Temple overcame a five-zero deficit after two innings to tie the game at seven in the eighth before prevailing,11-9, in the 11th innig to spoil Penn’s 2012 home debut.
By Scott Samuel David Weiss
UNIVERSITY CITY, Pa.- Following a disappointing 9-7 defeat at the hands of visiting LaSalle on Tuesday March 13, the Owls had fewer than 22 hours to regroup before their next Big Five showdown at Pennsylvania’s Meiklejohn Stadium on Wednesday, March 14.
Temple’s defeat by LaSalle had been the final game of a four-game homestand at Ambler’s Skip Wilson Field, in which the Owls outscored opponents, 29-28. Penn, which made its 2012 home debut in front of nearly 100 spectators, played eight consecutive road contests to begin this season, and they have been outscored 62-38.
After the Owls fell short in their comeback attempt against LaSalle a day before (in which Temple rallied trailing 8-0 to trailing 8-7), Temple had been bailed by a game-tying three-run sayonara by redshirt-senior third basemen Steve Nikorak in the bottom of the eighth to knot the score at seven.
The Owls and Quakers could not tally another run in their frames of the ninth, sending this Big Five contest to extra innings, where the visiting Owls prevailed against the host Quakers, 11-9, snapping a two-game skid.
The visiting Owls began the game with a fifth-pitch hit-by-pitch to Jordan Queja by Penn righty Connor Cuff to lead off the first. However, Cuff’s next three batters saw nine pitches, including strikeouts of Nikorak and Elijah Yarborough. In the bottom of the first, Owls righty Ryan Kuehn, making his first start of 2012, struggled after retiring Brandon Engelhardt on a right field flyout. Then, the Quakers’ Greg Zerback had been hit on his back on a cutter from Kuehn, and Spencer Branigan followed with a single.
There had been two on and one out with the count at two balls and two strikes when Quaker Ryan Dietrich, Penn’s leading hitter at .393, sent a screamer to deep left field onto the protection screen over the 365 mark for a three-run sayonara to put Penn leading 3-0. One more run crossed for the hosts on a Foster Dunigan Error, which had Derek Vigoa score from second for a Penn 4-0 advantage.
Connor Reilly’s one-out single in the Owls’ top of the second wiith one out turned into a pickled when he was caught between second and third, and Matt Elko grounded out to second. Engelhardt walked, stole second, reached third on a Kuehn misthrow to first, and scored on a Zerback sacrifice fly for a 5-0 Quaker lead after two.
Temple nor Penn scored in the third, which included a one-two-three inning from Kuehn in the bottom half. First-year coach Ryan Wheeler saw his Owls find their groove off Cuff in the top of the fourth, receiving two runs on two hits, including an RBI double from Elko that brought in Reilly, cutting the Penn edge to 5-2. Kuehn allowed an infield single to Kyle Toomey in the bottom half, but Toomey had been caught stealing second to end the frame.
“Let’s stay up now and get in this game,” Wheeler yelled at his players while approaching the bottom half of the fourth.
Additional chances of trimming Penn’s lead in the top of the frame began with Dunigan walking, but Queja grounded into a five-six-three double play. Nick Lustrino drew the Owls’ second walk of the inning before Nikorak struck out swinging.
Entering the bottom of the fifth, Wheeler removed Kuehn after four innings of four hits, five runs (four earned), one walk, and one strikeout. Steve Visnic, a sidearm righty, replaced Kuehn and did not disappoint as Visnic yielded two hits without a run along with one walk and two strikeouts. Zebrack gave the Quakers a runner in scoring position in the fifth by smoking a double off the right field wall from a Visnic offering.
“Don’t you let much go in,” Wheeler yelled at Visnic after he yielded Zebrack’s double. “Find your pitch.”
The Owls had an opportunity to chase Penn’s lead in the top of the six as Matt Gotschall replaced Cuff. Cuff pitched five innings, allowing four hits, two runs (both earned), three walks, and five strikeouts. However,Gottschall had been relieved by Quaker lefty John Beasley after Gotschall yielded singles to Taylor Juran, who has hit safely in 15 of 16 games in 2012, and Matt Elko, and Gotschall loaded the bases by walking Jabir Kahn. Dunigan, seizing the opportunity to drive in Owls, grounded out to the second baseman.
Unlike the top of the sixth, the Owls drove in runners in the top of the seven to cut their defecit to 5-4, in which they faced three Penn relievers. Beasely threw two-thirds additionally, Stephen Selvestri could not record an out by allowing a two-RBI single to Juran, and Cody Thompson allowed a single to Reilly and walk to Elko to load the bases for Kahn.
Before Juran’s seventh-inning at-bat, Reilly told him, “All it takes is one bat.”
Khan had been the batter at the plate with the bases loaded and two outs, but he struck out on three pitches. The hosts extended their lead, 7-4, in the bottom of the seventh, with a two-run homerun by Branigan.
Penn held onto the lead for only half an inning before the homerun by Nikorak, which marked his first roundtripper of the season.
Penn(3-6,0-1 Big Five) had won the previous three meetings against the Owls(6-10, 1-1 Big Five). Also, the Quakers finished their 2011 home slate at Meiklejohn Stadium with nine victories against six defeats.
The Owls will have a day off to celebrate a rally that did not fall short before hosting St. Peters of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) at Skip Wilson Field on Friday March 16.
Scott Samuel David Weiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.