The odds say it's nearly impossible, but the Penn State baseball team doesn't care about odds. In the first game of their season-ending doubleheader against Michigan State on Friday, the Nittany Lions pulled off not one, but two triple plays in a single game, a feat that had only happened one time before in NCAA Division I baseball history.
The first triple play happened in the fourth inning, when Spartan designated hitter Blaise Salter smoked a line drive to shortshop Jim Haley, who stepped on second and threw across to first for a relatively simple 6-3 triple play. In the eighth inning, they flipped the script to the other side for the second triple play. MSU's Jimmy Pickens hit a liner to second baseman Taylor Skerpon, who started a 4-6-3 triple-killing.
On both occasions, Michigan State played it aggressive by starting the runners hoping to avoid a groundball double play. When that happens, you do run the risk of a triple play if it's a line drive right at an infielder. With that in mind though, they had to be thinking lightning couldn't strike twice in the same place on the same afternoon after the first triple play happened, but they were proven wrong on Friday.
As mentioned, this represents the second time in NCAA Division I history that a team turned two triple plays in one game. According to the Associated Press, Gonzaga was the first back in 2006 in a game against Washington State.
Also notable, Penn State entered the game with one triple play already on the season. West Virginia actually had two, so Penn State leapfrogged them for the most triple plays in college baseball.
Pretty remarkable when you consider how rare triple plays are in general. Just looking at MLB, since the 2010 season we've only seen 13 total triple plays, or an average of just over three per year for the entire league. It's a different level of play, sure. Coaches are probably a little more aggressive at the college level because of the expected drop off in defensive ability. Still, a lot has to line up for a triple play to come together, so you can essentially say Penn State won the lottery twice on Friday.
Perhaps the most amazing part though. Despite getting six outs on two quick plays, Penn State still went on to lose that game 4-2, and then they turned around and lost the second game 4-1, falling to 1-17 over their past 18 games. If they could trade those two triple plays for two wins, we're guessing they'd do it a heartbeat.
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