Nittany Lions take down Kean in regional opener

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Penn State-Berks celebrated its first-day win.
Photo by Tyler Schueck

The Penn State Berks baseball team took down the top-seed and fourth ranked team in the nation Kean University, 5-4, in the opening round of the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional on Wednesday afternoon at Santander Stadium. Click here for game highlights and postgame interview with Coach Konnick, Kyle Hartman, and Keeanu Erb. (Courtesy of the Middle Atlantic Conference)

With the win, the Nittany Lions will play against No. 4 seed Salisbury University on Thursday, May 14 at 4:30 p.m.

Senior Kyle Hartman gutted out an amazing complete-game masterpiece to will the Nittany Lions to a program defining victory. This is just the second time in Berks athletics history that the Nittany Lions have won a regional contest and first time it happened in the opening round. The previous win came in 2009, also by the baseball program, against Penn State Behrend to stave off elimination.

Hartman scattered 11 hits, but routinely worked out of trouble, while allowing four runs (one earned) and striking out four batters. The leadoff batter for the Cougars singled up the middle, but was quickly erased from the base paths when Damian Mace threw him out trying to steal. Later that inning Kean loaded the bases with two outs, but Hartman recorded a clutch strikeout to strand three runners.

Neither team generated much offense in the early going until Berks got to work in the top of the fourth. Tom GrablewskiZach Reis, and Dylan Gallagher started off the inning with singles to load the bases. Luke Erb then sent a single back through the middle to plate Grablewski and Reis, giving Berks an early 2-0 edge vs. Kean starter Matthew Wagner, who was making his first start of the season.

Kean struck for three runs in the bottom of the fifth thanks to two Berks errors and a few defensive lapses to lead 3-2.

The next half inning the Nittany Lions went right back to work. Gallagher was hit by a pitch and Luke Erb doubled down the left field line to chase the starting pitcher. The Kean reliever got a strikeout, before a two-out walk to Pearce Harhigh loaded the bases. Keeanu Erb stepped to the plate and sent a low liner into left field that skipped past the diving left fielder. Keeanu Erb's bases clearing double put the Nittany Lions ahead 5-3 and gave Berks the momentum boost they were looking for. Wagner was chased after five and a third innings, allowing four runs and nine hits.

Hartman worked around a leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth with a shutdown inning that left the runner stranded on second base. In the seventh, Hartman issued a leadoff walk, but again escaped trouble to keep the Berks lead at two runs. The senior left-hander threw a perfect eighth inning with all three ground outs going to Harhigh at second base.

The Cougars started off the bottom of the ninth with a walk, a strikeout, and then a double down the right field line to put runners on second and third. The next batter hit a chopper to Keeanu Erb at short, who fielded the ball and turned to the runner at third to keep him from going home. In that time, the runner from second broke for third and got tug out in a run down. With runners on the corners and two outs, Kean got a single up the middle to pull within 5-4 and again had runners at the corners. With the tying run 90 feet away, Hartman was able to keep his composure and force a groundout to Keeanu Erb to give Berks the thrilling win.

The bench erupted out of the dugout and the bullpen came running in from the right field seats to celebrate around Hartman on the pitcher's mound.

Grablewski and Reis each went 3-for-5 with a run scored to pace the offense. Keeanu Erb went 2-for-3 with a double, three RBI, and a stolen base. In addition, he was phenomenal in the field with seven assists. Luke Erb finished the game 2-for-4 with two RBI, a run scored, and a double.

The Nittany Lions will face No. 4 seed Salisbury, which defeated Mitchell 11-1 in the opening game of the tournament. The winner of that will play the winner of game eight on Friday, May 15 at 4:30 p.m., while the loser will play on Friday at 10 a.m. in an elimination game.