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Nittany Lions Crowned First-Ever B1G Tournament Champions

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By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With a Big Ten Championship on the line, the Penn State women's lacrosse team entered the tournament feeling confident. The Nittany Lions took down Northwestern in the second round, bringing them one step closer to the trophy. While the team was excited, the job was not done yet. Penn State still needed one more win.

When Ohio State (13-7) took down previously undefeated Maryland, the Lions (14-4) prepared for the challenge and trusted in their abilities. After 60 minutes of play, Penn State emerged as the conference's first winner by defeating the Buckeyes, 13-11.

The Nittany Lions are Big Ten champions.

"I don't know if it sunk in yet," said head Coach Missy Doherty. "I think it was a great game. I just love that competing aspect of it, but certainly being the first Big Ten winner is such an honor. We have such a great tradition in our program that goes so far back. Our alums are so proud of our program and have done well in the past. It's nice to really put Penn State on the map with our first Big Ten Championship."

Key to the win was Penn State's offense, which has dominated throughout the entirety of the season. Senior Tatum Coffey led the way with her four goals, but in all the team saw scoring from seven different players in the final. This balance up front made the Blue and White a difficult team to beat. They challenged Ohio State's defense, went to the net and came away from the game shooting at 52 percent.

For Coffey and the rest of the senior class, this game was crucial. With so little time left to play in their careers, every second counts. They wanted to leave it all on the field, which is exactly what they did.

"I honestly had an epiphany," Coffey said. "It was a moment that just hit me, and I realized that I'm a senior. I'm never going to be in this position again. So, I let that take over me and decided to be a leader out there and pump everyone up."

Going into halftime, the Lions had a three-goal lead. Nevertheless, the team knew it would not be an easy task to finish the game, especially against the Buckeyes.

Ohio State controlled play in the opening minutes of the second, tallying three consecutive goals to even the scoring. The Nittany Lions called a timeout to regroup, but they were never concerned. Staying calm proved to be key.

"Right when they quickly scored three goals on us, we stayed confident and composed," said Abby Smucker. "We knew that we had to pick up our defense a little bit more, but I was confident in the way our defense was playing. And, having Emi [Smith] back there in the cage was critical for us."

All season long, Smucker has anchored the Nittany Lion defense. Doherty has labeled her the team organizer, keeping the Lions cohesive in the back. Her play in the semi-final and final helped boost the Lions and did not go unnoticed as Smucker was named the tournament MVP.

Also stepping up for the Lions was Emi Smith in the cage. She made seven stops that kept the Lions ahead. Her biggest save of the game came with just over a minute to play. Had she not made the stop, the Buckeyes would have pulled within one. The dynamic of the game would have shifted.

"She just came up with some really crucial saves," said Doherty of Smith. "I think she's been solid all year, but when the game is on the line I think she gets better. Especially in that last minute coming up with such a huge save, it was really that last step we needed to seal up the game."

As time evaporated, Penn State realized the magnitude of what it had done. This team battled through tough losses, through injuries and through close games to get to that point. The work it had done all season long finally paid off.

"It shows that we can bounce back," Smith said. "It shows that we can improve on the losses that we've had, and we can always learn from the things we don't do right. There's always room for improvement, and I think the team really shows that. We have improved a lot over this season, and I think that's why we came up big here. We just focused on the things that we do well and emphasized that."

From the start of the year, this team knew the season would be special. It worked hard day in and day out for this opportunity. Now, the Nittany Lions could not be more proud of their accomplishment. They will forever be the first Big Ten Champions.

"We really the whole year tried to work on proving who we are, and we made a statement today," said Coffey. "I'm so proud of my team for doing that. We really just knew what we needed to work on, knew what we needed to do, and we went out there and did it."
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By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There are 98 total student-athletes on the Penn State track and field team - 48 women, 50 men. Of all of those, there are a total of four women pole vaulters: Kasey Kemp, Erin Knabe, Lexi Masterson, and Hannah Mulhern.

As if that wasn't exceptional enough in a sport that takes everything from upper body strength to gymnastics ability, all four women rank within the top ten pole-vaulters in Penn State history.

"That's something that I value. I earned that," said Masterson, who holds the school record at 13-3.5. "But to have three other teammates in the top ten is something that's more for Penn State than it is for me. To have us, kind of, rewrite pole vault for Penn State is so great."

"It feels really cool and it feels like we're making our mark. We're letting people know: you might not know Penn State pole vault but you're going to know [it], I promise you," said Knabe.

To add to the prowess, the women are fairly young. Masterson, Kemp, and Knabe have sophomore athletic experience and Mulhern is finishing up her freshman year.

"We're so young and we have so much more to learn and grow and keep building," said Mulhern.

From a training standpoint, the women have all the support form the university and their coaches, which, for them, makes being part of such a small group better.

"We have to thank Coach Kelly. Practice, meets, he always has our back. Pole vault is so frustrating, he can be so patient with us," said Masterson. "It's nice to have our unique little thing. We have respect for the people that do endless 200 [meter sprints] on the track and think 'Man, I couldn't do that' but then, we're like, 'They probably can't pole vault'."

Pole vaulting by definition is a track and field event where athletes must run with a long pole and use it to help them jump over a bar. It requires more athleticism than most people would predict and can be more dangerous than most other events.

"As a girl pole vaulter you have to have upper body strength and all of us have gymnastics background that helps us be successful," said Masterson. "We have two lifts per week, each about an hour. We'll have drill days and strength days and plyometric days. There's a lot of time to put in."

"[During] preseason, we lift three days a week at 6:30 a.m. and then come back later for practice 2:45-5 p.m. Then, on Wednesdays we have lifts, practice, and then gymnastics from 5 to 6 p.m.," said Knabe.

Aside from being physically fit, pole vaulting takes a lot of mental discipline and poise.

"Pole vaulting is all about confidence," said Knabe. "It's a lot of technique. You can be really fast and really strong but if your technique is wrong you're not going to go anywhere. That's why it's so mental because if your technique is not perfect then something is going to go wrong and it can be dangerous."

Fear is far from their vocabulary, though, and they are excited to have each other to rely on. Being best friends only adds the excitement of being talented.

"With this group, it's not about you, it's about all of us," said Masterson.

"We know our goals and we're always helping each other get there. The practice environment is really positive all the time. I think it's helpful that we're friends outside of track," said Kemp.

"We have an awesome vibe during practice. There's such a respect for this sport between athletes because you understand how hard this sport is so we just try and lift each other up," said Knabe.

Penn State is about to earn a whole new reputation in pole vaulting and the women thrilled to be part of the process confident that this is just beginning.

"Penn State is the best school ever. I wish I could put that into better words but it's true. It's such a good school academically and it's respected athletically," said Kemp.

"It's important for [people] to see how much we have improved," said Masterson. "I was a 12-foot jumper two times in high school. I wasn't consistent and within the first month on competition [at Penn State], I was 13-1. So, to see the improvement and how far it's going to go." 

 

Defense Leads to Offense as Lions Capture EIVA Championship

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11050936.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - They did it. Again.

For the 17th-straight season, No. 7 Penn State (20-9) captured the EIVA Championship. This time, the title came in the form of a straight sets (25-16, 25-17, 25-17) win over George Mason (15-13) in Rec Hall on Friday.

"Defense is leading to our offensive," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "And the offensive guys are working hard to finish those opportunities. It's something that if we can continue, we are going to force teams to play pretty physically against us."

With the victory, the Nittany Lions are headed once again to the NCAA tournament being held in Palo Alto, California. The Blue and White will find out its seeding Saturday, when the selection show begins at 1 p.m.

Thanks to the senior class and assistant head coach Colin McMillan's integrated defensive scheme, Penn State breezed by the Patriots. Aaron Russell finished with a match-high 15 kills on a .619 attacking percentage. He also added six digs and two service aces en route to being named the 2015 EIVA Championship Most Outstanding Player.

Just like in Wednesday's semifinal match against Princeton, tonight's bout ended with a Nick Goodell service ace. By taking advantage of George Mason sending two and three blockers to Russell, the redshirt senior finished with 11 kills and eight digs.

"Everyone looks to Ron for them to block, and then whenever one of us steps up, it makes it that much harder, but when everyone steps up, teams don't have a chance," Goodell said.

The third senior on the team, Connor Curry, kept the Nittany Lions in system all match long. Curry dug five swings, initiated brilliant first contacts and added three assists to pace the Blue and White.

"I've been lucky to have won this thing five times," Curry said. "I'm just happy to be going back to NCAAs, and that's our goal at the beginning of the season. We've set ourselves up in the right place, so we'll see what we can do in the next three matches."

However, it was two non-seniors who changed the complexity of the match in favor of the Nittany Lions. Sophomore Chris Nugent accumulated 14 kills on just 19 swings and redshirt junior setter Taylor Hammond compiled 41 assists.

"I thought our passing and serving was pretty good," Pavlik said. "Can't give enough credit to our offense. We took what they gave us, and we understood what they were giving us, and made it real tough on them to try to adapt to anything we did."

Russell echoed the words of his four-year head coach, but went even further by praising the play of his talented setter.

"A lot of credit to Taylor [Hammond]," Russell said. "He spread the offense really well tonight, and he gave us a lot of good opportunities.... We had a very offensively efficient game, and that is a good thing when you're going into a national championship tournament."

Now Penn State has a quick turnaround before leaving for Stanford on Sunday. Though according to Russell, the team's challenging non-conference schedule this season has prepared the team well for the NCAA Tournament.

"Through the non-conference play that we've had, we've experienced a lot of adversity," Russell said. "I think that just being able to learn and improve from that has brought us to where we are today.... We want to take it to these teams that are standing in our way of a national championship."

By Miranda Kulp, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's softball team is in Ann Arbor, Mich. to end the regular season by facing No. 3 Michigan this weekend. After a five-game winning streak, the Nittany Lions enter this series with a 28-24 overall record, including a 9-11 Big Ten record.

With the first pitch set for 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Penn State and Michigan will be facing off in a three-game series.

In the past the Lions trail the series 56-7 against the Wolverines, but this time Coach Lehotak and the team are coming in hungry for the fight.

So far this season, the Blue and White have been making an explosive presence at the plate with a total of seven grand slams so far.

In those seven grand slams, two were during the same inning on April, 1 against Bucknell. Penn State is the sixth team in record Division I NCAA softball history to hit a pair of grand slams in one inning.

Some players specifically who have been leading the pack at the plate are Alyssa VanDerveer with three grand slams, Kristina Brackpool with two, Shelby Miller and Reina Furuya who each have one grand slam of their own.

Another Lion who has made a name for herself offensively is junior Macy Jones. She's leading the team with 41 runs, 99 total bases and is batting at .639.

"The team is back to keeping it simple at the plate and we're much better when our mindset is simple rather than trying to hard to get big," said head coach Amanda Lehotak.

With their bats ready to go, Lehotak is ready to lead her squad into the weekend and are hoping to end the regular season on a high note by showing Michigan a good fight for the wins.

Scouting Michigan

Michigan enters its final home series with a 45-6 record, 18-2 in Big Ten play. The Wolverines carry a .336 batting average with a great presence at the plate. Sierra Romero leads the B1G with a .468 BA and runs scored with 66. Kelly Christner trails for second place with 62 runs. The pair tallies 17 homeruns each.

 Megan Betsa leads the Wolverine at the mound with 22 wins and 244 strikeouts. Her ERA of 1.46 leads the conference. Fellow pitcher Haylie Wagner totals 101 strikeouts on the season.

 

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By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Watching college kids graduate is nothing new to Rob Cooper.

After all, the Nittany Lions' head coach is in his 11th season at the helm of a college program, after working as an assistant for more than a decade. In that time, Cooper, like every college coach, has said goodbye to a different group of young men every spring.

Still, it's a process that never gets any easier for him. With Penn State's final home series of the season this weekend against Rutgers, the old emotions are already coming back for the skipper.

"I take senior days really hard," Cooper said. "I know number one, how tough it is to do something your whole life and then you're no longer playing baseball, something every spring you've gotten ready to do. I'm sensitive to that but I'm also sensitive to the fact that these guys, although they choose to, have given up a lot of time and energy and it directly impacts me and my family. So I want to them go out on a good note."

On one hand, this current group of eight Nittany Lion seniors may seem like any other graduating class. At the same time, Cooper will always remember this group fondly for helping him adjust to Penn State.

When Cooper accepted the head coaching job at Penn State two years ago after nine seasons at Wright State, it was clear the Nittany Lions were in a rebuilding phase. Cooper accepted the challenge from day one, yet it was still nice for the coach to have players who embraced his style.

Last year's crop of seniors, which consisted of nine guys, went a long way in helping Cooper implement the culture the coach wanted at Penn State. But this year's crew has been just as responsive.

"That group was very welcoming to me when I got the job," Cooper said. "Even though maybe on record it doesn't show that we've made progress, it's definitely night and day compared to when I got here and that's a testament to them."

The players feel just as strongly about their coach as he feels about them. When Cooper arrived after their sophomore seasons, many of them were still raw players just scratching the surface of their abilities.

Now, they've come a long way in reaching their potential. While the Nittany Lions are still in the process of becoming contenders in the Big Ten, they've played .500 ball in their last 26 games in part because of the efforts of the senior class.

Two seniors that exemplify the improvements that the team has made the past two seasons are second baseman Taylor Skerpon and right fielder Aaron Novak.

Before Cooper arrived in 2013, Skerpon was a talented shortstop that struggled with consistency and Novak was merely part of a mix of outfielders competing for playing time. Now, Skerpon is arguably the team's best defender at second while Novak has been the club's top hitter, leading the team in average (.331) and on-base percentage (.406) while ranking second in home runs (four) and RBIs (22).

"Coach Cooper has gotten me to consistently play the game the right way all the time, whether it's sprinting on and off the field in between innings or always running down the baseline hard," Skerpon said. "Just being a great guy. He's fun to be around and play for."

This group of seniors, which also includes infielders Ryky Smith and J.J. White, outfielder Ryan Richter, and pitchers Geoff Boylston, Ryan Harper, and Patton Taylor, has also grown closer with their teammates these past two years.

Novak said that although there used to be a bit of a disconnect between the older players and the younger ones, that is no longer the case.

"As a team, during [Cooper's] time here we became much closer," Novak said. "From the freshmen to seniors, we're all amazing friends and we've developed much closer relationships then we had in the past. There used to be this kind of divide between the freshman and the seniors and these past two years it wasn't at all like that so we're a much more cohesive team."

"It's just like having seven other brothers, and truly meaning brothers," Skerpon added. "We know how each other act, what can tweak somebody a little bit just to mess with them. But it's been amazing. I couldn't ask for better guys to have four years with."

Like most college seniors, Skerpon and Novak aren't trying to think too much about their careers winding down. While the inevitable will soon become reality, the pair is trying to take advantage of the time they have left.

"I try not to dwell on it too much because you know it's coming up," Novak said. "I guess it's got to end so you've got to deal with it somehow."

Lions Fight Back But Fall To Johns Hopkins in Big Ten Tournament

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11048806.jpegBy Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Penn State men's lacrosse team battled Johns Hopkins until time ran out in the first round matchup of the Big Ten Tournament. Despite the strong effort, and outstanding performance by several Nittany Lions, the No. 4 seed Penn State fell 14-9 to the No. 1 seed Johns Hopkins.

After putting is a valiant effort, the Nittany Lions (5-9, 2-3 Big Ten) found themselves on the defense early and weren't able to hold off Johns Hopkins' quick start. Penn State let up five goals in the first quarter, and Johns Hopkins (8-6, 4-1 Big Ten) was able to hold Penn State to just 14 shots in the first half. Head coach Jeff Tambroni knew that to come back and be competitive he had to bring his team in and calm their nerves.

"I said relax, just relax," said Tambroni. "I felt like defensively we tried to do some things that didn't seem to work. Offensively, we were just rushing everything and giving the ball right back to their offense. We were exhausted within the first ten minutes of that game. I think we were just really worn down."

Once the Nittany Lions defense was back on track, the offense took the lead, netting in what seemed to be an endless stream of goals kick-started by junior TJ Sanders. From then on it was a constant game of cat and mouse, with Johns Hopkins and Penn State trading leads and ties throughout the second half. The two opponents would tie each other twice during the game, and were never separated by more than two goals during the third quarter.

"I thought when we had our hand free and had room and space to shoot the ball we did a really nice job with it," said Tambroni. "When we didn't the result was evident, we turned the ball over on four possessions in the second half and that proved to probably be a little more than we can handle."

Connor Darcey had an outstanding game in net, saving 11 shots in the first half. Darcey's 11 saves helped him achieved a feat that hasn't happened since Penn State's March 23, 2013 game against Bucknell. His total saves for the night would come to 17, a large number by any comparison.

Although the season ended sooner than they would have liked, the Nittany Lions have much to be proud of from their 2015 campaign. Being a part of the inaugural Big Ten conference for lacrosse makes this season that much more special. Having secured one of only four spots in the Big Ten Tournament, Penn State further proved their ability to contend against the elite programs in the Big Ten.

"It was a honor to be involved in the Big Ten," said Tambroni. "It was a lot of fun for all of us to be involved in the first ever Big Ten Tournament. It is such a first class conference from start to finish. From the way that they promote and market, run games, run the tournament. It has been an honor and I think our guys sensed the difference from where we were to where we are right now."

For the 2015 senior class, this season was the opportunity to steer Penn State men's lacrosse in a new direction, with them at the helm. The nine seniors set the standard for work ethic and sportsmanship that will be in place for years to come in Happy Valley.

"We said to these guys during their senior day, they are the link," said Tambroni. "They are the link to the past and the future."

Penn State men's lacrosse has a bright and promising future ahead thanks to their senior class.


"This was really the last group between the old coaching staff and the new coaching staff and I think they've done a pretty good job of holding on to what we believe is a honorable past, but also leading this group to a new culture and a future to what we think is going to be really bright," said Tambroni. 

Nittany Lions Set to Take on Northwestern in the First B1G Tournament

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By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Penn State women's lacrosse team arrived in New Jersey yesterday afternoon, it watched the final minutes of the first-round game Northwestern would eventually win. With their opponent now know, the Nittany Lions will aim to do what they did for the first time in twelve years a second time this season. If Penn State wants to win the first-ever Big Ten Tournament, it will need to defeat a strong Northwestern team yet again. This team is more than ready for that challenge.

The last time these two teams met, Penn State (12-4, 4-1 B1G) opened with determination. The team dominated the first half and was able to shut down the Wildcats (12-5, 3-2 B1G) with solid defensive plays. Nevertheless, head coach Missy Doherty has made sure her team knows this game will be different. There is more on the line in a tournament situation. Every team will be bringing its best.

"I'm really emphasizing to the players that it's going to be a different game," Doherty said. "It's not going to be the same game. They're going to be coming at us a lot harder. I think it's always hard to play a team that you just beat because there's a little bit of this hidden drive in the team that just lost. So, you really have to go in and match that drive. We have to be ready to not just play like we played last game and win. We have to be ready to play a different game with different energy and win a different way."

Even with a new mindset, it is clear that this Nittany Lion team is confident. It finished the regular season playing the most competitive teams in the country, especially during its final outing. Although the Blue and White fell to Maryland during the final regular-season game, they showed they have the ability to keep up with the best teams.

Throughout the entirety of the season, Penn State has been working toward that goal of being known as one of the best. It has downed teams like Northwestern, Stanford and Loyola Maryland. Furthermore, the Nittany Lions were just three goals shy of handing the Terrapins their first loss of the season.

"I think it definitely helps us because they're the No. 1 team in the nation," said sophomore Steph Lazo of the Maryland game. "The fact that we only lost by three and we put up a fight against them, it's really nice knowing we can hang with big teams. We're a top-ten team too. I think it definitely boosts our confidence a little bit knowing we can play to that ability and we can hang with the best team."

A major factor this season, which will continue to determine games in the post-season, is the draw. Possession is key, and the Nittany Lions know they will need to find ways to get the ball throughout the entirety of the game against Northwestern.

During its last match with the Wildcats, Penn State was edged out in draw controls, 16-10. The Nittany Lions know that cannot happen again if they want to move on to the tournament final. It is understood by the entire team that it will need to find ways to win possession.

"Just taking the draw I know that it's a really big factor because you can't really do anything if you don't have the ball," said junior Jenna Mosketti. "So, that's something that we've been working on in practice, and I think it'll be good."

Mosketti is the team's draw control leader, with 54 on the season. However, winning the ball will not only be up to her in this second-round game. It will need to be a team effort in order to have success.

"It comes from both ends, the defensive line all the way to the attack line," said Lazo. "It's not just Jenna [Mosketti] trying to get the ball. It's not just Tatum [Coffey] taking it as well. It comes from everyone. You just have to be hungry for it, and you just have to want it and get it."

As the Nittany Lions prepare for their evening matchup with the Wildcats, they know and understand what they need to do to have success. Each member of the team wants to leave its mark. History will be made this weekend, and Penn State wants nothing more that to come out on top.

"We've proved who we are, and I think that was a goal from the beginning of the season, to prove who we are in the Big Ten and in the country," said senior Tatum Coffey. "So, I think coming into this tournament we're not looking back. We're going into these games not thinking about our past games. We're going into it fresh and new. A fresh start."

Northwestern.jpg No. 1 Maryland (5-0 B1G)

Points Leader: Taylor Cummings, 81 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Megan Whittle, 56 goals
Assists Leader: Taylor Cummings, 28 assists

Heading into the tournament, Maryland remains undefeated and the top team in the county. The Terrapins final regular season game came against the Nittany Lions last week, which was a battle to the very end. Junior Taylor Cummings and freshman Megan Whittle lead the team, both of whom also earned All-Big Ten team honors this week. With the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Maryland earned a first-round bye and is schedule to take on Ohio State in the second round.

No. 2 Penn State (4-1 B1G)

Points Leader: Maggie McCormick, 61 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Steph Lazo, 34 goals
Assists Leader: Maggie McCormick, 40 assists

Like Maryland, the second-seed Nittany Lions earned a bye in the first round of the tournament. Although the team is coming off a loss to Maryland, Penn State has the utmost confidence in its abilities. With Northwestern's win over Michigan, the Nittany Lions will take on the Wildcats in a rematch of the game played earlier this season. The Blue and White will rely heavily on senior Maggie McCormick and sophomore Steph Lazo for scoring as they attempt to move on to the tournament final.

No. 3 Northwestern (3-2 B1G)

Points Leader: Selena Lasota, 65 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Selena Lasota, 57 goals
Assists Leader: Corinne Wessels, 17 assists

Fresh off its first-round win over Michigan, the Wildcats will be ready to take on Penn State. Even without a bye this team is bound to come out strong, especially because of the opponent. Northwestern fell to the Nittany Lions for the first time since 2003 and are hungry for the tournament upset. Freshman Selena Lasota and junior Kaleigh Craig, who has 34 goals and 40 points on the season, lead the Wildcats' offense.

No. 4 Ohio State (2-3 B1G)

Points Leader: Jackie Cifarelli, 64 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Katie Chase, 50 goals
Assists Leader: Jackie Cifarelli, 48 assists

Just like Northwestern, the Buckeyes will be coming into the second round fresh off it first win of the tournament. Ohio State downed Rutgers, 17-7, and will now look to go up against the best team in the country. Playing against Maryland, the Buckeyes will need to rely on their offensive producers, Jackie Cifarelli and Katie Chase, for points. When the two teams met earlier this season, Ohio State fell to Maryland, 13-8.

By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It only takes one swing to break out of a slump, something that Ryky Smith can attest to after Wednesday night.

The senior infielder went into a midweek contest against Pittsburgh on the bench after going hitless in his prior 24 at-bats. With the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth however, it was his bat that the Nittany Lions needed.

Smith came to the plate with the score tied 7-7 and runners on the corners with one out.  The situation called for a hit-and-run, and Smith executed it perfectly, slapping a grounder that shortstop Ron Sherman wasn't able to make a play on before Jim Haley crossed the plate with the winning run.

Apart from giving Penn State a thrilling 8-7 win, the play also went a long way in getting Smith his confidence back.

"I hadn't had a hit in a while, that's for sure," Smith said. "The thing going through my mind was, it's about time you get it done.

"[Head Coach Rob] Cooper put on a hit-and-run, all I have to right there is hit a ground ball and we win the game. So I made it a point to hit that ball on the ground no mater what."

In the clubhouse afterwards, Smith barely had a chance to finish his statement when Haley snuck up from behind and rubbed a celebratory shaving cream pie in his face. As his teammates looked on and laughed, the 5-foot-10 infielder couldn't help but smile.

"Anyway, now that that's over, jeez," Smith said as he wiped his face. "As soon as I hit the ball I knew they weren't turning a double play and the game was probably over."

While it's far from the hardest ball that the York, Pennsylvania, native, has ever hit, it may wind up as his most memorable. It came at a good time too, with his senior season winding down.

Easily one of Penn State's scrappiest players, Smith started the year on fire, hitting over .300 for most of the first two months of the season. Despite his recent slump, he's remained a versatile defender capable playing second and third base, and Cooper was pleased to see him get a moment in the spotlight.

"He's a good college player, but he's one of those guys you wish was loaded with talent because he would make the most of it," Cooper said. "He wouldn't be a guy who wouldn't work at it or take it serious, because that's not the way he plays, so it was good to see him do that."

Going into the ninth with a 7-5 lead, the Lions didn't appear to need their half of the inning to win. The Panthers battled back however, scoring two runs on three hits to set up the dramatic finish.

Before Smith delivered his game-winning infield hit, Haley and center fielder Ryan Richter started the inning with singles of their own. In a game in which Penn State registered 15 hits, all but one were singles.

Oh, but what a hit that one non-single was. In the bottom of the eighth with the Lions clinging to a 6-5 lead, left fielder Greg Guers ripped his sixth home run of the season on a solo shot that gave the Lions an important insurance run.

"Our guys made adjustments from at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch and the best example is Guers' home run," Cooper said. "He laid off a breaking ball down in the dirt and when he didn't swing at that, the pitcher for them realizes, 'He's not going to chase that, what am I going to do here.' Usually you have an approach like that, you get a lot of hits."

The win gave Penn State a 2-0 record against Pittsburgh this season, following a 6-1 win in 12 innings on March 17. While the Lions don't mind extra innings, they're glad they won this one in a timely fashion. 

"When Penn State plays Pitt, people are going to want to beat each other," Cooper said. "Last time it was 40 degrees colder than it was tonight, but I've always said I'll play as many innings as it takes as long as we win."

Coach Franklin Tosses Strike in Yankee Stadium

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yankeesblog_4.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Compete in everything you do. It's one of the football program's four core values, and it's the mantra head coach James Franklin lives by.

He took that competitive energy onto the mound at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night prior to the Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays game and delivered a strike during a ceremonial first pitch as part of a celebration of the team's Pinstripe Bowl championship.

Upon arrival in the Bronx, Franklin and a small group of staff members toured the stadium and some of the organization's most prized artifacts, including holding a 45-ounce bat used by Babe Ruth in 1927. The leader of the Nittany Lions presented Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who is a college football fanatic, with a signed Penn State helmet on the field during batting practice.

The group watched the Yankees take batting practice from behind home plate while mingling with members from the Pinstripe Bowl and Yankees organization. From there, Franklin shifted into prep mode for the opening pitch. He used just four practice tosses into the batting cage nets in the Yankees clubhouse before walking onto the mound to a rousing cheer.

"I have tremendous training for this. I played highly competitive Little League baseball about 30 years ago," Franklin joked before the pitch.

As promised, Franklin worked from a wind up and tossed the ceremonial pitch with some heat on the corner of the plate before a "We Are" chant rang through the area behind home plate as the mit popped.

"I had an awesome experience," Franklin said. "They've been great to us since we arrived in town, and really the whole bowl experience carried over. I went out on the mound, let it fly and had some fun...It felt good. I tried not to think about it a lot and just let it fly. It went somewhere near the plate and had a little bit of velocity on it."

Much like the bowl week in New York, the Pinstripe Bowl and Yankees staff members were tremendous hosts and first class for the Nittany Lions on Tuesday. Fans heading to Yankee Stadium will find a mural documenting Penn State's thrilling 31-30 win over Boston College in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl.



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Nittany Lions Aim to Make A Statement in Big Ten Tournament

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By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's lacrosse team has fought for every win so far this season, and on Thursday the team will battle for one more, this time in the first round of the inaugural Big Ten Tournament.

With history waiting to be written, the No. 4-seeded Nittany Lions (5-8, 2-3 Big Ten) are prepared to face a familiar foe, the No. 1 seed Johns Hopkins (7-6, 4-1 Big Ten).

The Lions and Blue Jays saw one another just less than three weeks prior they took to double overtime in one of the most thrilling games of the regular season. Although the outcome of that game didn't land in the Penn State's favor, this time around the Lions hope to change that; playoffs are a whole new ballgame.

Head coach Jeff Tambroni knows the significance of what his team has accomplished so far this season. Tambroni noted that just being in the tournament is an accomplishment in itself, since only four of the six Big Ten teams qualified; Michigan and Rutgers missed the cut.

"I think it's significant because of the fact that it's the inaugural Big Ten Tournament," said Tambroni. "I feel really good for our guys. I just think it's a wonderful group of young men who have worked very hard, we just have not always gotten the results that we would hoped for throughout the course of the regular season, but winning the last two games - must-win games - I think feels real good for our guys. I'm sure there's a sense of relief, but also a sense of pride, knowing that they're going to be representing Penn State in the inaugural tournament."

The pride the Nittany Lions have going in to the tournament stems from two strong wins to end the regular season, a home win against Rutgers and a win in Ann Arbor against Michigan. Penn State also has a sense of familiarity going in to their matchup against Johns Hopkins, after an 11-10 decision decided the first meeting in double overtime. 

"I think it certainly provides our guys with the link of understanding that we can play with Johns Hopkins," said Tambroni. "Both teams were at a different place, I think both teams were coming off a loss, so I think the mindset of both teams coming in there was probably a little bit questionable. It's going to be a completely different game when the whistle blows [on Thursday] and you got to go back to square one."

Penn State will turn to its key players to contend with Johns Hopkins. Attack men like TJ Sanders will now more than ever need to find the back of the net, and continue to be aggressive in the offensive zone. Goalie Connor Darcey will need to find his groove early and settle in in net to stave off his opponents. And the defense must build off of its strong start against Michigan and continue holding off their opponents early on in the game.

"I think if we want or expect to win then our best players are going to have to show up and make plays, I think that's just fact of the matter," said Tambroni. "Both teams really want to win; I think it's going to come down to willingness of certain guys to make plays at certain times."

Although there are four teams in the tournament, Coach Tambroni emphasized that it's not about being better than all three of the other teams; it comes down to beating one team at a time.

"We don't have to play three teams; we have to play one team on Thursday," said Tambroni. "The reality of it is we don't have to be better than all three teams; we have to be better than one team on Thursday and one team on Saturday. I think if we don't bite off more than we can chew, we can put ourselves in a position to win."

Coach Tambroni has put great importance during the past month on his players getting back to the simplistic way of playing lacrosse. This strategy has proven successful, giving the Nittany Lions necessary wins to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament.

"You can tend to over prepare, so hopefully we just give these guys confidence in themselves," said Tambroni. "I think if we put in too much stuff they'll start to question if they can do it. [Back to the basics] will be the same philosophy going in to this one."

The Nittany Lions have proven they're fully deserving of their bid to the Big Ten Tournament. Now it is just up to Penn State to bring the competition with them to College Park.

"Hopefully [the team] will have stepped back and reflected for just an instant on the opportunity for us and take advantage of the opportunity that they have earned," said Tambroni.


No. 1 Johns Hopkins (7-6, 4-1 Big Ten)
Points Leader: Ryan Brown 60 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Ryan Brown, 51 goals
Assists Leader: Wells Stanwick, 31 assists

The Blue Jays, coming off an upset against Maryland, are on a hot streak entering the Big Ten Tournament. Johns Hopkins led in both shots (37) and groundballs (34) against Maryland, and will look to bring momentum into the game against Penn State in the first round of the tournament. Junior Ryan Brown looks to continue his standout season, already becoming the first Big Ten player since 1995 to surpass 50 goals in a season. Brown was also named the 2015 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Freshman Joel Tinney was named the 2015 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.


No. 2 Maryland (12-2, 4-1 Big Ten)
Points Leader: Matt Rambo, 40 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Matt Rambo, 28 goals
Assists Leader: Bryan Cole, 12 assists  

Although they didn't win the outright Big Ten regular season title due to their loss to Johns Hopkins last Saturday, the Terrapins will be looking to bounce back against Ohio State during the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Casey Ikeda was named the 2015 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, helping the Terrapins keep opponents to just 6.43 goals per game. Maryland will face Ohio State on Thursday at 8 p.m.


No. 3 Ohio State (10-5, 3-2 Big Ten)
Points Leader: Jesse King, 58 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Jesse King, 35 goals
Assists Leader: Jesse King, 23 assists

The Buckeyes will enter the Big Ten Tournament coming off a 17-10 loss at Rutgers. Despite the late April loss, Ohio State finished 10-5 overall, including wins against Penn State, Johns Hopkins and Michigan. Jesse King earned All-Big Ten Team honors, as well as Carter Brown. Tom Carey and Robby Haus were Big Ten Honorable Mentions. The Buckeyes face Maryland on Thursday at 8 p.m.


No. 4 Penn State (5-8, 2-3 Big Ten)
Points Leader: TJ Sanders, 39 points
Leading Goal Scorer: TJ Sanders, 27 goals
Assists Leader: TJ Sanders, 12 assists, Nick Aponte 12 assists

The Nittany Lions have been gaining momentum following two consecutive wins against Rutgers and Michigan to finish off the regular season. After their win against Rutgers, Mike Sutton was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, and goaltender Connor Darcey took home Defensive Player of the Week honors. TJ Sanders has been Penn State's most standout player of the year, netting 27 goals to end the regular season. Sanders leads the team in points and goals, and is also tied with sophomore Nick Aponte for assists. On April 28th, TJ Sanders and Mike Sutton were awarded Big Ten honorable mentions. The Nittany Lions will take the field against Johns Hopkins on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.