DOVER, Del. – Consider it Penn State Harrisburg's job interview if you will. With the Blue & White leaving the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) in favor of the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) next fall, Wednesday evening's doubleheader matchup with CAC member Wesley was about more than just holding the team's own; it was about making a statement.
And the Lions did just that.
Penn State Harrisburg proved that it belongs in its soon-to-be new league thanks to two strong outings against the Wolverines. The Lions led for four and a half innings before falling 4-3 in game one. They answered back in the nightcap and used a last-inning rally to down the home team by the same score.
Harrisburg was fast out of the gate in the opener, scoring two runs in the first inning. Junior second baseman Travis Crammer (Cerritos, Cal. / Cerritos) led off the game with a walk and sophomore catcher Branden Rutt (Ephrata, Pa. / Ephrata) moved him along with a sacrifice bunt. Junior left fielder Colton Houseal (Maytown, Pa. / Donegal) singled to left field before stealing second base. Freshman third baseman Clay Thrasher (Hummelstown, Pa. / Lower Dauphin) singled to center field two batters later and drove in Crammer and Houseal to give the Lions the early advantage.
Harrisburg starter Derek Slagle (York Haven, Pa. / Red Land) was strong to begin the game, allowing no runs through the first four innings.
The Lions put another run on the board in the top of the fifth when freshman first baseman Bryan Balshy (Palmyra, Pa. / Palmyra) singled to right field and scored Crammer from third.
Wesley's offense finally got going in the bottom of the stanza. Back-to-back doubles by Cory Smith and Morgan Rupp led to two runs. The Wolverines tied the score when Sam Farnell's sacrifice fly to center field scored Rupp from third.
The Blue & White went down 1-2-3 in the sixth before an Adam Darling double down the left field line scored Steve Perone from second base and gave Wesley its first advantage of the evening in the bottom of the inning. It was a lead the home team wouldn't relinquish in the final stanza.
Slagle went five innings and gave up eight hits and three earned runs while sophomore Daniel Samick (Frederick, Md. / Frederick) gave up three hits and one run in addition to striking out one Wolverine in a relief appearance.
Thrasher went 2-3 from the plate with two RBIs while Balshy was 1-2 with an RBI and a walk. Crammer walked three times and scored two runs.
Penn State Harrisburg regrouped and began the finale the same way it started the first outing; by getting ahead early. Rutt singled to left field before Houseal reached and advanced to third on a throwing error by Wesley pitcher Jordan Lozzi. Rutt was thrown out at home on the play but Houseal eventually scored when Balshy singled through the left side. The RBI was Balshy's team-leading 14th of the year.
The Lions held the 1-0 lead until the bottom of the third when Penn State Harrisburg was unable to convert a double play ball and get out of the inning. Instead, Rupp and Jon Carlson scored on the play and gave the Wolverines a 2-1 advantage.
The Blue & White responded in the top of the fourth. Back-to-back singles by Thrasher and junior designated hitter Ross Baker (Hummelstown, Pa. / Lower Dauphin) got things rolling and sophomore shortstop John Cataldo (Pine Grove, Pa. / Pine Grove) tied the game when his RBI groundout plated Thrasher two batters later.
Harrisburg starter Tom Chaney (Lancaster, Pa. / Lampeter-Strasburg) sat Wesley down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the fourth but a Smith infield blooper that got lost in the lights put the Wolverines back in business in the fifth. The home team took advantage of the strange play when Corey Jefferson singled to left field, driving in Smith and making it 3-2 Wesley.
It came down to the visitors' final chance in the top of the seventh. Cataldo's one-out single put the crucial tying run on base. Pinch-hitter Tim Gonzalez (Whittier, Cal. / St. Paul) dropped one behind the right side of the infield in shallow right and moved Cataldo to second base. Crammer was patient at the plate and worked a walk. Rutt was the next batter and after hitting a slow roller, he hustled down the first base line, beating out the first baseman's throw to a covering Wesley pitcher. Cataldo scored on the play. Houseal then worked a bases-loaded walk and his RBI plated Gonzalez, the game-winning run.
In his first appearance of the spring, sophomore pitcher Dusten Rutt (Ephrata, Pa. / Ephrata) closed out the game in the bottom of the seventh. With Wesley runners on first and second, he got Perone to ground out to Crammer at second base, sealing the statement win for the Blue & White.
"Never a doubt," said Penn State Harrisburg Head Coach Ryan Bown as his players celebrated the hard-fought victory postgame. It wasn't a perfect outing, but the heart displayed by the Lions in the last inning was encouraging for a young team battling a foe that had already accumulated 11 wins on the young season.
Branden Rutt was 3-4 with an RBI. Thrasher was 2-4 with a run scored. Chaney went 4.2 innings and surrendered four hits, three runs and six walks. Dusten Rutt struck out two Wolverines, gave up just two hits and picked up the win in 2.1 innings of work.
The comeback victory improved Harrisburg's record to 5-7 on the year. Wesley is the only Capital opponent the Lions face this season; a fact that makes the win that much sweeter. If anyone was still questioning the Blue & White's ability to hang with opponents in the CAC, Bown's boys worked hard to silence the naysayers on Wednesday night.
Penn State Harrisburg is next in action this Sunday, Mar. 24 when the Lions host Penn State Altoona in another non-conference doubleheader.