By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's Big Ten opener Friday night did not go as planned. In fact, the early season for the Nittany Lions hasn't gone as planned.
So, on Saturday in game two of the three game series against Purdue, head coach Robbie Wine came in with a new plan: Sit three players that had started a combined 54 games coming into Saturday in favor of three players that had a combined 10 career starts, nine of which came from one player.
It was something Wine hadn't done all season, but felt it was something his team needed to see happen as they were on an eight game losing skid.
"I was just shaking things up, shuffling around and sometimes the guys that have been playing every day, it gives them a chance to sit back and watch and get them jump-started," said Wine after the game.
The changes paid off in an interesting way for a few different Nittany Lions as Penn State scored two runs in the ninth inning to tie the game, 4-4, before falling to Purdue in 10 innings, 5-4.
"I was really happy with the way we came back and scored those two runs," said Wine. "We could have rolled over and we didn't."
Redshirt freshman Ryky Smith, who had previously started nine games at three different positions while hitting .189 coming in, saw the opportunity to boast his offensive prowess that his coaches talked about coming into the 2013 season.
The York, Pa. native finished the game 3-for-4 with two runs scored, including his first career double in the fifth inning.
Same story for true freshman James Coates who had already become one of the Nittany Lions' most reliable bats in the early season in his 20 starts. Coates was 1-for-4 with a run scored as he continued to impress his head coach.
"When (James) goes up there it seems like it's a good at bat all the time," said Wine. "Pitchers have to work and make pitches with him and he's not afraid to take a strike, he's not afraid to work counts."
Although it was a little different of an opportunity for another true freshman in third basemen Tyler Kendall and redshirt freshman Ryan Richter, who had one start between them heading into Saturday, Wine knew what he was going to get from two guys that had worked tirelessly to get such an opportunity.
Both players had a chance to make their presence felt in the lineup and they did exactly that. Kendall had a sac fly in the fifth that allowed the Smith to score and came through with an RBI double in the seventh to get Penn State within two runs of the Boilermakers, a hit that seemed to revive his Nittany Lion teammates.
"(Tyler Kendall) has been swinging the bat well in batting practice, but it's hard to fit him in with the guys we have on the field, but he handled it today," said Wine. "He knows the game, he is a baseball guy and understands the game and knows situations and what to anticipate and is a step ahead of the game before the pitch is thrown."
Richter also made an impact for Penn State in his first career start with a sacrifice bunt and a hit by pitch in the third and fifth innings, respectively.
And then there was perhaps the most intriguing story line of them all in second basemen Luis Montesinos, a senior that had started 19 games in 2013 and was on the bench for eight innings before getting his name called in the ninth.
Montesinos followed the lead of the three freshmen and came in clutch with a two run single to tie the game at four in the ninth inning.
"It's good to sit back and watch a game and see how easy it can be sometimes," said Wine, regarding Montesinos sitting for most of the game before his pinch-hit single. "When you're in a battle it speeds up and you can't think clear, it's good for them to sit there and watch a game once in a while."
All four players saw the chance and ran with it in a game where Penn State showed some grit, heart and comeback ability on a breezy late March day in Happy Valley.
Even with the loss, there is much for Wine to take away from an up and down game on Saturday.
"The guys [have] been working hard all year long, not getting an opportunity and it was time. It was just time to do it. If we had more mid-week games, they would have had more opportunities," said Wine. "I was happy with the way they performed."
Maybe most importantly, Wine's players didn't give up, they didn't lose hope for a moment and that might be the best thing the ninth year head coach has seen all season.
"It meant everything to me," he said. "I wanted to see a fight and some spark and there was spark, there was some energy and determination and frustration. Emotions were coming out instead of yesterday's game that was just blah and it really frustrated me.
"This is the kind of team we are, we are a team that can come from behind especially with the guys that did it. The way it happened was very pleasing for me and I think it's a sign of good things to come."
Those good things could come as soon as Sunday morning when Penn State faces Purdue in the last game of the three game series at 11 a.m. There's no telling who will be in the lineup for Penn State on Sunday, but it is safe to say that Wine's new plan worked on Saturday afternoon.