Record-breaking year for Berks baseball comes to end at NCAA regional

READING, Pa. — The Penn State Berks baseball team had its stellar 2018 season come to a close after battling to the very end in a 4-1 setback to Western New England University on May 18 at the NCAA Regional Tournament.

The Nittany Lions had a quick turnaround for Friday's 10 a.m. contest after the previous night's game at UMass-Boston was not completed until late in the night. Despite the early morning, Berks had put itself in a position to compete until the last out.

The Golden Bears (32-14) scored a pair of unearned runs in the top of the first inning and added another run during a double play in the top of the fourth.

Starting pitcher Bob Hamel limited the Berks lineup in the early going. The Nittany Lions had a runner reach base by walk in the second, but he was caught stealing during the next at-bat. Dante Salerno notched the first hit of the game off Hamel with a line-drive single to center field with one out in the bottom of the fifth, but he was left on first.

In the bottom of the sixth, Eric Gale led off with a single down the left-field line and Pearce Harhigh followed with a single through the left side. Cory Fox put down a sacrifice bunt that was mishandled to allow Berks to load the bases. Hamel limited the damage by getting a double play, but Gale was able to score on the play to make it a 3-1 game. Toby Welk drew a walk to put runners on the corners, but Hamel escaped the jam with an inning-ending strikeout.

Berks relief pitcher Alex Laudenslager worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the top of the seventh and the Berks offense went back to work in the bottom half of the frame. Salerno had a leadoff single to right center and moved up on a groundout to first by Austin Madeja. Hamel, however, again worked out of trouble with another strikeout.

In the bottom of the eighth, Fox reached on a single deep in the hole between second and third with one out and moved up to second on a wild pitch. With two outs on the board, Welk roped a ball in the right-center gap, but the wind knocked the ball down enough for the center fielder to make the inning-ending play.

Western New England added a run in the top of the ninth to build a three-run cushion. Mason Pennypacker kept the game alive with a two-out single to right field, but the Golden Bears shortstop made an athletic play on the run to get the final out and give Sean Halligan the save.

Starting pitcher Tyler Comport (7-1) worked out of trouble in the opening 5.1 innings of the game. The senior right-hander scattered just four hits and allowed three runs, one earned, while striking out four batters. Laudenslager was solid in 3.2 innings of relief, allowing four hits and one run, while also striking out four hitters.

The Nittany Lions will bid farewell to the most successful senior class in program history. Comport, Fox, Harhigh, and Damian Mace were a part of three NEAC champion teams and went to the NCAA tournament in all four years of their career. In those four years, the team compiled a win-loss record of 90-63-1 (.588) overall and 46-16 (.742) in the conference.

The 2018 team set the program record for most wins in a season with 25, as well as most conference wins in a season with 17. They also have the single-season school record for team batting average (.342), on-base percentage (.455), triples (23), walks (238), opponent batting average against (.265), and shutouts (five).

Welk finished with the school record for batting average (.492), slugging percentage (1.025), on-base percentage (.599), and home runs (13). Dalton Hughes tied the program record for walks in a season with 35. Sean Pavlik had a program-best two shutouts, while Comport ranked second in a season in ERA (2.06), batting average against (.186), and wins (seven).

While the senior class will be sorely missed, the Nittany Lions again have a bright future to look forward to with their returning class and incoming freshmen and transfers.