By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Steven Hill, Cody Lewis and Dave Walkling were the most experienced and perhaps the most reliable pitchers for Penn State entering the 2013 campaign and finished their careers with the same description.
The numbers don't do them justice. The three senior pitchers were the heart and sole of the Nittany Lion pitching staff, as well as the team as a whole, which made the ending to their careers very fitting.
Against Michigan State on May 18, Senior Day, Penn State used just three pitchers; Hill, Walkling and Lewis. Despite the loss, it was an appropriate end for each of the pitchers.
Hill, despite battling a shoulder injury for the majority of the 2013 season, threw seven and two-thirds scoreless innings against the Spartans, something the Nittany Lions have seen many times during his career. The scoreless outing was a perfect conclusion to his career at Penn State, which started as a walk-on.
"The coaches gave me the opportunity my freshman year to walk on and they helped me become who I am today," said Hill. "I couldn't have asked for a better ending [to my career], individually. You just can't script it much better."
Walking replaced Hill with two outs in the seventh inning and Penn State leading, 1-0, and did what he had done his whole career at Penn State: throw sliders and get outs.
Then, Lewis battled a tough Spartan lineup to toss the final two innings of the season and his career.
It was an adequate end, not only because the three seniors were able to throw consecutively in their last game in blue and white, but because of the way they embodied the work ethic of the Penn State pitching staff as a whole.
They battled. Pitchers came into the game in tough spots and fought their way through it.
Redshirt sophomore T.J. Jann also embodied that mentality, returning to the hill in 2013 after what was thought to be a career ending arm injury during his true freshman season in 2011. Jann was the Friday night starter for the Nittany Lions throughout season and arguably the top pitcher on the staff.
Junior Greg Welsh erased a tough start to the season and finished the year with a string of impressive starts, including a complete game shutout win against Michigan State in the second game of the season's final series.
Freshman starter Nick Hedge and junior reliever Ian Parvin showed grit during the season as did the entire Penn State bullpen.
The returning pitchers will have a tough task replacing Hill, Lewis and Walkling, but certainly know what it takes to have a successful career at Penn State. It starts with the bulldog mentality that Hill embodied in his four years in blue and white.
"In [Hill's] four years here he has been outstanding for us," said assistant coach Eric Folmar. "He's given us the chance to win every time out and is going to be a hard one to not have around next year."
Lewis and Walking had similar praise from their coaches and teammates throughout the season. Both seniors have confidence in the Lions pitching staff moving forward.
Players on the current roster and the incoming freshman class will all have to step up in 2014 in order to continue what the senior pitching staff built over the past four years at Penn State.
"We have some guys that are on our team that are going to have to move into different roles next year," said Folmar. "We also have some incoming recruits that are going to have the opportunity to win a job as true freshmen."
The coaching staff is looking to take what they had in 2013 and continue to build on it. From a pitching stand point, Folmar said that the biggest thing is being able to make the pitch or get the outs they need in close games and that will make a huge difference moving forward.
Despite the 14-36 record, Penn State will look at the bright spots that are both leaving and returning for Penn State, which is great motivation as they begin preparation for 2014 almost immediately.
"Today's game is great motivation heading into next year," said Folmar. "This season is done and next year has already started for us. It is great motivation because we never want to be back here again."