylor Hackett singled up the middle, driving in Ryan Brophy, giving Niagara a 4-3 lead.

“You have to tip your cap to Niagara,” Penn State Manager Rob Cooper said after the game. “They found a way to win.”

Penn State would get runners into scoring position the next two innings, even loading the bases in the 8th, but were unable to drive anyone in, quelled by a stellar performance by Niagara’s bullpen.

Despite John Belushi’s famous “It isn’t over until we say it is,” speech from Animal House playing on the Medlar Field scoreboard prior to the bottom of the ninth, the Nittany Lions failed to make anything of getting runners on first and second with no one out.

After a Nick Riotto single that put Jim Haley on second, Alex Malinsky fouled off three bunts, Kendall popped out, and Hughes flew out to shortstop, securing a 4-3 win for Niagara.

The win was just the third on the year for Niagara, and the first on the year for Cody Eckerson (1-2). Taylor Lehman (1-4) took the loss for Penn State. The Nittany Lions fell to 5-10.  

After the game, Cooper stressed the importance of moving on.

“This game is over,” Cooper said. “The worst thing we can do is hold onto it and have it affect tomorrow.”

The Nittany Lions continue their series with Niagara tomorrow at 1 p.m. in the first game of a double header at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. The second game will start 30 to 40 minutes after the conclusion of the first.

John McHugh is a junior studying broadcast journalism. You can contact John at jym5764@gmail.com.