PSU DuBois captures 4th national title in dominant fashion (2024)

DUBOIS — Not even the best Hollywood writer could have scripted what the Penn State DuBois baseball team accomplished in the 2023 season, given all the adversity and subplots the Nittany Lions overcame to capture their fourth USCAA national title in five seasons late Thursday night on their home turf at Showers Field.

The team limped out of the gate for a multitude of reasons and sat at 4-11, including 0-5 in conference play, near the midway point of the regular season. A wild 13-11 victory against Penn State Fayette in the second game of a doubleheader at home on April 2 proved to be the turning point of the season.

And, the rest as they say, was history — improbable as it may have been.

That win against Fayette proved to be the catalyst for an impressive run to close out the season — one that saw the Nittany Lions win 26 of the their final 28 games, including a perfect 9-0 postseason showing in the PSUAC Tournament and Small College World Series.

Penn State DuBois (30-13), the No. 9 seed for the World Series, punctuated that improbable postseason performance by dismantling third-seeded Cincinnati-Clermont, 17-3, in a full 9-inning championship game Thursday night in front of its home fans. Under USCAA rules, the mercy rule is not used in the national title game, which also is a 9-inning contest, not the typical seven, used in the rest of the tournament.

And fittingly, the Nittany Lions captured that dominant title game victory in true Penn State DuBois style by using strong pitching and defense coupled with their aggressive “small ball” approach to leave no doubt who the best team in the country was in the USCAA.

All told, veteran coach Tom Calliari used 21 different players, including six pitchers, as the Lions notched their fourth national title in five seasons (2020 was postponed due to COVID) while making their seventh straight appearance in the World Series since the program was re-instituted prior to the 2016 campaign.

Offensively, Penn State DuBois churned out 15 hits — 14 singles and 1 double — with nine different players posting a hit and seven collecting at least one RBI. The Lions jumped out to a 6-0 lead, scoring two runs in each of the first three innings before really pouring it on late with four runs in the seventh and seven more in the eight to break the game wide open.

That was more than enough offense for a pitching staff that allowed just 15 runs in five games — only six in the final three games — as DuBois collected win against No. 8 D’Youville (10-5), top-seeded Miami-Hamilton (5-4), fourth-seeded PSUAC rival PSU Mont Alto (2-0) and then two against third-seeded Clermont (9-3, 17-3).

“This one (title) is the most gratifying for sure,” said Calliari. “I said before we lulled them to sleep a little bit, but we may have almost lulled ourselves to sleep (to start the season). Honestly, it is the most gratifying from where we started. These guys struggled for the first 15 games of the year. We were really banged up injury-wise, and they are very young and had to learn how to play the game the correct way.

“We did not hit one home run in this tournament. Not one, and we played the game the right way. We executed bunts, played small ball. The pitchers executed, and we didn’t walk many guys at all and played tremendous defense. That’s what wins championships. I mean, we threw up 17 runs off a very good team.

“These other teams come in here, and honestly, they make fun of the distance of the field (outfield dimensions) and just try to hit home runs. But, they don’t play the game the right way. People complain about us being here, but if you play the game the right way, you won’t lose. And, we do it the right way on the field, and our guys conduct themselves in a high character manner. So, I’m very proud of how far they have come both on the field and as people.”

Having started all his big guns on the mound in the first four games, Calliari turned to freshman lefty Christian Hopp to toe the rubber in the championship game and got a performance reminiscent of then-sophom*ore Brandon Orsich, who started and won the 2018 national title game (team’s first crown). Like Orsich then, Hopp pitched very early this season before missing a significant portion of the year due to injury. However, like Orsich (current assistant coach), Hopp was cleared to return late in the year and was available to pitch when it mattered the most.

Hopp didn’t go as deep into his title game as Orsich (who threw 7 1/3 innings in win vs. The Apprentice School), but the freshman did toss four-plus strong innings in a no-decision. He allowing just one run (unearned) on four hits against a potent Cougars lineup as the Lions led 6-1 upon his exit.

Hopp’s big moment came in the town where his father Brian Hopp grew up and played baseball, so it was only fitting he was able to shine in the spotlight in DuBois. The elder Hopp played for DuBois Central Catholic, then DuBois Central Christian, where he graduated from in 1992.

“Christian Hopp hadn’t really been healthy and was probably about 90 percent,” said Calliari. “We got him cleared through the doc and his family, and he just said he was going to give me everything he had. I played against Brian (Hopp’s dad) in high school, and he was a tremendous player. Christian is a tough kid and he’s a really good pitcher. It was awesome for him to have that moment in his dad’s hometown. His dad wanted him to come here, and Christian performed. I think it was really special for them and their family.

“And, we talked about that being like when Orsich came back. He had the same type of freshman year as Orsich. I shut Orsich down for over a month, and started him in that championship game. He threw a little bit more than Christian, but it was the same kind of situation. And, both guys stepped up when we needed them the most.”

While Hopp was silencing the Clermont bats, his offense built that early 6-0 lead that would propel the Lions to the title.

DuBois used patience at the plate in the top of the first inning as it loaded the bases with two outs on a walk and two hit batsmen by Cougars starter Austin Lawson. Brandon Sicheri then ripped a two-run single to right to get DuBois off and running to a 2-0 lead. By rule, DuBois was the visiting team in the first title game despite being the undefeated team because it was the lower seed.

The Lions did some more two-out damage in the second as Colby Bodtorf and Kyle Elensky drew back-to-back walks to extend the inning. Bodtorf also walked in the first, while Elensky was hit by a pitch. Freshman Grant Lillard delivered a single to plate Bodtorf before Elensky raced home on a wild pitch to make it 4-0.

Sicheri got things started the third with a leadoff walk. He promptly stole second and scored two batters late when Tylor Herzing, who started in place of the injured Brett Beith, singled to center. Herzing later scored yet another two-out run for the Lions when Bodtorf beat out an infield hit. All told, DuBois scored eight runs with two outs in the game.

Trailing 6-0, Clermont finally broke through against Hopp with a run in the bottom of the fourth.

Bubba Allen and Dylan Thatcher opened the inning with back-to-back singles. Hopp countered with an out before Dominic Wilson reached an error. Brian Zix followed with a fly ball to center that should have ended the inning but instead was a sac fly that scored courtesy runner Trey Watson. However, DuBois got out of the inning on the play as well as Bodtorf cut off the throw from the outfield and fired to second to get Wilson who tried to tag up and advance from first.

A leadoff walk to Bryce Rayner in the fifth spelled the end for Hopp, as Calliari turned to Ezeck Olinger in relief. He promptly got a grounder for a fielder’s choice to end Hopp’s slate for the day, but the Cougars managed to push two runs across against the righty on RBI singles by Allen and Thatcher to make it a 6-3 game. Olinger did notch the win in relief.

Cole Knable came on to get the final out of the fifth on a flyball before giving way to Owen Graham and Connor Cherry in the sixth, both of whom retired both batters they faced.

Cherry, who went the distance in the opening win vs. D’Youville, then worked into the ninth as he tossed 2 2/3 scoreless innings while allowing just two hits. He snagged a hard comebacker for the first out in the eighth, while Bodtorf made a sensational leaping catch on a line drive to end the eighth.

While Cherry was doing his thing late in the game, the DuBois offense erupted for 11 runs between the seventh and eighth innings — all after Clermont reliever Brandon Neff had kept the Lions off the board in the fourth, fifth and sixth in a 6-3 game.

The big blows in the seventh came from a pair of pinch-hitters, as Logan Wagner ripped a two-run double to left and Tanner LaBenne a two-run single to right with two outs to put the Lions up 10-3.

DuBois then iced the game for good with a huge seven-run eighth that saw 12 batters come to the plate.

Bodtorf had a two-run single in the frame, while Cory Lehman, Wagner, Herzing and Elensky all had run-scoring singles. Lillard added a sac fly to plate his team’s 17th and final run.

Wagner finished 2-for-2 with three RBIs after entering the game in the DH spot in the seventh. Bodtorf, Bryce Dobson, Lehman, Sicheri and Herzing all joined Wagner in having two hits in the win. Bodtorf had three RBIs, while Sicheri, Lillard, Herzing and LaBenne all drove in a pair.

Bodtorf was named the World Series MVP, while Sicheri (outfield), Lehman (first base), Wagner (pinch-hitter/DH) and Zack Tiracorda (pitcher) also were named to the All-Tournament team.

Holding a two-touchdown lead (17-3), Cherry retired the first batter of the ninth before Calliari brought in Mason Lieb. The sophom*ore lefty got two quick outs to finish off the win, striking out Tyler Gulley looking to end the game and jump-start the Lions’ championship celebration.

“Ezeck (Olinger) has been great out of the pen all year, but I thought the strike zone for him for that particular strike zone wasn’t conducive,” said Calliari. “So, we got him out of there and matched up righty and lefty with Knable and Graham, and they just bridged the gap to Cherry and Cherry was ready to go. And, I wanted Mason Lieb to throw the last couple outs because this is going to be his last collegiate game ever. They all threw strikes.”

The victory marked the first time in four World Series titles that DuBois didn’t need the if-necessary game to win the crown. The Lions have reached the finals all four of those years as the undefeated team.

The title game matchup was the second of the week and sixth all-time at the World Series between Penn State DuBois and Clermont. DuBois holds a 4-2 advantage in those games. Half of those matchups have come in national championship games, the Lions also beating the Cougars for the title in 2021 (10-5 victory) after Clermont had forced the if-necessary contest with a wild 11-10 win that year in the first championship game.

PENN STATE DUBOIS 17,

CINCINNATI-CLERMONT 3

Score by Innings

DuBois 222 000 470 — 17

Clermont 000 120 000 — 3

PSU DuBois—17

Collby Bodtorf ss 3323, Kyle Elensky 3b 4211, Grant Lillard c 3212, Bryce Dobson rf 4220, Cory Lehman 1b 5220, Brandon Sicheri cf-lf 3122, Cole Slaugenhoup ph 1000, Austin Mitchell cf 0000, Tyler Yough dh 3000, Logan Wagner ph-dh 2223, Dylan Treaster ph 1000, Christian Hopp p 0000, Ezeck Olinger p 0000, Cole Knable p 0000, Owen Graham p 0000, Connor Cherry p 0000, Mason Lieb p 0000, Tylor Herzing lf 5222, Nicholas Cagliola ph-lf 1000, Alex Gavlock 2b 2100, Tanner LaBenne ph 1012. Totals: 37-17-15-8.

Cincinnati-Clermont—3

Jack Deeds ss 5000, Grant Gillespie 2b 3100, Tyler Gulley ph 1000, Bubba Allen c 4041, Trey Watson cr 0100, Dylan Thatcher rf 3031, Logan Wilson dh-p 4000, Austin Lawson p 0000, Brandon Neff p 0000, Jacob Terwilleger p 0000, Dominic Wilson lf 4010, Brian Zix 3b 3001, Bryce Rayner 1b 2000, AJ Gillespie cf 3100, Austin Stigers ph 1000. Totals: 33-3-8-3.

Errors: DuBois 1, Clermont 1. LOB: DuBois 9, Clermont 7. DP: DP: DuBois 0, Clermont 1. 2B: Wagner; Allen. SF: Lillard, Zix. SAC: Sicheri; Rayner. SB: Bodtorf, Sicheri, Herzing. CS: Sicheri (by Allen).

Pitching

DuBois: Christian Hopp-4+ IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO; Ezeck Olinger-2/3 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO; Cole Knable-2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO; Owen Graham-1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO; Connor Cherry-2 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, Mason Lieb-2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO.

Clermont: Austin Lawson-3 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 5 BB, 4 SO; Brandon Neff-4 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO; Logan Wilson-1 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 5 R, 1 BB, 0 SO; Jacob Terwilliger-1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 SO.

Winning pitcher: Olinger. Losing pitcher: Lawson.

PSU DuBois captures 4th national title in dominant fashion (2024)
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