The Panthers won a 4-3 affair at Henry Aaron Field Sunday afternoon to complete a three-game sweep of defending Horizon League tournament champion Youngstown State. Offense was the most significant factor in the sweep for the Panthers, who are now winners of five straight.
In the first game on Friday, Milwaukee won 16-8, thanks largely to seven combined runs batted in by left fielder Sam Koenig and catcher Daulton Varsho, and some lackluster pitching control by the Youngstown State.
The Penguins walked 11 batters during the game and threw 5 wild pitches, all of the latter by reliever Ryan Smith, who gave up six earned runs in two-thirds innings pitched. Smith was inserted after starter Jared Wight somehow lasted four and one-thirds innings, giving up 10 earned runs and six of the 11 walks.
But, it was not just poor Youngstown State pitching that gave the Panthers their large run total. Milwaukee was swinging the bats well, and it started right away.
Panthers’ center fielder Luke Meeteer walked to begin the bottom of the first inning, and then right fielder Derek Peake doubled, sending Meeteer to third. Koenig walked to load the bases, then third baseman Tyler Hermann singled in Meeteer. The next hitter, designated hitter Mike Porcaro, hit into a fielder’s choice that made it 2-0. After second baseman Tell Taylor was hit by a pitch, Varsho singled, scoring Porcaro and Koenig.
The hitting clinic continued into the second. Meeteer singled and advanced to second on an error and then Peake singled him to third. Koenig then stepped in and hit another single, scoring Meeteer. After Hermann whiffed, Porcaro singled and Peake scored from second. Taylor then hit into a fielder’s choice, and Varsho followed with a single that scored Porcaro. Milwaukee led 7-0 after two frames.
The Penguins slightly responded to the outburst by scoring two runs in the top of the third after three singles and a hit batter by Panthers’ starter Brian Keller.
After a scoreless fourth for both teams, Milwaukee erupted in the fifth, though mostly due to a complete lack of control by Youngstown State.
Keller set the Penguins down 1-2-3 then the Panthers scored nine runs, all of them off of Smith (though the first three runners were given up by Wight). After a single, steal and two walks, Koenig doubled in two runs, then he and Peake scored on two wild pitches as part of a walk to Hermann. Porcaro then walked and he and Hermann advanced on the third wild pitch of the inning. After that, Hermann scored on yet another wild pitch, this one completing the third consecutive walk, Taylor the beneficiary. Varsho then came through with his fourth RBI with a single that scored Porcaro once again. Two fielder’s choices and two walks (one hit by pitch) contributed to three more runs and the Panthers led 16-2 after the fifth with only three hits in the inning.
Milwaukee cruised from there, though relievers Chaz Schmidt and Zach Brenner struggled mightily in the last two innings as Youngstown State scored six runs in those two frames to narrow the final score to 16-8.
Coach Scott Doffek spoke about how the early momentum carried his team to victory.
“I thought it was important jumping out ahead early like we did,” he said. “Putting up seven runs in two innings gave Keller a great opportunity to go out and relax and continue to put zeroes up on the board.”
The second game saw a closer outcome and quieter bats, though the Panthers still hit the ball well and came up with timely runs, as they never trailed.
Like the first game, the Panthers were the first to strike offensively. After two scoreless innings from each team, Milwaukee broke through in the third.
Meeteer hit a single towards third base, then stole second. Koenig then drew a walk, and Hermann singled to load the bases. After that, Porcaro doubled to the left-center gap, scoring Koenig and Meeteer for a 2-0 lead.
The Penguins quickly responded with a run in the fourth on an RBI single by first baseman Brent Gillespie that cut the Panther lead in half.
Milwaukee would again regain its two-run lead in the fifth on a solo home run by Koenig and would double that lead in the seventh.
After some Youngstown State fielding switches and a pitching change, the Panthers went to work with a walk and a steal by shortstop Ryan McShane. After that, Peake hit a single that scored McShane, and then he went on to steal second. After Koenig struck out swinging, Hermann hit another single that would score Peake, and then he stole second as well. However, Porcaro was caught looking, and the inning was over. Milwaukee took a 5-1 lead into the eighth.
However, the Penguins were nowhere near done.
The Panthers pulled starter Joe Pavlovich after seven innings pitched and one earned run, but reliever Gunnar Eastman struggled mightily in the eighth. He began the inning with two walks, and then left fielder Alex Larivee doubled in the two runners. After a strike out and a sacrifice fly that sent Larivee to third, Eastman surrendered another walk. Doffek pulled Eastman after this and put in closer Cody Peterson. Peterson proceeded to give up the tying hit to pinch hitter Lorenzo Arcuri on a triple that once again cleared the bases. After that, Peterson induced a line-out, but the damage was done, as Youngstown State was able to tie the game.
Milwaukee couldn’t respond in the home half of the eighth, and Peterson had a scoreless ninth. This set up a shining moment for Taylor.
After Koenig drew a base on balls and Hermann was hit by a pitch, the Panthers’ second baseman singled to left to score Koenig for the walk-off hit, as Milwaukee prevailed, 6-5.
“It starts with Pav – just a great start,” Doffek said, following the dramatic win. “He threw the ball well. We took that 5-1 lead into the eighth and the strike zone got away from us a little bit and we gave up a couple of big hits. To their credit, they didn’t give up and quit playing, they tied that thing up. And then to our credit, we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves. Tell had lined out two or three times in the game, so it was a matter of staying focused and staying with it and he finally got rewarded when it really counted.”
The third and final game was the most suspenseful, as the Panthers came from behind twice to win.
The Penguins kicked off the scoring in the third on some suspect infield play by Milwaukee. Panthers’ shortstop Eric Solberg committed the first error of the inning, allowing Youngstown State second baseman Kevin Hix to reach first. The next hitter, center fielder Frank Califano, bunted a single that advanced Hix all the way to third thanks to a throwing error by Taylor. Larivee walked, and then third baseman Josh Fitch lined out to center, deep enough to allow Hix to tag home.
Milwaukee responded in the fifth inning.
Porcaro singled to center, then Taylor hit another single up the middle, allowing Porcaro to advance to third. Hermann subsequently walked to load the bases, and then first baseman Nick Unes hit a sac fly to score Porcaro. The next two hitters struck out, leaving the game tied at one apiece.
The Penguins responded off of Panthers’ reliever Cal Haley, who replaced starter Justin Langley after Langley went six innings allowing only one unearned run. However, that response was largely due to miscues from Milwaukee.
Taylor committed his second and the team’s third error when he missed a throw to first base after bobbling a grounder from Hix. Califano then singled to advance Hix to second. After a foul out to right field, Fitch singled to load the bases. Haley then threw a wild pitch to allow all runners to advance, with Hix scoring his second unearned run.
The Panthers were able to take control of the game in their half of the seventh, as Youngstown State reliever Austin Lujano replaced starter Jeremy Quinlan but only lasted through one out.
Taylor reached on an error by Penguins’ shortstop Shane Willoughby, and then he stole second. Hermann then doubled him in. After that, Unes once again came up big, hitting another double that scored Hermann. After Solberg hit a sac bunt to advance Unes, Youngstown State pulled Lujano for Josh North, who then threw a passed ball, allowing Unes to score and the Panthers to take a 4-2 lead.
After a scoreless eighth for both teams, Milwaukee brought in Peterson to close down the win. He did, but not without a scare.
Califano led the inning off with a double, and then Larivee singled him in to bring the deficit to one. However, Peterson settled down, as he got the next three hitters out for his eighth save of the season.
Doffek was not as impressed with his team’s hitting in the final game, but, while he was critical of some of the lack of control, he thought his pitching was adequate enough.
“We didn’t swing the bats very good, they pitched very well, but we got some timely, executed swings,” he said. “And, even though Justin (Langley) didn’t throw the ball great, I don’t think he gave up an earned run. And if you don’t give up an earned run, you should be in a position to win a baseball game.”
In addition, Doffek thought the defense needed much improvement.
Unes spoke on his timely hitting.
“I was just trying to be locked in, knowing the situation,” he said. “The bases were loaded, and I got my sac fly. He threw me a first pitch slider for a strike, and your approach should then be a two-strike approach. So I was taking that approach and wanted to get the ball to the outfield to score the one run, as it was a one-run game. And then, with the double, they had the lefty in for a lefty-lefty matchup, guy on second. I figured he was going to try and get me to chase something early, so he gave me a slider, I laid off. I was just trying to get him to third, so I was looking for a pitch inside, and I got it and hit it down the line.”
With the sweep, the Panthers move to 22-12, 9-8 in Horizon League play with a road game at Northwestern followed by a return to the Hank for a contest with Wisconsin Lutheran. Then, they hit the road for a three-game set with UIC.