MIDDLETOWN, Pa. – It was the scenario of which every baseball player dreams. Scored tied. Bottom of the ninth inning. Bases loaded. Into this ideal scenario stepped Penn State Harrisburg's Branden Rutt (Ephrata, Pa. / Ephrata) on Wednesday, Apr. 10.
Elizabethtown, the Lions' opponent on this afternoon, had just overcome a two-run deficit and tied the score at 6-6 in the top half of the final inning. The Blue Jays had seemingly swung the momentum back in their favor and now needed just three outs to extend the game. After trailing for much of the game, things suddenly looked good for the visitors.
Then Rutt swung.
The Harrisburg sophomore turned on Josh Sollenberger's pitch and put the ball through a hole on the right side of the infield. Dalton Trolinger (Carlisle, Pa. / Cumberland Valley) trotted down the third base line as his Blue & White teammates mobbed him at home plate.
The walk-off win was Penn State Harrisburg's sixth one-run victory of the season and the team's eighth-straight overall.
The Lions got off to a rocky start. After its first two batters were quickly retired by Blue & White starter Derek Slagle (York Haven, Pa. / Red Land), Elizabethtown used a walk, three hits and a Harrisburg error to take an early 2-0 lead.
The home team answered back in the bottom of the first. Lead-off man Travis Crammer (Cerritos, Calif. / Cerritos) was hit by a pitch and stole second base. Rutt singled up the middle and advanced Crammer to third. Bryan Balshy (Palmyra, Pa. / Palmyra) recorded his team-leading 32nd and 33rd RBIs of the year when he doubled to right center field and plated Crammer and Rutt. Ross Baker (Hummelstown, Pa. / Lower Dauphin) was the second batter to be hit by a pitch and fellow Lower Dauphin alum Clay Thrasher (Hummelstown, Pa. / Clay Thrasher) scored Balshy with a single to left field. Baker made a head's up play by scoring on an overthrow on Thrasher's single to make it 4-2 Lions.
Slagle found his groove, retiring the Blue Jays 1-2-3 in the second and allowing just one hit in the third. In three innings of work, the freshman allowed four hits, one walk and one earned run. He struck out one Elizabethtown batter.
The Blue Jays cut the deficit in half in the top of the fourth when Frank Canuso's groundout to shortstop scored Aaron Rahn from third base.
Rahn did some more damage, this time thanks to the long ball, to lead off the top of the sixth. The Elizabethtown freshman homered to left field off Harrisburg righty Ryan Pilgermayer (Pennsburg, Pa. / Quakertown) and tied the score at four apiece.
After their four-run first inning, the Lions bats were fairly quiet until the bottom of the seventh. Trolinger and Crammer notched back-to-back singles to left field and both men advanced a base on the left fielder's throw. Colton Houseal (Maytown, Pa. / Donegal) hit the third consecutive single to left and drove in Trolinger and Crammer, claiming the lead for the home team once more.
The score remained 6-4 Harrisburg until the Blue Jays put together a last chance rally in the top of the ninth. Mike Stobbe reached base on an error and Dillon Tagle walked. Sean Jones ensuing single cut the deficit in half when Stobbe scored and a wild pitch advanced Jones and Tagle to second and third. Parke Martin's RBI single up the middle tied the game but Lions' reliever Tom Chaney (Lancaster, Pa. / Lampeter-Strasburg) got Ian Smith to line out to Baker in left and gave his offense a chance in the bottom half.
Trolinger got things started with a single to center and Crammer followed him up with a single to left field. Houseal laid down a bunt that was fielded by Sollenberger but no Elizabethtown fielder covered first base. With the bases full, Rutt stepped into the box and worked a 2-0 count.
One swing later and the Lions were victorious.
The Blue & White's pitcher-by-committee strategy worked on this day. Pilgermayer went three innings, giving up three hits, two runs and two walks to go along with his lone strikeout. Hunter Rowe (Halifax, Pa. / Halifax) gave up three walks and one hit in 1.2 innings of work while Chaney went 1.1 innings on the mound, allowing two runs, two hits and two walks.
Rutt had a big day offensively, going 4-5 with an RBI and a run scored. Crammer and Trolinger put up nearly identical numbers at the plate. Both men were 2-4 with two runs scored. Baker was 2-3 with a run scored while Balshy and Houseal drove in a team-high two runs each.
Penn State Harrisburg recorded 14 hits and overcame three errors to improve to 15-9 on the season. The Lions are 4-0 in North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) play and sit alone atop the league's standings. With the impressive non-conference win now behind them, the Lions will turn their attention back to conference opposition when they host Lancaster Bible in their next outing on Saturday, Apr. 13.