By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Juniors Jordan Bowersox and Justin Hagenman have been the leaders for Penn State both offensively and defensively across the past two and a half years.
Coming in as a freshman, Bowersox played in 42 games, starting in 34. He batted .244 on the season and recorded a .310 on-base percentage. As a sophomore in 2017, Bowersox took a big leap with his bat. The centerfielder batted a team-best .333 in 33 games and also led the team in slugging percentage (.480) and on-base percentage (.418).
Bowersox was poised to top the lineup in 2018 as a junior, but his offense hasn't translated to statistical success quite yet this season. Bowersox, though, is seemingly heating up at the dish.
Hitting .259 coming into Friday night's matchup with Ohio State, he's currently riding his hottest streak of the season. Over the last seven games, Bowersox is 11-27 (.407) and has recorded at least one hit in six of those contests.
"I think he'd be the first to admit to you that early he was trying to do way too much because he felt like he [had something] to prove to [MLB] scouts, whereas he's really got to look at it the other way," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "What he did up until that point is what got him noticed in the first place, so he's starting to get back to that. You're seeing him have unbelievable at-bats against good pitching."
"J Bo" continued his dominance Friday, going 3-3 at the plate and reaching base in four of his five at-bats against the Buckeye pitching staff. The only time he failed to reach base was in the seventh inning, when Bowersox put down a sacrifice bunt to move a runner to second.
Bowersox roped a two-out double in the bottom of the ninth inning to advance the tying run to third, but junior Ryan Sloniger flew out to center field to end the game.
Bowersox increased his 2018 batting average to .279 Friday, good for second highest on the team behind Sloniger.
"I feel more comfortable at the plate, more calm," Bowersox said. "I've been working hard. I started off a little slow but this game is a game of failure and you get new opportunities every day."
As much as Bowersox has conquered opposing pitchers of late, Hagenman has done the same to opposing hitters.
Penn State's ace has given up just three earned runs combined in his last three starts. Over his last 18.1 innings, Hagenman has racked up 22 strikeouts and surrendered just 12 hits.
On Friday, Hagenman held the Big Ten's highest scoring offense to one unearned run off a throwing error in 6.1 innings pitched. Ohio State averaged 7.23 runs per game before Hagenman shut them down to the tune of seven strikeouts and just four hits allowed.
"Those guys can definitely swing it, but that doesn't change the way I go about pitching against them," Hagenman said. "It's up to me to go at them with my best stuff."
Hagenman said he made an in-game adjustment with his curveball, and once he started throwing it for a strike it opened up the zone and he rolled through the Buckeye lineup.
Hagenman brought his season ERA down from .333 to .292 with the effort. That's the lowest mark on the team even though Hagenman has tossed almost 20 innings more than the next pitcher.
"[Hagenman has been] unbelievable," Cooper said. "I love coaching him. If I'm a professional scout, I'm drafting Justin Hagenman because he's a good pitcher and he can really compete."
One of the biggest reasons for Hagenman's recent success has been his ability to get hitters to look at strike three. Of his 49 strikeouts this season, more than half have been looking.
Hagenman is second in the Big Ten with 25 backward K's on the year.
"That's because he executes pitches," Cooper said. "If a guy can execute a pitch when he needs to and where he needs to, you're going to freeze some kids and that's what he does."
Penn State dropped the pitcher's duel to Ohio State 1-0 Friday in the first of a three-game series at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Even so, it's encouraging for two of Penn State's most consistent contributors over the last few years to be clicking at the same time.
The Nittany Lions return to the diamond Saturday for a doubleheader against the Buckeyes to finish the three-game set. Game one's first pitch is set for 2 p.m.