By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Seniors are the heart and soul of any collegiate athletic team and Penn State baseball is graduating six seniors this year who have been instrumental throughout their time as Nittany Lions.
These seniors have been around the game of college baseball for four
years. They know what it takes to
win. Their experience acts as a guide to
younger players as they are embraced into the Penn State tradition. Their contributions have come in many forms,
both on and off the field. This year's
senior class is lead by senior first baseman Jordan Steranka.
Steranka was drafted by the Astros at the end of his junior year and elected to return to Happy Valley for his senior season. He has fueled the fire on offense and is leading the team in batting average (.354), hits (68), RBIs (33) and is tied for the lead in homeruns (8) with his fellow senior Sean Deegan.
Playing baseball at the collegiate level taught Steranka a valuable lesson to go along with all of his accolades. He has learned that to be successful in life, as in baseball, people need to put in the effort required to accomplish their goals.
"That experience of every game has just really made me learn about the game and more about life in general," said Steranka. "You got to show up and give a hundred percent effort in anything you do."
In his four years as a Nittany Lion, Steranka has seen a number of different opponents, numerous dramatic victories and a rare no-hitter by junior Steven Hill at Iowa. What means the most to him, through all of it, are the bonds he has formed with his fellow teammates and the adventures they've had together.
"I think most of all the relationships you form with the teammates and the older guys that have already graduated," said Steranka on what he will remember in his years as a Nittany Lion. "There's been some big wins, some fun trips."
One player who has been a part of Steranka's journey from the very beginning is Sean Deegan. Deegan has been a force to be reckoned with both in the outfield as well as at the plate. Many of his eight homeruns have come when the team needed them most. Whether Penn State needed a spark on offense or a game-winning three-run blast with two outs in the bottom of the tenth against Ohio State, Deegan has been more than happy to oblige.
Naturally, the homerun versus the Buckeyes is a moment the senior will never forget. A picture taken by Deegan's friend of him throwing his helmet in the air as he approached home plate with his teammates ready to celebrate shows just how special the series-clenching hit was.
"Not only was it a huge moment for me personally, but everyone on the team looks ecstatic and just so happy in that one picture," said Deegan. "It just shows what a team really is in one little moment."
The best piece of advice Deegan has for his teammates is to stay positive, even when you're in a slump, because every pitch represents a new opportunity.
"One thing that I would tell [the players] is that baseball is a game where you can never really get down on yourself," said Deegan. "You can always get better and as bad as you think things are, you can always turn it around on the next pitch."
Sitting between Steranka and junior Steven Snyder at the top of the Nittany Lion batting order is senior Joey DeBernardis. With a team-high 14 doubles, accompanied by five homeruns, DeBernardis is another power hitter for opposing pitchers to fear. To go along with his hitting prowess, DeBerdardis's fielding capabilities solidified the left side of the infield after he moved from first to third at the start of the year.
For DeBernardis, Penn State will always hold a place in his heart. He has enjoyed his four years in college and is proud to be a Nittany Lion.
"Penn State's going to be in my life forever," said DeBernardis. "I'm always going to quote on quote 'bleed blue.' It's just been amazing and I wouldn't change one thing about my four years in college.
Representing the senior class on the mound is pitcher Mike Franklin. Franklin has been Penn State's premier midweek starter this year and his performance in the home opener against Pittsburgh helped pull Penn State out of a 3-14 start to the season. His weeknight performances set the tone for the Nittany Lions heading into the weekend series' versus Big Ten opponents.
"Franklin's been huge during midweek," said Steranka. "He's one of those guys that you know he is going to go out there and pitch a great game and give you a chance to win."
Two unsung heroes in this year's graduating class are senior transfer Sean Parvin and former closer Ryan Ignas. Parvin has been a key utility player for Penn State and his humorous personality defines the team's relaxed, optimistic culture on the field and in the locker room.
"Sean, he's a fun guy and keeps everything light-hearted in the locker room and Ignas helps out with the coaches during practices and everything," said Steranka. "Those two guys especially have really helped a lot."
Ignas was Penn State's ace closer last year before suffering a season-ending injury that also kept him from the mound during 2012. Losing him was devastating to a bullpen that needed a solid pitcher for the ninth inning. Nevertheless, Ignas found his home as a coach-like figure for younger pitchers. Despite his injury, he was there for his teammates every step of the way.
"(Ignas) is huge," said DeBernardis. "He's been here for four years too, so those young pitchers they can go to him because he's been in those situations."
With the final home series against Illinois this weekend, the seniors prepare to bid farewell to Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. They hope to make a lasting impression on a school that has taught them well and fans that have supported them through all four years.