By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State (1-5) suffered a setback in its second series at Liberty last weekend, falling short in all three contests against the Flames. Despite the result, the Nittany Lions are looking to build on the positives and learn from the negatives.
Game one saw Penn State take the lead in the first inning as sophomore first baseman J.J. White singled with two outs and runners on first and second to score freshman left fielder James Coates. The Nittany Lions played to their strengths by using speed and consistency to manufacture a run early.
Senior pitcher Dave Walkling held Liberty at bay, posting an impressive performance and throwing six innings, allowing just one run on three hits with four strikeouts.
Penn State threatened again in the second inning, putting a runner on first and second with two outs, but Coates flied out to centerfield to end the inning. The Nittany Lions outhit the Flames 9-6 on the afternoon.
Liberty caught fire with one out in the seventh inning when junior Danny Grauer struck out swinging, but reached first on a wild pitch. A single moved him to second and a walk loaded the bases for senior Trey Wimmer, batting .500 on the year, who singled tp plate a pair of RBIs. The Flames would score three in the inning, which sealed the 4-1 victory despite a ninth-inning rally by the Nittany Lions.
Penn State's struggles continued on Sunday as Liberty, who defeated fifth-ranked South Carolina last weekend, scored 12 runs in the second game of the series, seven in the seventh inning alone, and put the game out of reach for an offense that was having a hard time finding a consistent rhythm.
Following the loss, the Nittany Lions had to regroup in under an hour for the second game of the double header. Confidence shaken, Penn State fell behind 3-0 early in the third game of the series and was unable to recover.
It was a forgettable series for the coaches and players who were just beginning an 18-game road stretch that won't get any easier. The key for the Nittany Lions will be to remain calm and focus on one game at a time.
Despite struggling early, Penn State is a young team. The coaches and players are searching for an identity on offense and are trying to solidify a pitching staff that will compete when Big Ten play arrives.
The Nittany Lions have already seen veterans set the tone both offensively and defensively. Senior Matt Paradise has started three games at third base with a flawless fielding percentage and a .333 batting average. Walkling leads the pitching staff in innings pitched (12.0) and leads the starting rotation in ERA at 3.00.
Young talent has emerged as a number of players battle for starting spots. Sophomore Taylor Skerpon leads the team in batting average at .357 followed by Coates, who has started in all six games thus far, with a .350 clip. Sophomore J.C. Coban leads the team with five RBIs, bolstered by a homerun and a .292 batting average.
On the mound, freshman Jack Anderson has thrown three scoreless innings, allowing just one hit. Sophomore transfer Ryan Harper has pitched in five and one-third innings and boasts a 3.38 ERA.
Penn State has faced adversity before and every challenge and obstacle offers an opportunity to learn and grow. As the season progresses, the pieces will fall into place, because the talent is there and it's very early in the 56-game schedule.
With the approach of an eight-game spring break trip to Texas, the Nittany Lions look to gather momentum before returning north for the start of the home season followed by the Big Ten season.