UNIVERSITY 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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UNIVERSITY 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.
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.
What's in a name? The age-old question makes an attempt to understand what someone's name means and how it defines them.
Schreyer Honors College student Maya Evanitsky is taking a unique approach to answering that question. Evanitsky, Dr. George Perry and a team of undergraduate students will research and compare the "original" Nittany Lion's DNA sequence in comparison to other ancient and current lion populations in the United States.
The "original" Nittany Lion that inspired the beloved Penn State icon is a brush lion that was killed in 1856 by farmer Samuel E. Brush. Now extinct, the brush [Nittany] represents more than just Penn State's mascot; it is a small piece of Central Pennsylvania's history.
Sequencing the Nittany Lion Genome
Evanitsky and Dr. Perry opened the "original" Nittany Lion's showcase for the first time on April 13, 2015 to begin the first phase of her research, carefully removing a DNA sample from the lion's leg.
"We're hoping to get DNA from that," said Evanitsky. "The ultimate goal is to sequence the DNA and compare that to DNA sequences in genes of populations of current mountain lions. We're hoping to compare how diverse the species has become and how much they've differentiated over time."
She uses the word "hoping" because this lion has gone through two restorations since its original stuffing of tow. The first restoration took place in 1934 followed by the next in 1992, where various substitutions had to be made to preserve the natural look of the lion using resources like deer fur and polyethylene.
Spending nearly 40 years in the basement of the Carnegie Museum, the lion was displayed in various locations including the St. Louis World's Fair, Chicago World's Fair and the William Penn Museum prior to permanently moving to Happy Valley.
These substitutions make it difficult to remove an authentic sample, but Evanitsky is confident that hers is authentic.
Using the Ancient DNA laboratory at University Park, the junior biochemistry and molecular biology major and her team will compare the DNA from her sample with various other ancient lion samples including mountain lions that currently alive in the western US and Florida.
Potential samples and local displays in the region are located at the Lycoming County Historical Society and Taber Museum as well as the Ecology Lab in Science Hall at Albright College.
The development in ancient DNA methods has made 2015 the right year for this research project.
"Our technology and ancient DNA methods have improved so much that our chance of success is a lot higher than it would have been in the past," explained Dr. Perry. "There are important things that we can learn from studying things that we've lost."
How You Can Help
The Nittany Lion and Mount Nittany are just two of many symbols of Penn State that are near and dear to every Penn Stater's heart. Evanitsky, Dr. Perry, and their team look to find out what could have happened to the beloved Nittany Lion.
"It's an important science project but there's also the conservation outreach opportunity, the engagement with the community, sports fans of the university as well as alumni, and undergraduates are involved in the research," explained Dr. Perry.
Evanitsky plans to have all of her samples sequenced by fall 2015 in which she will spend the semester writing her thesis on her findings.
more on the project or to donate, click here.
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
With the No. 8 team in the country visiting Medlar Field at Lubrano Park this weekend and after a 10-1 setback in the series' first game, Penn State battled and nearly came up with an upset victory over the team with the conference's best record.
While head coach Rob Cooper hasn't backed away from the fact that he wants his team to win games, he knows that Saturday's 15-inning 4-2 loss and Sunday's 6-3 loss are games with a few takeaway points to build on moving forward.
"I thought our guys competed and battled," Cooper said. "When you're trying to build a program you look for things like that. Illinois is a team that's probably going to host a regional and be a national seed."
On Saturday Penn State took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning after seven shutout innings from freshman Taylor Lehman. With the Nittany Lions just six outs away from the result, the Illini bats came alive to take a 2-1 lead. Then, just as the upset seemed out of reach, Penn State came right back and tied the game in the ninth on a Taylor Skerpon RBI double.
Then, after six extra innings, the Illini broke through to take the lead in the top of the final inning to get the win. Cooper noted how his team battled in the series' final two-games are what he wants to see.
"For us to have a chance to win Saturday and be in that game all day today like we did it shows that our guys won't quit and we're building toward the right things," he said.
In building toward the right things, freshmen are going to be a big part of that. While the Nittany Lions have a strong group of upperclassmen, younger players are now working into becoming key parts of the Penn State lineup.
One player, freshman catcher Nick Graham, caught the eye of his upperclassmen teammates after going 3-for-6 with two runs scored between the final two games of the series.
"He was great," redshirt junior Greg Guers said. "Their pitching staff is pretty good and he battled all day and had two doubles and did a great job behind the plate too. It was great seeing him have success against one of the top pitching staffs around."
"He's only a freshman too and he's came a long way since the beginning of the year and has been putting some great at bats together," senior Aaron Novak said.
Cooper agreed that the play of Graham and a few other freshmen namely those in the pitching staff or bullpen has been promising, but the team as a whole still has a few areas they need to clean up.
One of which is limiting free bases for opponents.
"We have to clean up some things as far as playing the games," Cooper said. "We walked or hit nine guys and even though none of them scored, after the seventh inning we had thrown 142 pitches and they had thrown 97. You're working almost twice as hard just to stay in the game."
Secondly, even though the team was hitting the ball hard Saturday and Sunday, Cooper still knows his team has the ability to come up with runs with runners on.
"We have to find a way to break through with runners in scoring position," Cooper said. "We hit the ball on the nose but had nothing to show for it. With bases loaded Jimmy Haley hit the ball on the screws, but we have to find a way to push one of those through."
With just three Big Ten series remaining, Cooper said his team could have given up on the season, but it's clear they have not. Novak noted there was never a point in the weekend where he and his teammates thought they were not in the game, even against a stout Illini club.
"We are just trying to keep our heads up," Novak said. "We are just trying to finish as strong as possible and we are confident in our abilities that hasn't changed so we are going to play until the end."
By Miranda Kulp, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- This weekend was full of plenty of action at Beard field as the Penn State softball team dominated Rutgers for the first Big Ten three-game sweep of the season
To open up the weekend, the Nittany Lions secured a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth with junior Shannon Good's first career home run. Good was one of five Penn Staters to make a presence at bat during the first game of the series.
"I think this series was good for the team, Rutgers is highly respected team and when playing a team like them we have to always show we're willing to fight for the win," said head coach Amanda Lehotak.
The team honored three seniors before the start of Saturday's game, Meghan Bradley, Marissa Diescher and Alicia Walker.
Jessica Cummings, who was the team's star pitcher Friday night, continued to throw a great game on Saturday. She pitched the first five innings, then teammate Macy Jones close the game on the mound. Despite the Scarlet Knights getting on the board in the first inning, the Lions brought their batting game and ended the game with a 12-6 victory.
Freshman Alyssa VanDerveer lead the charge offensively with her 13th home run of the season and drove in three additional runs to help the Nittany Lions take the win.
"Rally innings are a huge part of our game, every time I get a hit I know I'm helping my team win," said VanDerveer.
Coming off of another victory over the Scarlet Knights, the Blue and White entered the third and final game hungry for the sweep.
Rutgers got on the board early and finished the first inning with two runs and four hits. After four innings, both teams remained scoreless until the Scarlet Knights widened the lead with a single home run by Sierra Maddox in the top of the sixth. Despite being three behind Rutgers, PSU entered the bottom of the seventh inning determined to fight.
At the top of the batting lineup, Jones singled and VanDerveer walked, however due to an illegal pitch both Jones and pinch runner Maegan Tupinio advanced to second and third. Pond stepped up to the plate and homered to right field, making the game tied 3-3 and giving the Lions back life in the game. Pitcher Marlaina Laubach prevented the Scarlet Knights from scoring in the eighth and ninth inning as the rest of defense made sure to stop any ball that came its' way.
Going into extra innings, Penn State and Rutgers remained tied until Knief singled to centerfield to send Walker home to finish the game and complete the sweep.
"Although we were behind, we never gave up. We pride ourselves on being a team that fights until the end and that's what gave us the win today," said Knief.
The Nittany Lions are 27-24 overall and are 9-11 in Big Ten play. This weekend also marks the team's 11th home victory of the season, the most since 2012.
"This series gave us some confidence I think we needed as we prepare for Pitt and Michigan," said coach Lehotak.
Although the Blue and White are done with home games this season, the team will travel to Pittsburgh on Tuesday for a mid-week matchup. This will be the second time Lehotak and the team will face the Panthers this season. The first pitch is to be thrown at 6 p.m. After Pitt, the team will take on the last regular season series against No. 4 Michigan in Ann Arbor for a three-game weekend. The first of the series is set to begin at 6 p.m. Friday night.
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A strong contingency of Blue and White fans witnessed history Saturday afternoon at DeGol Arena as the Nittany Lions defeated St. Francis in straight sets (25-21, 25-19, 25-22) in their final match of the regular season to give Mark Pavlik his 500th career victory.
Pavlik, who is in his 21st season as head coach of the men's volleyball program, embodies everything that Penn State stands for academically and athletically. His love of teaching and respect for others reflects the true heart of a Nittany Lion.
"In those 500 wins I have not served a ball in the court," Pavlik said. "I have not put a ball away. I have not set a ball. I just happened to be here that long to see it. More than anything else, I think it speaks to the true foundation that Tom Tait laid for this program back in the late 70s. We've been able to represent the university and the athletic department, not only with our current teams, but also with our alums."
It was a fitting end for No. 7 Penn State (18-9, 12-0 EIVA) over St. Francis (6-20, 4-8 EIVA). Immediately after senior outside hitter Aaron Russell earned the final point of match, the entire team rushed to Pavlik and paraded him with silly string and a celebratory cake.
"His 500th win is a lot of proof to what he's done for the program and the experience that he has," Russell said. "What a great coach he is. He's coached a lot of good players, and he's given a lot to me and my family. It's nice to be able to play for him, and his 500th win to be able to give something back to him."
Under the tutelage of Pavlik, the Nittany Lions have gone from losing their first six matches of the 2015 campaign to finishing the regular season on a 14-match winning streak.
Even further, the program is now a perfect 36-0 all-time versus the Red Flash, having dropped just seven sets ever against the university just down the road from University Park in Loretto.
"It's not something that [Pavlik] shows a lot, but you know it really means something to him," middle blocker Matt Seifert said. "To be able to get it on the last regular season match of the year, and to be able to celebrate with him the way we did, it's just special. I'll remember this with him for as long as I play."
The Blue and White utilized experience to slip past the Red Flash. Sixteen kills from Russell, nine kills from redshirt senior Nick Goodell, 34 assists from setter Taylor Hammond, and 11 digs from libero Connor Curry paced Penn State. Sophomore outside hitter Chris Nugent added five more kills and Seifert and Matt Callaway each had four kills to balance out the Nittany Lions.
Penn State had already clinched its 17th straight EIVA regular season title two weeks ago after wins over Harvard and Sacred Heart. That means the Nittany Lions will once again have the top seed and home court advantage for the EIVA Championship coming up on April 29 and May 1 at Rec Hall.
"Just keep things rolling," Russell said. "I think we're doing a good job now. We're going to turn it up more in practice knowing what's at stake. You can always see a difference between playoff play and regular season play, in our mindset even. I'm just looking forward to the focus and the fun we're going to have competing on the court. I'm looking forward to the postseason."
With George Mason topping Princeton and NJIT this past weekend, the Nittany Lions will face Princeton to open the EIVA Semifinals on April 29. First serve set for 7:30 p.m. at Rec Hall.
"There's three different seasons, and now that two of them are in the books, the most exciting one starts," Seifert said. "It's business for us. Getting the first seed and winning the regular season conference title is something that we've done many times while I've been here and many times before I've been here. It's the same type of approach. It's all business, and we have a couple more goals that we want to accomplish before we're done this year."
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
ANN ARBOR, MI. - The Penn State men's lacrosse team (5-8, 2-3 Big Ten) secured a playoff spot after defeating Michigan (5-8, 1-4 Big Ten), 10-9, on Saturday. Penn State will be the No. 4 seed in the inaugural Big Ten Lacrosse Tournament.
The Nittany Lions came out strong offensively during their matchup against the Wolverines. Nick Aponte and TJ Sanders led the team in goals, netting three apiece to add to Penn State's dominant offensive start against Michigan.
"I think in the offensive end Nick Aponte did a great job just managing our attack, managing our offense once again, so that was a bright spot for us," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "You know when we were lacking a little creativity and a little ability to run by [Michigan] early, he was the one guy who stood out and made the plays. I think the other side of it is it was nice to be in a close game and learn how to win."
Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Peter Toner had said earlier in the week that his goal for the defense was to begin the game strong and not give up early goals, as they had in weeks past. Head coach Jeff Tambroni believed the defense was able to get their best start of the season, holding off any Wolverine goals until the second quarter.
"I thought [the defense] played really well for two and a half quarters," said Tambroni. "I thought the first half, Connor [Darcey] was playing well but I also thought that our defense was playing really well. I thought we managed two or three sizeable threats in the offense and I thought our guys did a pretty good job of managing possession time and did a pretty good job at limiting quality looks."
During the second half, Michigan mounted a comeback. The Wolverines were also fighting for the fourth Big Ten tournament spot, and were determined to not give up a postseason spot so easily. It was up to the Nittany Lion defense to stave off the relentless Wolverines and hold on for a win.
"I thought late in the third, early in the fourth, Michigan made a run," said Tambroni. "They were winning more than their fair share of face offs and I think we ended up having two or three possessions in the fourth quarter offensively. The good thing is not only did we get off to a good start but we found a way at the end to just doing us to walk away from Ann Arbor with a win."
Penn State's defense was able to hold off Michigan's attack men and come out with a 10-9 win. This win validated the last few weeks of hard work the team has put in during long practices.
The Nittany Lions, the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, will face No. 1 Johns Hopkins (7-6, 4-1 Big Ten) on Thursday in the first round. All Big Ten tournament games will be held on the campus of Maryland in College Park.
"I think just being fresh is going to be the most important thing right now," said Tambroni. "It's been a long season, a lot of travel, and the premium will be having a fresh team walk on to the field on Thursday."
Following a slow start, the Blue and White returned to the field for the final 30 minutes of play trailing the No. 1 Terrapins, 8-3. Unfortunately, after a tough battle and hard-fought second half, Penn State suffered its first conference loss of the season. Despite outscoring the Terrapins in the final minutes, the No. 8 Nittany Lions (12-4, 4-1 B1G) fell to No. 1 Maryland (17-0, 5-0 B1G), 13-10.
"I thought it was a good game," said head coach Missy Doherty. "We came out, and the first half was really tough. We couldn't manage to get the draw. That made it hard to get any goals. So, I think in the second half we did a much better job of getting the draw, and turning the game around."
The Nittany Lions came out as a different, more aggressive and determined squad in the final half. They worked to swing momentum in their favor. The team could not find a way to win the draw in the opening 30 minutes but was determined to make a change. It knew possession would be key to winning the game.
Leading the way for the Nittany Lions in that aspect of the match was junior Jenna Mosketti. She secured six draw controls alone, helping the team win the draw in eight of the second half's 13 attempts.
"I don't know if it was as much words as it was just a better effort there in the second half," said Doherty. "I mean Jenna came up really big, coming up with some huge draw controls in the second half. She really helped us change the momentum around. Then the offense got a little bit more aggressive going to goal and finishing their shots."
In addition to the draw, Mosketti registered a hat trick, assisting her team in as many ways possible. Sophomore Steph Lazo also recorded three goals, and captain Maggie McCormick continued building on her assists record, adding five more to her total.
Throughout the game, the Nittany Lions saw goals from six players, as Madison Cyr, Katie O'Donnell, Tatum Coffey and Ally Heavens all added goals of their own. Nevertheless, the Blue and White were unable to capitalize from the free position, which ultimately hurt them in the end.
Also taking away from the team's momentum was an injury to goalie Emi Smith. The junior played the first 42:34 of the game, allowing nine goals and stopping seven attempts before being helped off the field. Freshman McKenna Coyle stepped into the cage for the final 17:26. She made three saves and allowed four, giving a strong performance as well.
"I think McKenna came in and did a really solid job for us," Doherty said. "I think from a motivational standpoint, it hurts a little when someone like Emi leaves the game. But, thankfully McKenna came in and stepped up and came up with some pretty big saves."
Overall, the Nittany Lions' performance showed that they can play with the best in the country. The loss gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Had they come out a little stronger, not putting themselves into such a deficit, the outcome could have been different.
Penn State may not have captured the Big Ten title yesterday, but they know they have the ability to beat a team like Maryland. That confidence will be huge in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, which will be the team's next challenge.
"I think we've seen that we can compete, and we have to do that for 60 minutes," said Doherty. "We had a little bit of a slow start, and against a team like that you need every advantage. But, I think the way we competed for the full game was awesome. I'm really proud of the team."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After a strong win on Sunday over Rutgers, Penn State (4-8, 1-3 Big Ten) looks to finish the regular season on a high note when they take on Michigan (5-7, 1-3 Big Ten) on Saturday Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Fueled by an outstanding performance by the Nittany Lion offense last weekend, Penn State looks to gain a playoff birth with a win against the Wolverines. The winner of Saturday's contest will secure the No. 4 spot in the Big Ten tournament, a spot the Nittany Lions hope to find themselves in.
Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Peter Toner is hoping this game will prove the final piece to the puzzle that was a trying 2015 regular season. A win against Michigan and a playoff spot will bring validation to the young group of men who have worked hard throughout the season.
"Based on where we're at in the Big Ten we have to kind of treat this as a playoff game," said Toner. "I think at this point I wouldn't say it's do or die but obviously if we don't win our season probably comes to an end mathematically. For the guys we're excited about the opportunity to go to Michigan and do what needs to be done on the field and earn our way into the Big Ten championship series."
Penn State has faced Michigan every season since 2012. The Nittany Lions have won all three contests in those years, including a dominant 22-7 win to open the 2014 campaign. Despite recent successes, this weekend's game will not be without challenges.
The Nittany Lions, having come back from a two-goal deficit against Rutgers, will need to come out strong on defense to stay confident in all 60 minutes of play against Michigan.
"We still have yet to start a game defensively on the right note," said Toner. "Unfortunately we always seem to go down by a couple and I'm not sure if it's our guys overthinking or if they're a bit nervous, I don't know, but we keep working on it during practice. We keep using these scrimmage opportunities and adding emphasis on the early portion of the scrimmages and hopefully our guys will just continue to just have a better focus when the game starts."
Focus will be another key for the Nittany Lions this weekend. In previous years the Nittany Lions have been strong away from University Park, but this year have been inconsistent on the road. This weekend's matchup, in Michigan's "Big House," will prove a challenge for a team that needs one final win. The bus ride will give the players and coaches time to focus and strategize on their one goal of the weekend: to win.
Throughout the season, the team's motto has been "one game at a time." By never getting ahead of the next game on the calendar, the Nittany Lions focus all of their energy on one opponent at a time. Coach Toner emphasized that although this has given the team a new perspective on their season, he does still see room for improvement even as the season winds down.
"I think we just got to keep working on us," said Toner. "I think that's the key. We were talking to our guys last week about just doing what we do, but just doing it a little bit better. I think a lot of our focus earlier in the year tended to be on our opponent versus fixing the things that were going on within our own team."
One other area of improvement the team looks to tackle this weekend is possession time. To start, faceoff specialists like Drake Kreinz will need to win face offs, it then comes down to Penn State's ability to keep and possess the ball.
"Time of possession in this game is going to be key," said Toner. "It certainly highlights our ability to clear the ball effectively. To tip the scales a little bit more in our favor in terms of possession time for our offense and limited possessions for [Michigan's] offense. The fewer times we have to defend them the better off we'll be."
While every game offers the opportunity for improvement, the little changes that the Nittany Lions are focusing on this week could be the difference between extending their season and cleaning out their lockers sooner than they would like.
"I think this is an exciting opportunity for them and for us, knowing that we can extend our season with a win and we certainly look forward to the challenge," said Toner.
Penn State will face Michigan Saturday in Ann Arbor at 6 p.m. The game will air on the Big Ten Network.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 2015 season didn't quite get off to the start that James Coates wanted it to.
After entering the campaign as Penn State's expected leadoff hitter and a team leader, the junior outfielder went hitless in the team's opening series against Elon and pulled his hamstring. By the time the Lions home schedule started on March. 18, Coates was just 2 for 19 on the season and fighting to get healthy and earn a spot back in the lineup.
"I had a rough first weekend, I hit the ball hard but got a few tough outs and then I was injured for a while," Coates said. "Just trying to fight through the injury but when you don't get to see a lot of live pitching it's hard to just come in and get hits and that was a big problem for me."
While it was starting to look like a lost year for Coates, his hamstring healed by the start of April and head coach Rob Cooper placed him back in the starting lineup. It didn't take long for the results to start showing.
Since April 7, Coates has hit .316 and worked his way back to the front of the order. Even with his slow start, the 5-foot-8 outfielder has a .352 on-base percentage this season and has looked like the player that hit .287 with a .393 on-base percentage over his first two seasons.
What has led to the drastic improvement? According to Coates, it's been about receiving consistent playing time and not being expected to turn things around in just one game.
"For me, it was about getting more at-bats and seeing more pitches and getting more comfortable in the box," Coates said. "Just trusting myself is what it comes down to."
For Cooper, the biggest difference between Coates right now and at the start of the season has simply been his health. The outfielder first began struggling with his hamstring at the end of last season, and the second-year coach said the injury was the only thing holding Coates back.
"He's healthy and has confidence in being healthy," Cooper said. "He's a guy that really cares about playing for Penn State and has a lot of pride in himself. Last year he was doing a good job for us before he got hurt and it ate at him and then to have it early on [this season], it's like, 'Gosh, is this ever going to heal up'. So one, he's healthy and two, he's mentally healthy."
Not only does Coates feel better than he has all season, his presence in the leadoff spot has Penn State's lineup ready to reach it's potential.
Although Cooper used second baseman Taylor Skerpon and even power-hitting outfielder Aaron Novak in that spot at times this year, neither player was a perfect fit there. With Coates sliding back in, Novak is back at his normal No. 3 spot while Skerpon has gone down to seventh, where he went 4 for 5 with two RBIs on Tuesday against Kent State.
But Coates hitting leadoff has done more than just help his teammates succeed. It has also allowed him to do what he does best, which is work counts, get on base and use his speed to his advantage.
"Unless you're able to watch him play, if look at look him on paper at his stats you might say, 'Why is this guy leading off,'" Cooper said. "Even when he doesn't get a hit he finds a way to get on base and when he is on base, because he can run he generates offense that way. And him being a leader, being on the field and being able to not just talk and lead but play and lead helps."
That's part of the reason why Coates enjoys the challenge of starting things off for the Lions. Not only does he feel it plays to the team's strengths, it also allows him the opportunity to lead by example.
That chance was once the things that the Girard, Ohio, native, looked forward to before the start of the season. Although he tried to remain a leader even when he wasn't playing, being back on the field has made it much easier.
"I always try to be a leader, that's the role I want to take on this team," Coates said. "I felt I had a duty to the team and responsibility to be a leader.
"I like having the leadoff role because for me, it's about doing anything I possibly can to get on base so the guys behind me can get me in and see more pitches. It definitely seems to have put our lineup back in synch."
On Tuesday, Coates put on a leadoff hitting clinic against the Flashes, going 2 for 4 with a walk, two RBIs and two runs scored. His ability to come through for his team didn't stop after the final out though.
With Coates' family living less than an hour from Kent State, his aunt provided the team with two-dozen homemade pepperoni rolls, which the team enjoyed on the bus ride home.
While he can't promise post-game snacks the rest of the season, Coates is determined to keep his hot steak going.
"They were a big hit on the bus for sure," Coates said with a smile. "Just a one time thing since we were so close to my home. I come from a big Italian family, we're really big into food, probably a lot of excess food."