Steranka’s Bat Leads Nittany Lions to Win in Home Opener
The Penn State baseball team (4-14, 0-0 Big Ten) enjoyed the comforts of home Wednesday afternoon, as they defeated Pittsburgh (10-8, 0-0 Big East) by a score of 5-3 in their first game of the season at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
It was a good win for a team that struggled to a 3-14 record in the first month of the season on the road in the south. Senior Jordan Steranka led the team, going 4-4 with four RBIs on the afternoon.
After Penn State starting pitcher Mike Franklin retired the heart of the Panther order in the first inning, Steranka got the team on the board with a three run home run over the right field bleachers in the bottom half of the inning. The home run off of Pitt starter Casey Roche scored center fielder Steve Snyder and left fielder Sean Deegan, after both reached base on singles.
Franklin found a groove in the second inning and put down Pitt in order. He credited Steranka's home run with allowing him to settle down on the mound.
"It definitely takes a lot of pressure off of you and lets you settle in and relax into the game a little bit," Franklin said. "You know you are pitching with a lead. You still have to attack on the mound, but knowing you have that three run lead is definitely comforting."
Roche followed suit in the second, setting down the Nittany Lions in order. Franklin's second trip through the top of Pitt's order was a greater struggle, and a two run single by catcher Elvin Soto cut the lead to 3-2.
The offenses went cold until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Steranka came up with runners on first and second. Pittsburgh head coach Joe Jordano relieved Roche with right hander J.R. Leonardi, and Steranka lined his first pitch into right field, scoring Snyder from second and extending the lead to 4-2. Leonardi then hit right fielder Aaron Novak with a pitch and walked second baseman Luis Montesinos, scoring third baseman Joey DeBernardis and giving Penn State a 5-2 lead going into the sixth inning.
Franklin returned to the mound in the sixth, but appeared to be fatigued as he walked three batters, while also allowing an RBI single to Pitt center fielder Stephen Vranka. Penn State head coach Robbie Wine elected to go with lefty reliever Greg Welsh to face the only lefty in Pitt's order, star first baseman Rick Devereaux. Welsh won the battle, drawing a groundout and getting out of the bases loaded jam.
Penn State went quietly in the sixth, and Pitt's threat in the top of the seventh ended on a one out 6-4-3 double play. Penn State had an opportunity in the seventh inning, but a bizarre baserunning error by Deegan erased a two-on, one out situation for the Nittany Lions. Both teams would also go quietly in the eighth.
In the ninth, Wine called upon freshman relief pitcher Casey Kulina to earn the save. Kulina gave up a leadoff single, but a line drive right at Steranka resulted in a double play, leaving the Panthers with two outs and no one on base. Soto then flew out to Novak in right field, earning Penn State its first win in over a week.
For the Nittany Lions, the win was especially comforting due to the solid performance by the bullpen. Despite recent struggles, Welsh and Kulina combined for over three innings of work in relief of Franklin. Wine cited Welsh's performance in his postgame remarks.
"Welsh came in and did the job," Wine said. "We talked about those guys having to come in and get it done, and they did."
Kulina earned his second save of the season. Franklin, meanwhile, earned his first win of the year, giving up three runs in a solid outing.
Snyder and Deegan combined for four hits in the game, complementing a tremendous performance by Steranka. Snyder also scored two runs, showing off his speed with some aggressive baserunning.
Wine said that he feels his lineup around Steranka is good, and just needs to continue hitting consistently.
"We think we have those guys," Wine said. "We have [DeBernardis], Deegan, we put Snyder and Montesinos in there too. We also have Novak, the way he's been swinging, so it is a pretty good lineup. We have to stick to swinging at strikes and not getting ourselves out."
Wine told reporters after Wednesday's win that the key going into Big Ten play this weekend against Indiana will be pitching. He plans to throw junior John Walter on Friday, sophomore Joe Kurrasch on Saturday and junior Steve Hill on Sunday.
"The team that minimizes mistakes and doesn't beat themselves is going to win," said Wine.
Penn State hosts a three game series against Indiana this weekend, in what will be the team's first Big Ten series of the 2012 season. All three games can be heard live on ComRadio, starting with Friday's game at 6:05 p.m.
Mike Esse is a freshman majoring in Broadcast Journalism and is a ComRadio Sports Director. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.