Nittany Lions take season opener vs. Valley Forge

Brett Kosciolek at first base for the Nittany Lions.
Brett Kosciolek at first base for the Nittany Lions.

Flemmington, Nj. - February baseball. Words not often spoken in Hazleton, Pa. but the 2020 Nittany Lions took advantage of last weekend's most recent warm spell for some early season action against the University of Valley Forge at the Diamond National Sports Complex in New Jersey. Hazleton stormed out of the gates and held off a late rally by Valley Forge to take game one of the double-header, then outlasted the Defenders in a 10 inning marathon, getting a one-out walk off single from sophomore Scott Shamany (Hazleton, Pa.) to sweep the series with a 2-1 victory in game two. 

Game 1: Penn State Hazleton 9, University of Valley Forge 6 - Final, 7 Innings


Hazleton kicked off the 2020 regular season with a four-run opening frame. RBI base hits by sophomore Brandon Hardiman (Hunlock Creek, Pa.) and junior Colin Stauffer (West Hazleton, Pa.) started the scoring, paving the way for a two run blast by sophomore Wyatt Kindler (Mountain Top, Pa.) later in the inning. Hazleton would go on to surrender a pair of runs in the bottom half of the first two innings, later were able to extend their lead back to a comfortable margin. After an RBI single by junior Brett Kosciolek (Tamaqua, Pa.) gave Hazleton a 5-2 lead, the Lions took advantage of Defender miscue, getting two-out hits from freshman James Conza (Bushkill, Pa.) and Hardiman to take an 8-2 edge. 

Hazleton would cruise through the middle innings defensively and get a late insurance tally off the bat of sophomore Nick Vital before entering the final half inning. But the last three outs would prove to be the most difficult of the game. Freshman hurler Mark Kokinda (Lansford, Pa.) ran into trouble after issuing a walk to start off the frame, followed by an infield miscue that would wind up extending the inning. Valley Forge worked a walk to notch their first score since early in the game and a productive ground ball secured the second score of the frame, cutting the deficit to five runs. With two outs, Valley Forge's Thomas Bost, knocked in a pair of scores with single to center field, but with one on and two out, Kokinda fanned the next hitter to lock up the victory. 

Hardiman led the Hazleton offense with a 2-for-3 effort, totaling three RBI and a run scored. Kindler finished 2-for-3 as well, adding a run scored on his second trip to the base paths. Other top performers for Hazleton included James Conza who went 1-for-3 with two runs scored and one RBI and Colin Stauffer with a line of 1-for-2 with two runs scored and one RBI. Scott Shamany picked up the team's first win with two solid innings pitched of middle relief, allowing no hits or runs scored while striking out three hitters. 

Game 2: Penn State Hazleton 2, University of Valley Forge 1 - Final, 10 Innings

Saturday's finale turned out to be a pitcher's duel between Valley Forge's Jeffery Espinal and a trio of Hazleton arms. Espinal allowed just one unearned run over an impressive nine and two thirds innings of work, piling up 13 strike outs while giving up just four hits. His lone blemish through the first nine innings of play came on a sacrifice bunt by freshman Mason Goida (Lansford, Pa.) in the second inning. The Valley Forge lefty would blank Hazleton for the next seven frames, adding a run saving snag of a line drive off the bat of Hazleton freshman catcher Bryce Dalpiaz (Liverpool, Pa.). 

For the Nittany Lions, a combination of pitchers proved effective in shutting down the opposition. Brandon Hardiman led off for Hazleton, throwing three innings of clean sheet baseball with three strikeouts. Brett Kosciolek came in for relief work in the fourth frame but back to back hits by the Defender's squared the game at 1-1. Kosciolek would settle in after allowing the run, striking out the next four hitters he faced and limiting Valley Forge to the lone tally. From the sixth inning on it would be up to Ryan Wingerter (Dingman's Ferry) to blank the Defenders and the did not dissapoint. Wingerter made the most of an outfield assist at the plate by Kokinda to end the sixth frame and from that point on, Wingerter would allow just two hits over the next four frames until the Lions would finally get to Espinal in the 10th. 

Espinal retired the first two hitters in earnest, but a clutch double by Conza extended the frame, turning a benign inning into a instant threat. Valley Forge would issue a walk to bypass the red hot Kindler and create a force out situation, but Scott Shamany would make the Defenders pay with just the fourth Hazleton hit of the game. Shamany lined a single to center field, allowing Conza to score easily from second base and locking up the second win of the afternoon. 

Next up: Hazleton is off until Sunday, March 1 when they travel to Media, Pa. to face Williamson College of the Trades.