EPHRATA, PA - The Penn State Berks baseball team won a pair of thrillers on Sunday afternoon en route to becoming the 2016 North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) Champions. It was the third time in program history and second time in three years that the Nittany Lions won the conference posteason title.
In the opener, Berks used a late rally to down Lancaster Bible College, 7-5, and then defeated Penn State Abington, 11-7, with the help of a six-run third inning. Senior first baseman Tom Grablewski was named the NEAC Tournament MVP after going 4-for-6 with three RBI, and a run scored in the championship game.
The tournament was changed from a three-day, elimination tournament to a one-day, single elimination tournament due to poor weather conditions earlier in the weekend. The tournament also shifted to the nearby turf field War Memorial Field at Ephrata High School.
GAME ONE (LANCASTER BIBLE)
Sean Pavlik showed why he was named the NEAC Pitcher of the Year after overcoming a shaky start for a complete-game victory over the Chargers. The sophomore right-hander was touched up for two runs on three hits and a walked bat in the top of the first inning.
The Nittany Lions tied the game at 2-all in the bottom of the third on a sacrifice fly by Grablewski scored Keeanu Erb and an single up the middle by Toby Welk droe in Nick Zipay.
Pavlik then allowed just one base hit and two walks over the next five innings to keep the Chargers offense in check. At one point in that stretch, Pavlik set down 13 batters in a row, including a three pitch fourth inning. He did run into trouble again in the top of the seventh, when LBC again scored two runs of three hits to go ahead 4-2.
Cory Fox led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a double to right center field and moved up to third base after a balk was called on the pitcher. Keeanu Erb then followed with a fly to right field that was deep enough to score Fox and cut the deficit to 4-3.
The top of the eighth inning started out poorly for Pavlik, as the Chargers had a lead off single to left field and pair of bunt singles to load the bases with no outs. But Pavlik got a strikeout swinging on a pitch in the dirt and caught the next guy looking for out two. He then escaped the jam with a weak groundout to first base to give the Nittany Lions some momentum heading into their at-bat in the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, Welk led off with a walk, Zach Reis singled up the middle with one out and Pearce Harhigh loaded the bases with a single to right field. The LBC pitcher was able to get a strikeout for the second out of the inning. But Keeanu Erb drew a bases loaded walk to force in the tying run and a wild pitch to the next batter scored Reis to give Berks its first lead of the game at 5-4. Zipay dropped a nice bunt in front of the plate, but the pitcher sailed the throw high of the first basemen and two more runs came around to score to make it 7-4 in the Nittany LIons favor.
Pavlik struck off the leadoff batter in the top of the ninth for the first out. The Charger got their offense going with a triple and an RBI single from the No. 3 and 4 batters in the order to cut the lead to 7-5. Pavlik forced a fly out to center, but LBC had a two out single to put the tying run on first base and the go-ahead run at the plate. Pavlik kept his composure and force a lazy pop up to Grablewski to get the final out of the game.
Pavlik's final line was five runs on 13 hits and three walks, with seven strikeouts in 9.0 innings of work to improve to 8-2 on the season.
Keeanu Erb finished the game 2-for-2 with two RBI, and two runs scored, while Fox and Welk each recorded two hits.
GAME TWO (PENN STATE ABINGTON)
Mitch Renninger matched his career-high with 8.0 innings pitched to lead the Nittany Lions to a win in the title game. He was staked to an early lead after Berks put up a six spot in the top of the third inning. In that inning, the Nittany Lions recorded eight hits - three of which never got out of the infield - to go along with two Abington errors to put up the runs. Grablewski, Welk, and McGarvey strung together three straight RBI singles and Reis blasted a deep double to right field to add two more runs. Harhigh capped off the scoring when he sliced a single to right field to bring in Reis from second.
Abington pushed a run across in the bottom of the third and were poised for much more damage as they still had bases loaded, but Renninger got a groundout to third base to strand all three runners. Abington inched closer after adding another run in the bottom of fourth to make it a 6-2 game.
Berks got back those two runs in the top of the fifth with an RBI groundout by Luke Erb and a run batted in on a single to left by Grablewski. In the following inning, Reis extended the lead to 9-2 with a single up the middle to score McGarvey. Abington combined to score three runs in the bottom of the seventh and eighth, but Berks put two up two runs in the top of the ninth to make it 11-5 going into Abington's final at-bat.
Tyler Comport, who came in to pitch the ninth inning, got a batter chasing a fastball way out of the zone for the second out of the inning. Abington had two runners knocked in on a single up the middle by Trey Guaglionona, but Comport got another stirkeout with high heat to shut the door. The players and coaches came flying out of the dugout as Berks celebrated around Comport in the middle of the infield.
The No. 3 through No. 7 batters in the order combined to go 10-for-20 with two doubles, eight RBI, and five runs scored. Keeanu Erb finished 2-for-4 with three RBI and a stolen base, while Fox was 2-for-4.
The Nittany Lions will await the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday, May 15 at 11:59 p.m. to see what regional they will be sent to.