HARRISONBURG, Va. – Penn State Altoona baseball started its 2018 schedule on Sunday afternoon, splitting a doubleheader at non-conference opponent Eastern Mennonite University.
In game one, Penn State Altoona (1-1) battled to a 6-4 win in 11 innings. In the nightcap, the Lions lost 7-6 in a darkness-shortened six-inning contest.
"Unfortunately, we let game two slip away from us. But anytime we can come south and get a win, we are happy – especially against a good Eastern Mennonite team, who already has 10 games under their belts," said Penn State Altoona head coach RJ Barnard. "We barreled up a lot of baseballs, and I was very impressed with our team's effort today."
Jim Shomberg (Lansdale, PA/Methacton) and Justin Virga (Port Jefferson Station, NY/Comsewogue) led the Lions at the plate in game one, with each batter posting a three-hit performance. Shomberg was 3-for-5 with two doubles, two runs batted in, and a walk, while Virga was 3-for-5 with a run scored. Chase Clouser (Dublin, OH/Dublin Jerome) had a team-high three RBI with his go-ahead double in the fifth inning, and George Stiuso (Milford, NJ/Gill St. Bernard's) hit his first home run of the season in the eighth.
Aaron Sharp (Freeburg, PA/Midd-West) got the start on the mound and took a no decision. The right-hander pitched four innings and yielded two runs, four hits, and four walks while striking out three. Aaron Smith (Duncansville, PA/Hollidaysburg) pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief, giving up a run on two hits and two walks with one strikeout, and Bradley Lau (Reston, VA/Freedom) tossed a scoreless 2/3 inning with one hit and one strikeout. Hunter Breon (Boiling Springs, PA/Boiling Springs) got the win in relief, pitching five innings and surrendering just one hit, one run, and three walks to go along with a pair of strikeouts.
Eastern Mennonite (6-4) capitalized with two outs in the bottom of the third inning, when Tyler McFadden's two-out RBI single up the middle drew first blood for the Royals.
But Penn State Altoona also came up big in a two-out situation in the top of the fifth. After singles by Austin Anderson (Macungie, PA/Emmaus) and Peter Jacobs (Dix Hills, NY/Half Hollow Hills West) put two runners on, Dylan Bates (Towanda, PA/Towanda) drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Clouser came through with a double to right field, clearing the bases and putting the Lions up 3-1.
Eastern Mennonite wasted little time answering, however. In the bottom half of the fifth, Zach Roberts started the inning with a walk and came around to score on the next play, when Damon Frazier's double moved him up to third and an outfield error allowed him to score. After a single put runners at the corners, the Royals executed a double steal, with Frazier stealing home to tie the game 3-3.
The teams traded runs in the eighth inning. Stiuso led off the top half of the eighth with a home run down the right field line to put Penn State Altoona up 4-3, but Roberts' two-out RBI double to right in the bottom half of the inning knotted the score again.
But the Lions went ahead for good in the 11th inning, coming up with another big hit with two outs. Virga opened the frame with a single to center, and after a sacrifice bunt and a foul out, Breon reached base on a fielding error to put two on. Shomberg, the next batter, took advantage by doubling to center to drive in Virga and Breon and give Penn State Altoona a 6-4 lead.
Breon put Eastern Mennonite down in order in the bottom of the 11th, and the Lions sealed the season-opening, extra innings victory.
In game two, Anderson led Penn State Altoona with the bat by going 2-for-3 with two runs scored and one RBI. Jacobs also had a two-hit game for the Lions, batting 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored, and Shomberg hit his first home run of the year. Clouser had a pinch hit single to extend his team-best hitting streak to 12 games.
Bates got the start on the bump for the Lions in game two, taking a no decision after going four innings and giving up five runs. Sawyer Kline (Bellwood, PA/Bellwood-Antis) tossed one scoreless inning in relief, and Stiuso was saddled with the loss after pitching 2/3 inning.
Shomberg put Penn State Altoona on the board in the top of the first inning with his two-out solo homer to right-center. Eastern Mennonite tied the game 1-1 in the second on Tyler Wilchers' run-scoring groundout to shortstop.
The Lions jumped ahead 3-1 in the third, using Breon's sacrifice fly to right to score one run before Jacobs came home on a wild pitch to give his team a two-run lead.
The Royals took their first lead of the game in the bottom half of the inning. Jaylon Lee's triple to left-center drove in two runs for Eastern Mennonite, and Ray Tricarico's sac fly to center put the home team up 4-3. Wilcher's RBI single up the middle increased Eastern Mennonite's advantage to 5-3.
Penn State Altoona battled back to reclaim the lead in the top half of the sixth, scoring three runs with two outs. After a pair of strikeouts, Matt Cody (Mechanicsburg, PA/Mechanicsburg) drew a walk and Clouser singled to put runners at the corners. Anderson followed with an RBI single through the left side to make it a one-run game, and Clouser later advanced home on a wild pitch to tie the score. Jacobs' run-scoring base hit through the left side put Penn State Altoona back on top, 6-5.
The back-and-forth tilt continued in the bottom of the sixth, when Eastern Mennonite plated two runs to get back in front. Roberts' RBI double to left-center tied the game at six, and Tricarico's bases loaded walk with two outs brought in the go-ahead run. The game was called due to darkness after that, and Eastern Mennonite claimed victory in the second half of the doubleheader.
"We got lots of guys playing time, and many contributed," said Barnard. "We will continue to get better each day, and we're looking forward to competing against some of the top teams nationally in some warm Florida sunshine."
Next up, Penn State Altoona baseball embarks on its annual trip south to compete in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational. From March 3-10, the Lions will play a total of 10 games against eight different NCAA Division III baseball teams from around the country.
Penn State Altoona starts its week in the RussMatt Invitational on Saturday, March 3 with a doubleheader against Montclair State University. Game one of that doubleheader is slated to start at 9:30 a.m. at Lake Myrtle Park in Auburndale, Fla.