The Penn State Berks baseball team outlasted Penn College in a slugfest that ended 17-12 to give the Nittany Lions its third straight North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) Championship title. Tyler Comport was named the NEAC Tournament MVP after finishing 2-for-5 with a home run, five RBI, and two runs scored in the championship game.
The two teams had to endure an hour and 30 minute rain delay in the middle of the fourth inning. Berks was leading 7-2 at the time, but the Wildcats (20-15) were still threatening with one out and runners on the corner. In a sign of great sportsmanship, both the Nittany Lions and Wildcats helped put the tarp on at the start of the delay and worked together to remove when the rain slowed down. In between that time, both teams had a dance off and began throwing a football from one dugout to the other.
Prior to the rain delay, Berks got on the board first with a run in the bottom of the first without a hit. Cory Fox led off with a walk, moved up to second on a passed ball and was bunted over to third on a sacrifice by Dalton Hughes. Toby Welk was being intentionally walked when the fourth pitched sailed over the catcher's head and allowed Fox to score from third.
In the bottom of the second, Austin Madeja was hit by a pitch and Pearce Harhigh had a single down the left field line. Fox smoked a double to left field to score Madeja and Harhigh to go up 3-0. After a walk to Hughes, Welk delivered a single to right field to bring in Fox with another run. Comport followed with a three-run homer to left field to give Berks a 7-0 cushion.
In the top of the fourth, Rich Lennon had a two-run shot that stayed just inside the foul pole to make it 7-2. The next two batters had singles before the umpires stopped play due to rain. When play started back up, the Wildcats finished off the inning by getting the runner in from third to make it a 7-3 ballgame. Berks tacked on a pair of runs in both the fifth and sixth to go ahead 11-3. That lead was erased in the top of the seventh when Penn College sent 12 batters to the plate en route to eight runs on seven hits to even the game at 11-all.
The Nittany Lions responded in the bottom half of the seventh with five runs. Welk and Comport led off the inning with walks and Brandon Griesemer was safe at first on an error during a sacrifice bunt to load the bases. Dante Salerno singled home a run and the Comport was safe at home on a throwing error. Eric Gale drove in two runs with a single down the left field line and Harhigh added a sacrifice fly to center.
Welk led off the bottom of the eighth with a bomb to left field to go up 17-11.
Griesemer gave up a pair of singles in the top of the ninth inning and both move up a base on a balk. The junior left-hander gained his composure and got the next two batters to pop up to Comport in foul territory at first base. The next batter hit a slow roller to the right side of the infield that Harhigh fielded and flipped to first. The batter was safe on the play, but the Wildcats base runner tried to score from second on the play, but was gunned down at home by Comport to seal the victory. The players came storming out of the dugout and the team celebrated the win on the infield grass.
Alex Laudenslager got the start and turned in a strong effort on the mound. The freshman right-hander returned to the mound after the delay on his way to throwing 6.2 innings. Drew Skrocki, who earned the win, got just one out to get the Nittany Lions out of the seventh inning jam. Griesemer chucked the final two innings, scattering four hits and allowing one run.
Fox finished the game 3-for-5 with two doubles, three runs scored, and four RBI. Welk was 2-for-3 with three walks, a homer, two RBI, and four runs scored, while Comport went 2-for-5 with a home run, two runs scored, and a career-high five runs batted in. Madeja was 1-for-4 at the plate with three runs scored.
The Penn College lineup saw all nine of its batters record two or more hits. Lennon led the team after going 3-for-4 with two RBI, and one run scored. Alex Zelger and Brittan Kittle both had two hits and drove in three runs.
The Nittany Lions improve to 25-10, which is the the most wins in a season in program history. Berks will find out overnight where they are heading and who they will face in the NCAA Tournament. Check back on the athletics website for more information about the NCAA Tournament.