By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Despite a strong offensive performance on Wednesday afternoon, Penn State (5-15, 0-3 Big Ten) dropped its home opener against Pittsburgh (16-6, 3-0 Big East), 10-8, at Medlar Field. The Nittany Lions found a rhythm at the plate and look to build on the experience when they face Purdue (7-14, 0-3 Big Ten) over the weekend.
Penn State took an early lead against the Panthers, as the team has done throughout the season, scoring five runs in the first inning. The Nittany Lions outhit Pittsburgh 10-9 and were able to manufacture eight runs using the same small-ball the coaches and players have been working on all year.
It was the fifth time Penn State has scored eight or more runs in a game, the previous four coming towards the end of a Spring Break trip when the hitters were able to find a rhythm after playing eight games in ten days.
Head coach Robbie Wine understands the importance of playing a lot of baseball to give his young team experience and the Nittany Lions needed a midweek game to prepare themselves for the next conference series, even if it had to be played in temperatures in the upper 30's.
"It's a lack of repetitions, it's a lack of being on the field, and it's a lack of game speed," said Wine, "and you can't simulate that. We're fighting it right now and they just have to keep their heads up and keep fighting."
The offense showed substantial improvement in the loss with seven of Penn State's starters recording a hit and five earning an RBI in the game. Senior third baseman Elliot Searer, who leads the team with a .364 batting average, and freshman left fielder James Coates each notched two hits, two RBIs and a run scored on the afternoon.
Searer's clutch moment came in the sixth inning with one out and runners on first and third. The senior executed a perfect bunt single to give the Nittany Lions an 8-7 lead. Unfortunately the Panthers tied the game in the seventh and took a 10-8 lead in the ninth inning to seal the victory.
On the defensive side, Penn State cycled through eight pitchers in an attempt to give players a chance to take the field before competing in the Big Ten again this weekend. Though the Lions gave up runs, it was crucial for the pitching staff to learn from the experience.
"I like our offense, I like our pitching too, and I like our defense," said Wine. "We're just not clicking on all cylinders. We came off our Spring Break trip, where we felt like we were clicking, and then we had to play inside and we had to start all over."
Penn State will try to take the field during practice tomorrow to work on repetition in preparation for the weekend series vs. the Boilermakers.
"We're just going to get out there and try to simulate some game situations on the field tomorrow," said Wine. "We're going to get on that grass and dirt again and just play baseball, get back to the fundamentals."
Purdue has had its own challenges this season after being swept by Ohio State to begin conference play. The Boilermakers have a 6.66 team ERA and a .233 team batting average. Redshirt senior Jake Hansen leads the offense with a .361 clip, while Sean McHugh has a team-best 12 RBIs.
Playing at home for the first time was a welcome opportunity and the players are looking forward to continuing the home stretch against Purdue.
"It's great for them," said Wine. "They came out of class today...they were ready to go and the energy level was high, so it was nice."
Coach Wine's message to the team remains the same: he and the entire coaching staff know what these players are capable of.
Confidence is critical during a losing streak and the Nittany Lions need to believe in each other.
"Just keep battling," said Wine. "Keep fighting, keep working, keep your head up, believe in yourselves, and have confidence. It will come around and I think they know it will come around."