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Spring Football: Offensive Line Playing With Confidence

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Spring Practice Central


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions entered the 2014 spring practice period with just two players on the offensive line with starting experience.

And when senior Miles Dieffenbach suffered a knee injury during spring ball, the Lions were left with just one returning starter - Donovan Smith.

What a difference a year has made for the Penn State O-Line with senior center Angelo Mangiro headlining a group that now features a host of returning players with significant game and starting experience.

With experience comes confidence, and the Nittany Lions have taken a step forward in the trenches since the end of the 2014 season.

"We've done some really nice things this spring, and certainly we have some things to work on, but comparing this year to last year, it's really not close with how far we have come," said senior Angelo Mangiro. "We have more guys who are veterans now. They are more confident making their calls and doing the technical things we need to do."

You can't really put a value on what the game reps meant to the unit's collective growth. It was trial by fire with four of the five starters during the vast majority of last season seeing things for the first time during plays in games. Now, things have slowed down.

"One of the biggest things for offensive line play is getting those on-field reps," tackle Andrew Nelson said. "Getting on the field in games and playing in every rep was huge, not only for me, but a lot of guys. Those reps were huge to get a feel for the speed of the game, making calls, so that experience helped all of us grow tremendously."

No unit worked harder during the winter conditioning period than the offensive line. To a man, each player in the group made strides in strength, flexibility, speed and quickness. Coupling the physical growth with the game experience, Penn State's offense has executed at a higher level this spring because of the unit that makes up more than 45 percent of the entire offense.

"They just have to take kind of a lunch-pail mentality and come to work every single day and grind through it. But overall, I'm really pleased," said head coach James Franklin. "And I told them, they may not see it and even the individual coaches may not see it but I do. Looking at it from 50,000 feet and watching all the drills and all the competition, I'm just so impressed."

In all, six players return to the unit with starting experience, including Derek Dowrey (guard/center), Brian Gaia (guard/center), Wendy Laurent (center/guard), Brendan Mahon (guard/center), Mangiro (center/guard) and Nelson (tackle). Additionally, tackle Albert Hall saw action in 12 games last season, and the Nittany Lions add a host of redshirt freshman to the rotation and newcomers Paris Palmer and Sterling Jenkins.

The experience on the field and growth this spring has the group optimistic with the direction things are headed.

"When we are playing confident and doing the things we need to do, the offense moves," said Mangiro. "We understand that. We are willing to put that on our shoulders.

The offensive line's growth has not gone unnoticed by the players around the unit. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has taken note of the command the line is playing with when it approaches the line of scrimmage during pre-snap reads. Running back Akeel Lynch has also been a direct beneficiary of an improved group up front.

"I think with the offensive line, the big thing is communication," running back Akeel Lynch said. "They are more confident in what they are doing. When it comes to pass protection, they are communicating with me and I'm communicating with them. When you are playing for the first time and learning the offense, it's hard to pick things up as quickly. Obviously, with this being the second year, they are able to communicate a lot faster, which helps with the running game be more productive and helps with pass protection."

With the experience alone, the offensive line is not the same unit it was in 2014. After a slew of underclassmen players received invaluable game reps, and with only one senior (Mangiro) in the group, the Nittany Lions have a lot to build on and look forward to as the offensive line continues to evolve.


Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State softball team continues its season on Wednesday, April 15 as it hosts the Ohio State Buckeyes in a doubleheader. The first pitch will be at 5:30 p.m., and the second game will commence shortly after.

The Nittany Lions come into the series sporting a 21-20 record on the year, with a 4-8 mark in Big Ten competition. Coach Lehotak and her squad will be looking to bounce back after dropping three straight games to Indiana over the weekend.

Fresh off a four game winning streak, OSU comes into the match up with a 22-16 record on the year (6-6 B1G). Their hot spurt has vaulted the Buckeyes to seventh place in the Big Ten, while PSU sits at 12th. A Penn State sweep would put them right back in contention for the final playoff spot.

What stands in Penn State's way is the brute force that is OSU's offense. The Buckeyes have trouble keeping runs off the board, but they can sure put some big numbers up. Led by senior Caitlyn Conrad, OSU features nine hitters who carry a batting average above .300, and it's totaled 44 long balls this season.

Conrad enters the series with a .394 batting average. She leads the team with 52 hits, nine home runs, nine steals, and three triples. Redshirt junior Maddie McIntyre has been just as solid for the Buckeyes this year, leading the team in slugging (.761), on base percentage (.532), and runs scored (37).

"I think it easily could be two slug fest games," head coach Amanda Lehotak said. "They're pitching isn't dominant and neither is ours. Our goal is to get ground balls from their hitters and hopefully we keep swinging the bat well and get our timely hitting back."

In the circle, the Buckeyes boast a mediocre team ERA of 5.63. Senior Olivia O'Reilly leads the way with a 4.09 ERA to go along with a 12-6 record. The OSU pitching staff has given up a whopping 52 homers this season, which comes to nearly two per game. It has also surrendered 204 walks on the year, which trails only Iowa for most in the conference this season.

Penn State's staff has been more consistent, deeper, and flat out better than the Buckeyes' this season. The team ERA of 4.47 ranks fifth in the B1G, and PSU has allowed just 153 free passes. Macy Jones and Marlaina Laubach have been the brightest stars on the hill for PSU this season, with ERAs of 3.19 and 3.39, respectively.

PSU will be looking to lengthen their streak of 12 consecutive games with double-digit hits, while Macy Jones seeks to extend her career high 12-game hit streak.

Last year, the Nittany Lions dropped both games to OSU in a similar mid-week doubleheader and were ousted by the Buckeyes in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Revenge will most definitely be the theme of the evening on Wednesday.

Spring Football: Lynch Embracing Opportunity to Become Featured Back

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10996080.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Akeel Lynch has been waiting for the opportunity to become Penn State's featured running back since he committed to the Nittany Lions leading up to the 2012 season.

He redshirted during his first fall before spending the last two years waiting in the wings behind the tandem of Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak.

Like any college freshman, Lynch walked into the program with his mind made up that he was ready to be an impact player. But hindsight is always 20/20, and knowing what he knows now as a redshirt junior, the Toronto product wouldn't trade the last two years for anything.

Albeit difficult, Lynch remained optimistic and used the opportunity as means to refine all aspects of his game.

"I think I did a lot in those two years to develop and put myself in this position to be the older guy in the room," Lynch said. "I don't think that if I had to play right away I would be as effective because I have learned so much. Even though at the time I didn't see it, it was helpful and your time comes."

Now the featured player in a backfield full of young talent, Lynch is the guy everyone is turning to with questions. He's poised to be a central figure in the Penn State offense, and it's a role Lynch is ready to embrace.

"It's more of a change in mentality," said Lynch. "Being the No. 1 guy is a lot different than coming off the bench. Just knowing that the team needs you to be the No. 1 guy, you know that you have to do all of the things necessary to be a good running back."

His preparation for what lies in store for 2015 has been an evolutionary process for three years, but Lynch's production in the final seven games of 2014 expedited his track to becoming the featured back.

The 6-foot, 220-pound junior circles the final drive in regulation during Penn State's double overtime game with Ohio State as the moment when things began to shift. It was a moment that propelled Lynch to seven-straight games of 12 or more carries, including back-to-back 130-yard-plus outings in November.

"That (last drive in regulation is) when the game started to slow down for me, and I gained my confidence," Lynch said. "We were able to move the ball, and I was able to do my job to help the team score (to end the game)."

Lynch scored touchdowns in three of the final four games and tallied 75 yards on 17 carries in the Pinstripe Bowl, boosting him into the start of spring ball.

"The spring has gone really well," Lynch said. "It's the second year so the offense is moving a lot more smoothly. The game has slowed down. Communication is a lot better for everyone."

"I think this spring he has really elevated his play and performance a lot," quarterback Christian Hackenberg said. "He's done a great job increasing his knowledge of the position. It's not just running the ball. It's so much more...You can see him coming into his own."

The final player to wear No. 22 before the number is retired is by no means satisfied. He knows there is another gear in all aspects of his game. At the top of the list in Lynch's mind is an unsung characteristic of any great running back.

"Pass protection has slowed down a lot for more, but it's still about picking up blitzes faster," Lynch said. "Definitely during this spring ball (period), I've seen a lot of improvement with myself. I'm getting more confident and I'm picking up blitzes a lot faster and getting in a lot better body position."

After becoming the 42nd player in Penn State history to eclipse 1,000 yards, Lynch's strong finish to 2014 set the stage for his final two seasons in Blue and White. He understands that increased responsibility on the field places a bigger burden on his shoulders.

"I've always tried to prepare myself for this role," said Lynch. "You've got to be the guy to go out there and make plays; run the ball, block, catch the ball out of the backfield. You have to go out there and make the plays to win the game."

Lynch's ability to make those winning plays is a byproduct of the trait that has made him a better running back and the same characteristic that placed him into the position he is in today as the featured man in the running attack.

Patience.



Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Defensive Line

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion defensive line is shaping up to be one of the strengths for the Penn State defense in 2015. Led by the talented interior pairing of Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel, the Nittany Lion D-Line is full of playmakers.

Head coach James Franklin highlighted the unit's defensive ends when he addressed the media on Saturday. Carl Nassib, Garrett Sickels, Torrence Brown and Curtis Cothran. Today, take an inside look at the Nittany Lion defensive line during spring practice.

Penn State will hold practice No. 13 on Wednesday. The Blue-White Game presented by AAA is Saturday at 4 p.m. (BTN).




Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

High School Teammates, Guers and Novak Reliving Glory Days With Nittany Lions

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10995770.jpegBy Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ask Greg Guers and Aaron Novak how much the other has changed since they began college and the two can't help but laugh.

High school teammates who have been reunited at Penn State, the two have spent more time together than any other pair on the Nittany Lions, and both say any transformations by the other are pretty sparse.

"Well, he was super skinny, he's definitely put on some weight," Novak said of the 205-pound Guers. "I think he's the same type of person, fun guy to be around."

"He's maybe got a little more facial hair now, cares about his hair more," Guers said of Novak with a smile. "Actually, he cared about it in high school too. He's the same kid, more fun to be around, but we have a lot of fun here."

When speaking to them, it's clear the duo enjoys hanging out together. This season, however, they've both done a pretty good job bringing that fun onto the baseball field as well.

Now starting outfielders in their fourth seasons, Guers and Novak have provided Penn State with a lethal power combo. Hitting in the two-hole, Guers has slugged four home runs and leads the team in RBIs (23) and doubles (10). Novak, primarily the No. 3 hitter, has been a total revelation his senior year, leading the team in average (.364), on-base-percentage (.440) and hits (40), while also slugging four homers and driving in 21 RBIs.

The Nittany Lions co-leaders in home runs, the pair's performance has evoked memories of their high school days, when they starred for Germantown Academy in Philadelphia. It was there that both players were twice selected to play in the Carpenter Cup, a tournament sponsored by the Philadelphia Phillies to recognize the top high school players in the Delaware Valley.

"It kind of reminds us of high school," Novak said. "Before this year I hadn't hit many home runs so it's kind nice to be hitting them again. I know we're happy for each other and I think we're pushing each other to do well."

Still, it is not as simple a story as it sounds. While they're teammates again now, they weren't initially upon graduating from high school, as Novak accepted a scholarship to Penn State while Guers decided to go to the University of South Carolina Upstate.

It didn't take long for either player to make an impact with their new school, as Novak started 41 games and hit two home runs as a freshman while Guers had no trouble with the pitching in Atlantic Sun Conference, batting .309 with four home runs and 36 RBIs in 46 games.

Despite his success, Guers missed playing in his home state, and he wanted the challenge of playing in a major conference. That made Penn State an obvious choice, and even though transferring meant sitting out a year, Guers decided to join his old friend in University Park.

"[Aaron] just happened to be there," Guers said. "I wanted to go to a big school closer to home so Penn State kind of just fit that mold there. I just gave Aaron a call to see what the situation was looking like over here."


The next two years presented both of them with a number of challenges. In 2013, Guers redshirted while Novak received nine less starts than he did as a freshman. When Rob Cooper arrived as the new coach the following season, Guers showed some pop in the middle of the order (two home runs, 27 RBIs), but Novak saw his playing time drop once again to just 13 starts.

Through it all, both players had each other's support. From Guers sitting out to Novak fighting for at-bats, there was always someone to lean on when things got tough.


"Aaron made everything a lot easier," Guers said. "He made knowing the guys a lot better. I wasn't nervous transferring here at all because I knew I had him here waiting."

While there were high expectations for Guers going into 2015, it was uncertain how big a role Novak would have. While his first start didn't come until the fourth game of the season, he immediately produced, going 2 for 3 with two RBIs against Texas A&M.

Since then, there's been no looking back for the senior, who is currently third in the Big Ten in batting average. According to the 6-foot outfielder, finding a comfortable batting stance has been the key to his success.

"Over the past couple of years, I've always changed my swing, I never really stuck with something," Novak said. "The minute I wasn't feeling good I would change my stance. This offseason, I found a stance and a swing I stuck with and my swing just became more consistent."

Guers has enjoyed watching his high school teammate tear the cover off the ball, especially knowing that it is his final season. Though they are currently tied in homers, the 6-foot-3 slugger said there is no competition between the two.

"I mean, he always beat me in high school at hitting home runs so I guess I gotta try a little bit harder now," Guers said with a laugh. "No, it's fun. We just like hitting and if the ball goes over the wall it goes over the wall."

The camaraderie between the two has been noticed by Cooper, who said he took note of the fact that both players came from the same high school as soon as he took the job at Penn State.

An avid Boston Red Sox fan, Cooper likes to engage in friendly arguments with his power hitters, who both root for the Phillies. At the same time, the second-year coach said both guys have been a pleasure to be around since day one.

"They got this like Philly slang that they like to talk to each other with," Cooper said with a smile. "Look at them. They even walk the same way. But you can tell they know each other really well and they're good guys. To me that's a neat thing. I love guys that play together for a long time, that bond they have, the camaraderie they have but also to pick each other up when another guy is struggling."

As much as Guers and Novak have enjoyed being in the same lineup again, their time together will soon end, as Novak is graduating while Guers has one more year of eligibility. Though they will miss playing together, both are thankful to have gotten the chance to continue the friendship they started years ago.

"It's been a lot of fun because initially he didn't start out here," Novak said. "Once he told me he was looking to transfer, I gave a good word to our coaches and he was able to come here and it's been awesome to get the relationship back. We were best friends in high school so it's been awesome."

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By Lexi Masterson, GoPSUsports.com Student-Athlete Writer
LEWISBURG, Pa. - Penn State track & field was blessed with two sunny days to compete at the Bucknell Classic this weekend, and the performances did not disappoint either.

Day one was filled with some very inspiring performances across the board. One of the most amazing performances came from one of our redshirt athletes. Malik Moffett competed unattached on Saturday where he made his long jump debut. After only having about two long jump practices, Malik flew 25 feet to win the event.

In the throws, Jon Yohman had a 15-foot PR to place second in the discus with a throw of 171-05.  Another personal best in the throws came from Natalie Shiffler, with a javelin toss of 141 feet. Ryan Kerr and Cole Proffitt threw well in the javelin as well with Ryan winning the even at 212 ft. and Cole not too far behind at 200-05.

On the track, Robby Creese won the 1500 meter run with a stunning 3:41.74.  The women also took the top two spots in the 1500 with Tori Gerlach and Elizabeth Chikotas crossing the line in first and second, respectively. 

Day two started out strong in the field with Patrick Anderson clearing 15 feet 9 inches in the pole vault for a college PR.  Women's hammer also stole first and second place with Annjulie Vester and Rachel Fatherly, in addition to Alyssa Robinson who had a lifetime PR of 161-07.

On the track, the men's 4x1 had a season-best time, and Shelly Black and Quenee Dale took first and second in the 100-meter hurdles.

The day finished up with the women's pole vault. Although none of us had a personal best, we thoroughly enjoyed having our whole team cheering for us at the end of the meet. 

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By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With the 2015 Penn State outdoor track and field campaign in full swing, here's a look at two new events that come with the new season.

The Javelin Throw

The javelin throw event originates from the times of the Roman Empire when javelins were used as offensive weapons and thrown at enemies. As a warrior in ancient times, your main goal was precision, not distance, and success was measured by how deeply and accurately the javelin reached the opposing target.

Sophomore Michael Shuey is one of Penn State's top javelin throwers and holds the school-record, gold-medal winning 249-5 throw.

In modern times, the purpose of the event has changed significantly from war-like to goal and distance oriented, 

but throwing an approximately eight-foot javelin still requires a high level of skill and strength.


"It's a combination of being a sprinter, a jumper, and a thrower. We lift as much as the shot putters and discus throwers and we run close to the same amount the jumpers do. The body type for a javelin thrower is so unique compared to all the other events," said Shuey. "The amount of technique that goes into it...most people don't understand."

With change of times comes change of mindset so, why be a javelin thrower in modern times?

"I'm the youngest of six so we've been playing games all my life and throwing things was always my knack in any sport that we played so to find an event that is just strictly throwing things was just kind of like my calling," said Shuey.

And similar to ancient times, competitive nature is key along with research and practice, practice, practice.

"I've played almost every sport in my life and it's made me more competitive...more than anyone, I think, that has specialized in javelin their whole life," he said. "I researched and I watched videos every night in high school, I still do. I just watched what they did and their technique. I picked out the key concepts they were doing and I tried to apply them everyday."

The 3K Steeplechase

The steeplechase event is arguably one of the hardest events in the outdoor season. It originates from a similar horseracing event from as early as the 1800s in countries like Ireland and England and incorporates barriers, hurdles, and water jumps.

Junior Tori Gerlach holds the second best all-time school record of 10:03.55 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase but it has taken a vast amount of time, dedication, and practice to get to that point.

"It tests your athleticism because you're hurdling and jumping over water and it tests, not just your endurance, but your technique," Gerlach said. "The more you do it the better you are at it. Last year, it took like four [races] for me to finally have a good one."

Unlike the javelin throw, the steeplechase doesn't come from a long history of war or military-like conflict; however, it requires just as much skills and training.

"With the hurdles and the water jumps, the approach is really important. Approaching it and trying to remember everything you were taught is hard and important," said Gerlach. "Whether you're having a good steeplechase or a bad race, it hurts the same. When you're going, the hardest part about the water jump, and the hurdles, and the barriers you're jumping is the efficiency of how you get over it."

The purest characteristic all great athletes have is their competitive drive - a drive that both Gerlach and Shuey share.

"For me, [what made me better was] being competitive about it," said Gerlach. "When I first started, I wasn't that good at it and I kept working at it and working at it and I just wanted to be competitive in that event and not only the flat races. For anyone that wants to try it, don't get discouraged. It's something that you have to keep working at but it's fun!"

Gerlach, Shuey and the rest of Penn State track and field will continue its outdoor pursuit this weekend when they head to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for the two-day Bucknell Classic. 

Seniors Spark Two Wins in Final Home Weekend

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10993443.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Thanks to a pair of wins inside Rec Hall over the weekend, the seventh-ranked Penn State men's volleyball team (15-9, 9-0 EIVA) clinch its 31st EIVA regular season title.

Sparked by the senior class, the Nittany Lions survived Harvard (11-11, 5-5 EIVA) in five sets (25-20, 20-25, 24-26, 25-21, 15-10) on Friday night. Then in Saturday's senior day match, the Blue and White defeated Sacred Heart (12-11, 3-7 EIVA) in four sets (25-15, 20-25, 25-17, 25-18).

With the two wins, the Nittany Lions clinched the top seed in the EIVA Tournament. That means that Penn State will have home-court advantage once again in the postseason. All matches will be played at Rec Hall on April 29 (Semifinals) and May 1 (Championship).

"
Being in our home gym and just maintaining our normal routine is really helpful," senior libero Connor Curry said.

Looking back on Friday evening's five-set match, the Nittany Lions committed their most attacking errors this season (36), which led to just a .178 hitting percentage, but found a way to score a victory.

"
We weren't great at times, but I thought we were great when we had to be," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I think that's a mark of a pretty good team."

After winning the first set, the Crimson took games two and three before Penn State clawed back and won the last two frames.

Seniors Aaron Russell and Curry led the way. Russell posted a match-high 26 kills, while Curry compiled a season-high 19 digs. Redshirt junior Taylor Hammond added 56 assists to complete the comeback against Harvard.

"
We knew what we had to do," Russell said. "We didn't take losing as an option, and I think that we just kicked it into another gear."

The fourth game electrified the great crowd at Rec Hall. Down 19-20, the Nittany Lions used two straight kills from Russell, two aces from junior setter Zack Parik and a Harvard attacking error to regain the lead, 24-20. After a Harvard kill, Russell answered with a kill of his own to help Penn State tie the match at two games apiece.

"I told Hamm to start setting Aaron, and we won," Curry said. "Simple as that. And then we started cleaning up the ball in transition."

Russell tallied half of his 26 kills in the final two frames to jumpstart the Nittany Lions.

"The guys just asked me to step up, and I think I did that," Russell said.

Saturday's senior day concluded the regular season home slate for Penn State as the Blue and White won in four sets over Sacred Heart. The team posted a season-high 20.5 total team blocks, featuring Nick Goodell, who sealed the victory with a solo block in the fourth set.

"It felt good just because I haven't blocked a ball for a while," Goodell said on winning the final point. "It's just something I've been working on all year. It's what our team has been working on, so regardless of who it was, getting a block to end a match is great for us."

According to Pavlik, Sacred Heart's offensive tempo, paired with Penn State's understanding of the scouting report and match execution, led to the team's block total.

To go along with his 3.5 blocks, Goodell also scored a match-high 14 kills. Plus, Russell and Chris Nugent each earned eight kills, while Matt Callaway led the team with 6.5 blocks.

"Having it be senior night, it's always a little emotional," Russell said. "It's just a lot of fun to play in front of fans and represent a university that has given so much to you."

The final three regular season matches for Penn State will be on the road, starting with Princeton and NJIT next Friday and Saturday.

Friday Night Rout Highlights Weekend For Nittany Lions

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10993326.jpegBy Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was one of those nights where everything just seemed to fall into place.

Taking on Michigan on Friday night, the Penn State baseball played perhaps its best game of the season, dismantling the Wolverines 11-1 behind an excellent performance from pitcher Nick Hedge and an offense that got hits from eight of its nine starters.

Although the Lions fell the series' next two games, 5-3, and 8-4, they hung tough against a 21-14 Wolverines squad and played their most consistent ball of the season.

Numerous Nittany Lions had standout performances over the weekend. Here are some of the highlights.

Hedge on the Hill
Prior to Friday, it had been a while since Nick Hedge had much luck on the baseball field.

The junior had lived up to his billing as the team's No. 1 starter, averaging six-plus innings and just over two earned runs in his previous five starts, yet he hadn't been credited with a win all season. In fact, the last time the 6-foot-2 hurler had seen his name in the box score as the winning pitcher was April 1 of last season.

That all changed in game one against Michigan. With a solid defense behind him, Hedge gave a terrific performance in the Lions 11-1 win, blanking the Wolverines over seven innings.

"I was just attacking the zone," Hedge said. "Getting ahead early and having them guess. Threw a lot more breaking balls today and it worked out well.

"I know these guys behind me, trust them everyday. It's just good to get that first win out of the way."

While he struck out just two batters, the junior allowed only six hits and gutted out 94 pitches to help preserve the Penn State bullpen for the rest of the weekend.

The Nittany Lion defense played great behind him all evening, not committing a single error and not letting the Wolverines on the board until the ninth inning. Afterwards, second baseman Taylor Skerpon said he and his teammates were motivated to get Hedge the win he deserved.

"I told him walking down the hallway, I said, 'congrats man, it's a lot of fun playing defense behind you,'" second baseman Taylor Skerpon said. "When a guys on the mound like that, you really want to make that tough play, that highlight reel play for him just get him right back up on the mound doing what he's doing. It's awesome to see and I'm really proud of him."

Guers Keeps it Going
It used to be a rarity to see home runs hit at Medlar Field. That was before Greg Guers started wearing blue and white.

The junior outfielder kept his recent power surge going against the Wolverines, slugging his fourth home run of the season in the ninth inning of Saturday's setback. All four of his homers have come since April 1 and three have come at home.

Similar to his second shot of the season against Kent State, Guers' blast cut a four-run deficit in half and gave the Lions life in their final at-bat. Though the team came up short, Guers once again proved he has a never-say-die attitude at the plate.

"It's the same story for me with him," Cooper said. "I don't think he hits that home run last year. He had some quality at-bats early in the game and had nothing to show for it. He's 0-3 going into the last at-bat, but he stayed with his approach. The younger guys need to understand that because they can make that same choice as well."

Guers registered a hit in each game of the series against Michigan, and now leads the team with 23 RBIs, in addition to being tied with Aaron Novak for first in home runs.

Distasio Hangs Tough With Wolverines
While some freshmen have the luxury of being eased into the lineup their first year of college ball, Nick Distasio is not one of the them.

The first-year pitcher has been one of Penn State's weekend starters all season, frequently facing some of the team's best competition, a trend that continued Sunday against the Wolverines.

Despite taking the loss, Distasio battled and pitched solid, giving up three runs in 5 1/3 innings and walking only one batter. When he left the mound in the sixth inning, the score was 3-2 and the Lions were still very much in the game.

"I think I got ahead of guys with my fastball a lot," Distasio said. "I was locating it pretty well. I think I could just do better as a pitcher getting ahead and using my off-speed stuff to my advantage.

"It's good to come out against all these teams, it's good experience as a freshman to get it under your belt and kind of know what you need to do to be successful at this level."

In his last three starts, the 5-foot-11 freshman from Oley, Pennsylvania, has gone at least five innings and averaged just over two earned runs allowed. Still, both he and Cooper agree there is plenty of room for improvement.

According to Cooper, the only thing preventing Distasio from being an elite pitcher already is the development of his off-speed pitches. While he has good velocity (85-87 mph) and placement on his fastball, he has yet to master the rest of the pitches in his repertoire.

"I thought he did a lot of good things today," Cooper said. "His fastball command was outstanding. He really went after guys with his fastball. But he needs to go after guys with his off-speed stuff with the same intensity. I told him, 'you're pitching really well against these guys with one pitch.' If he does [master his off-speed stuff] its lights out. The kid can really pitch."

Fans Provide Great Atmosphere
When Cooper accepted the job to come to Penn State, perhaps the most enticing part of the gig was having the opportunity to coach at school passionate about athletics.

Over the course of the weekend, the Nittany Lion faithful showed the second-year coach just how great an atmosphere Medlar Field can provide. With the weather the best it's been all spring, the attendance increased each game, from 806 on Friday to 1,254 Saturday and a season-high 1,273 on Sunday.

"This is one of the reasons I really wanted this job," Cooper said. "If we can continue to build this thing, we've got an unbelievable facility, an beautiful day like today and you've got Mount Nittany in the background, I can see it getting bigger and bigger. My goal is to host a regional here one day and I think it would be an unbelievable atmosphere to do that."

Darcey Shines in Net Against Johns Hopkins

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10727141.jpegBy Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
BALTIMORE, Md. - Penn State battled back from an early four-goal deficit to force double overtime against Johns Hopkins. Despite stellar performances from both Connor Darcey in net and the entire offense, the Nittany Lions came up just short to the Blue Jays, 11-10.

Goaltender Connor Darcey made 13 saves in net for Penn State (3-8, 0-3 Big Ten) during the Saturday evening showdown against Johns Hopkins (5-6, 2-1 Big Ten). Darcey's solid performance was yet another reminder of how far the redshirt sophomore has come since the beginning of the season. Having started every game in net this campaign, Darcey continues to improve with every passing game.

"One of our issues has been getting off to a good start and right from the get-go. Connor seemed to be locked into the defense and the game itself," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "He certainly kept us in it early and gave us a chance late so he was just very consistent throughout the course of that entire game."

During the first overtime period, Darcey blocked both of Johns Hopkins' two shots on net.  With neither team finding the target in the first overtime, the game moved into a second overtime. Darcey and the defense geared up for another long five minutes of withstanding Johns Hopkins' determined offense. Unfortunately, with seven seconds left in the second overtime, the Blue Jays snuck one past Darcey, into the back of the net, ending what would have been the biggest comeback of the season for the Nittany Lions.

"Without [Connor Darcey] it certainly could have been a whole different ball game," said Tambroni. "It's nice to see the way Connor played from start to finish."

Another Nittany Lion had a stellar performance against Johns Hopkins, this time on the offensive end of the field. Senior Pat Manley had four goals against the Blue Jays, all coming within a twelve-minute span. Manley's first goal of the night, coming at the end of the first half, gave the Nittany Lions the momentum they needed to spark a second half comeback.

"I think [Pat Manley's first goal] was a big one for us because it brought [momentum] into the half and more energy and a little bit more enthusiasm," said Tambroni. "Even though it's just one goal it made a big difference and it gave our guys a chance to come out the second half and play the way they did."

Coach Tambroni had stressed earlier in the week that the Nittany Lions needed to get back to the basics against Johns Hopkins.

Tambroni saw his team get back to the basics during the second half against the Blue Jays, but not before they had to find their footing first.

"I certainly didn't think we did it in the first half, I thought we were a bit disorganized defensively, played hard, played a little bit on discipline, but played a little bit tight, maybe a little bit selfish offensively," said Tambroni. "I think they were trying to do a little bit too much on both sides of the ball."

Once finding their footing, the Nittany Lions dominated the field, scoring and keeping the Blue Jays on their toes, but in the end it wasn't enough.

"I thought we got back to the basics in man-to-man defense in the second half," said Tambroni. "It gave our guys a lot to build on as we look ahead to the final two games in the Big Ten."