No. 8 Illinois sweeps rebuilding Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions’ inexperienced pitching rotation continued its growing pains in a 6-3 loss as the Illinois Fighting Illini completed a three-game sweep at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, Sunday.
After a quality start from freshman pitcher Taylor Lehman in game two, another freshman, Nick Distasio (1-6, 6.06 ERA), failed to make it out the second inning.
“Part of it for those guys is they’re freshmen,” coach Rob Cooper said. “They’re hitting a wall mentally; It’s a physically grinding, draining season, something they’re not used to."
Illinois (36-6-1, 13-1 Big Ten) notched three consecutive hits to start the second inning that resulted in a four-run outburst, which gave their pitching staff the requisite breathing room to complete the series sweep.
Distasio registered just one and 2/3 innings for Penn State (13-26 2-12 Big Ten), allowing four earned runs on five hits with a walk before being relieved by another freshman, Sal Biasi, who made his 15th appearance from the bullpen.
Despite a 10-1 blowout in game one and a 15-inning game two, the Nittany Lions receive quality relief from the bullpen all weekend, most notably this game. Sal Biasi, Marko Boricich and Dakota Forsyth combined for seven and 1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on three hits.
The top of the Nittany Lions lineup combined to go 2-for-10 between James Coates, Greg Guers and Aaron Novak, in that order.
“It’s just unlucky and today was one of those days,” Guers said. “We were just one hit away with two outs to get guys going. It was frustrating but we stuck with it.”
Guers collected two RBIs in the game, pushing his team-high total to 30.
A fifth inning walk to senior outfielder Aaron Novak loaded the bases for cleanup hitter Jim Haley with a chance to cut into the 5-1 deficit, but Haley grounded out to shortstop to end the threat.
Penn State finished the game 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, which has been an issue for the team all season.
Tyler Kendall, the junior infielder, got the start at first base, where he made a webgem worthy double play in the seventh inning. Kendall skied to snare a liner from Will Krug then alertly threw to second base for the force out, as Casey Fletcher could not make it back in time.
On the offensive side, Kendall provided quality batting at the bottom of the lineup, going 2-for-4 with an RBI. After entering the series batting .273, the junior infielder is now batting .295 on the season.
Illinois’ pitching rotation continued to impress in this series as John Kravetz gave the Fighting Illini another quality start, registering six innings allowing two runs, one earned on nine hits.
Confidence still looms for this rebuilding Penn State team after challenging the No. 8 ball club in the nation for two of three games.
“We don’t have anything to show for it as far as the win column but i thought our guys competed and battled,” Cooper said. “I’m sure there’s people getting tired of hearing that over and over again but when you’re trying to build a program you look for things like that.”
The Nittany Lions will continue their homestand with Pittsburgh Wednesday before returning to Big Ten action to conclude the season.
Marley Paul is a junior majoring in digital and print journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @MPaulPSU
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