Courtesy of John Leisering
MARIETTA, Ohio - The Penn State Behrend Lions staved off elimination for the second game in a row by defeating No. 17 North Carolina Wesleyan 7-3 Saturday in the NCAA Regionals. The Lions, the 6th seed, lost 8-1 to No. 1 seed Rowan on Thursday before eliminating Rochester 11-1 Friday. The Battling Bishops, the region's No. 3 seed, outlasted St. John Fisher 7-6 Thursday before bowing to host Marietta 6-4 in Saturday's first game. That game was scheduled to be played Friday night, but was postponed because of inclement weather. That setback forced NC Wesleyan to play back-to-back. Behrend improved to 27-12 while NC Wesleyan finished the year at 33-10. The Lions and Battling Bishops were meeting for the first time on the diamond.
The Lions, the home team (coin toss), wasted little time getting to NC Wesleyan freshman starter CJ DiBenedetto (5-3) in the first, scoring two runs on four hits. Lead-off hitter Braden Paulinellie (DuBois, PA/DuBois) doubled to left center, reached third on an infield hit by Anthony Slate (Hopewell, PA/Hopewell), and scored on a sacrifice fly by Josh Wagner. (South Park, PA/South Park). Colin Harger (Pittsburgh, PA/Shaler) followed with a base knock to plate Slate, who had been wild-pitched to second, for a 2-0 advantage.
Behrend starter, junior Ryan Weaver (North Huntingdon, PA/Norwin) (6-2), retired the first eight hitters he faced before issuing two-out walks in the third to Drifton Padgett and Tyson Bass. Weaver got out of trouble, however, by picking off Bass at first. Wagner and Slate helped Weaver with their gloves in the first three frames. Wagner caught two line drives at third and center fielder Slate made a sparkling running catch in right center.
Zack Lyon got the Battling Bishops' first hit of the contest with a lead-off single in the fourth, but was promptly erased on a 6-4-3 double play.
The lower end of the Lions' order caused problems in the fourth. Back-to-back hits by Donny Watters (Perry, OH/Perry) and CJ Weller (Sewickley, PA/North Allegheny) plus a walk to Zack Bowen (Pittsburgh, PA/Serra Catholic) loaded the bases with no outs and forced the departure of DiBenedetto in favor of freshman Cullen Davis. Paulinellie promptly grounded sharply to second and, when the ball was mishandled, two runners scored. Davis escaped further damage by inducing Slate to bunt into an out at home and Wagner to ground into a double play, keeping the Behrend lead at 4-0.
NC Wesleyan finally got to Weaver in the fifth. Davie Morgan led off with a double and, following a bunt, came home on a sacrifice fly by Jackson Murray. The run was just the third allowed by Behrend pitching in its last 17 innings.
Wesleyan used three singles among the first four hitters in the seventh for a second run, forcing Behrend head coach Paul Benim to call on starting right fielder Juston Jones (Moon Township, PA/Moon) to relieve. Jones threw just one pitch to Zach Scott who sent a sharp grounder to first baseman Isaac Stouffer (Punxsutawney, PA/Punxsutawney). Stouffer stepped on the bag before throwing to Paulinellie, who tagged the runner from first to end the inning.
The Bishops kept "battling" and scored an unearned in the eighth to reduce the Behrend lead to 4-3. Padgett reached on a bunt single and, with two out, Slate allowed Brad Pennington's line single to center get behind him, scoring Padgett and sending Pennington to third. But Jones got Jackson Hobbs to fly out, leaving the tying run at third.
The Lions scored three insurance runs – all unearned - in the bottom of the eighth while hitting only one ball out of the infield. Stouffer was hit by a pitch and Dom Charletta (West Newton, PA/Yough) bunted for a hit. Two infield errors and an RBI single by Wagner finished Davis and brought in senior right-hander Kevin Williams. Williams threw one pitch to Jones who tapped into a fielder's choice.
Behrend will play the loser of the ensuing game, between the region's two unbeaten teams – Rowan and Marietta - either tonight if Marietta wins or tomorrow (should Rowan win). Note: Marietta can't play three games in one day.
This is Penn State Behrend's 6th trip to the NCAAs, the first since 2013. This was North Carolina Wesleyan's 21st trip to the regionals and first appearance since 2009. The Battling Bishops had played in twelve World Series (the last in 2006) and had two national titles to their credit (1989 and 1999).
Rochester and St. John Fisher, whose softball teams played for a regional title last weekend at Behrend, were the first two teams eliminated from the baseball regional yesterday.
Former Pirate reliever Kent Tekulve is a late 60's Marietta College alum. The Pioneers' press box is part of the "Kent Tekulve Media Bldg".
The Marietta College baseball field sits adjacent Mulholland Drive, named for Pioneers' alum and former major league pitcher Terry Mulholland, who contributed to the installation of the field's lights.
Head Coach Paul Benim post-game: "I'm proud of my guys. They never quit. We defeated a very good team today."
Starting pitcher Ryan Weaver: "I don't know why but we seem to play our best baseball with our backs to the wall."
Shortstop Braden Paulinellie: "I thought it was important again to get on the board in the first inning. Everyone is contributing in some way."