Berks takes NEAC championship

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LEWISBURG, PA - The Penn State Berks baseball team took down Penn College, 7-4, in the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) Championship game on Sunday afternoon at Depew Field on the campus of Bucknell University. The Nittany Lions won their third NEAC title in four years and earn the fourth straight trip to the NCAA Regional Tournament.

Berks improves to 20-19 on the year, marking the third straight season reaching the 20-win plateau. The Nittany Lions entered the final day of the conference tournament needing to be beaten twice, but they took care of business right away. They defeated Penn College, 13-1, in the first round and followed it up with a thrilling 9-8 victory in 11 innings over Penn State Abington on the second day.

The Nittany Lions did not waste any time getting on the board, putting across the first run of the game in the bottom of the first. Cory Fox and Dalton Hughes drew walks to start the inning and Toby Welk beat the throw on a sacrifice bunt attempt for a hit to load up the bases with no outs. Zach Reis grounded into a double play, but Fox was able to score to give Berks a 1-0 edge.

In the bottom of the second, Seth Endy was hit by a pitch and stole second to get into scoring position. With two outs, Troy Salerno lifted a single to left field to score Endy from second and bring the lead to 2-0.

Starting pitcher Steven Varner cruised through the first two innings, before running into some trouble in the top of the third. The senior left-hander got the leadoff batter to fly out to right field, before the Wildcats (25-13) loaded up the bases with a pair of walks and a catcher's interference call. The next got an infield single followed by a walked batter that  forced in a run with the bases loaded, Berks then turned to Brandon Griesemer coming out of the bullpen. The lefty got an out at first on a sacrifice bunt, but Penn College was able to get a run in to take a 3-2 lead. After a walk loaded the bases back up, Griesemer ended the threat with a strikeout.

In the bottom of the fourth, John McGarvey was hit by a pitch, Endy was walked, and Austin Madeja was plunked to load up the bases. Salerno evened up the game with an RBI single to left to score McGarvey and Fox delivered a sacrifice fly to deep center field to score Endy to put Berks ahead 4-3.

The Wildcats knotted the game at 4-all with a two out single by Evan Vigna to score Ben Flicker, who singled and stole second base earlier in the inning.

The score would remain that way until the bottom of the eighth inning. McGarvey was again hit by a pitch to start off the inning. Endy followed with a sacrifice attempt down the first base line that was perfectly placed to turn into a bunt single. Madeja came to the plate and immediately squared around to show bunt, but in mid-pitch pulled back a sliced a triple down the right field line to bring in McGarvey and Endy. Salerno added another clutch hit with a single just inside the right field foul line to easily score Madeja from third and give Berks a 7-4 lead.

Griesemer then got a fly to right field that Madeja made a long run on and finished with a diving catch for out number one. Griesemer then got a pair of routine flies to Fox in center field to seal the win. The bench quickly piled onto the field and the entire team celebrated its second straight conference title on the infield grass.

Griesemer finished the game with a season-high 6.2 innings of work to improve to 3-0 on the season. It was the left-handers first pitching appearance since picking up the win in a non-conference game against Immaculata University on April 26. Griesemer scattered four hits in his relief outing, allowing just one run and one walk, while striking out two batters.

Salerno finished the game 3-for-3 with three RBI, while Endy went 1-for-2 with three runs scored and Welk collected two hits. Welk was named the NEAC Tournament MVP after going 4-for-15 with three RBI, three runs scored, one stolen base, and one double. In the field, Welk provided his typical stellar defense at third with six putouts and nine assists.

The Nittany Lions will find out where they will go for the NCAA Tournament during the selection release tonight at midnight. Please check back on the website for more information throughout the week.