UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Behind a five-run third inning and a complete
game, five-hit shutout from junior Greg Welsh on the mound, the Nittany Lions
(14-35, 4-19) belted 17 hits en route to a 9-0 victory over Michigan State (32-17,
11-9) on a sun-splashed Friday afternoon at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
On a day where all nine Nittany Lions in the lineup tallied hits, sophomore catcher J.C. Coban opened the scoring with an RBI base hit through the middle of the infield in the bottom of the first inning. However, it was Coban's second RBI single on a sharply hit ball to right field in the top of the third that opened the gates for Penn State's second shutout of the 2013 season.
"There was a big hole up the middle, and all I was trying to do was put the ball up the middle in my first at bat," Coban said. "It was huge to get contributions from a number of different guys (in the third inning)."
Freshman left fielder James Coates kick-started the big third with a single to left field. In total, the Lions notched six hits in the third, which included a two-RBI double from senior Matt Paradise just inside the left field line. An Elliot Searer RBI single to left capped the scoring to make it 6-0.
From there, the junior southpaw on the mound took over. Welsh tossed his first career complete game performance while yielding just five hits. He struck out just two and walked one on 102 pitches. Welsh pitched with great tempo and developed an early rhythm to shut down Michigan State.
"Coach Bell always tells me, and I believe it, too, that I am really good in a fast tempo," Welsh said. "I'm not really thinking about each pitch to just keep on rolling. He did a good job in the dugout telling me to just keep it up. There was a time in the middle of the game where I kind of slowed it down when I was in the stretch, but I picked it up and like working fast."
Michigan State leadoff batter Cam Gibson doubled to open the game. Welsh then retired the next nine batters before the Spartans led off the fourth inning with a single. The key to the superb outing for Welsh was his ability to throw strikes.
"Throwing strikes is huge," Welsh said. "Recently, including myself, the whole staff has really had trouble throwing strikes and giving our defense a chance to make plays. I was really happy trusting my defense back there and pitching to contact, and they had my back all day."
The Nittany Lions added three more tallies in the bottom of the eighth to put the game out of reach, thanks to an RBI single from Luis Montesinos and a two-RBI single from Zach Ell.
One day after falling 16-1 in the series opener against Michigan State, the Nittany Lions looked like a completely different ball club on Friday. Seven different players notched at least two hits, led by Coban's three-hit, two-RBI effort at the DH spot. Friday marked Penn State's largest offensive output in Big Ten play this season with 17 hits and nine runs.
"We're still fighting, and we are still competing," Coban said. "Greg (Welsh) was battling his butt off out there, so we had to do our job out there, too."
"It was a great win for us, a huge win," Welsh said.
The Nittany Lions and Spartans will again do battle on Saturday in the regular season finale. Penn State will honor its senior class prior to the 1:05 p.m. first pitch at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Behind a five-run third inning and a complete
game, five-hit shutout from junior Greg Welsh on the mound, the Nittany Lions
(14-35, 4-19) belted 17 hits en route to a 9-0 victory over Michigan State (32-17,
11-9) on a sun-splashed Friday afternoon at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With just four games
left in their season, the Penn State baseball team took to the Medlar Field at
Lubrano Park turf and claimed a, 7-4, victory over Villanova on Tuesday, but
after the game some reflection from a pair of seniors put the final weekend of
the season into perspective.
It looked like the Lions were headed for another game hampered by mistakes, with
two, first inning errors leading to three unearned runs for the Wildcats.
However, Starting pitcher Patton Taylor and reliever Blake Estep shut down Villanova's offense for the next seven innings and gave their offense the time needed to mount the comeback.
"[Falling behind early] has been plaguing us all year long," said head coach Robbie Wine, "but Patton [Taylor] pitched well after the first inning and gave us a chance to win. We've been getting hits all year long, but it is about defense and pitching and tonight we held up."
Taylor threw six innings and allowed three runs - zero earned - on five hits and struck out a career-best seven batters to pick up the win and Estep posted his first career save with three innings of one-run relief work.
Elliott Searer and Tyler Kendall each plated a pair of RBIs, while J.C. Coban, Alex Farkes and Luis Montesinos all drove in one run in the victory.
Montesinos and Searer are two of the nine seniors that will be honors prior to the Nittany Lions final game of the season on Saturday, May 18 against Michigan State. The eight players and one manager will close out their careers with a lot to be proud of and many memories according to head coach Robbie Wine.
"[Our seniors] have been a part of some really exciting times and they've taken advantage of an opportunity to get a great education," said Wine. "I hope when they look back they remember the friendships and all of the good times they've had."
It's always nice to close out your season on your home field and Penn State gets to play in one of the nicest facilities in college baseball.
Medlar Field at Lubrano Park is nestled among the majority of the PSU athletic facilities and gives players and fans a breathtaking view of the mountains in center field. The seniors talked not only about the amenities, but also the playing surface.
The common areas and locker rooms were a highlight for Montesinos, while both he and Searer bragged about the playing surface. Both infielders were complementary of the efforts of the grounds crew and mentioned that the surface was one of the main reasons they chose Penn State.
"The grounds crew does an outstanding job getting this field ready for us every year," said Searer. "Most people don't know it, but those guys do an amazing job making sure it's one of the best fields in college baseball. We see a lot of other parks and being able to play here on a surface that is second-to-none has been incredible."
When asked what they will remember most, both players responded quickly.
"It all starts with the guys I came in with and all of these guys that are in this locker room right now," said Searer. "The memories of the times I have shared with these guys, the friendships and the time spent with these guys is something I will always remember."
Montesinos also recalled his first career start against Lamar during the second week of his freshman season. He was 0-for-2 with a walk, but still gets a smile on his face when talking about his first taste of college baseball and the friendships he's made.
"One big things I will take with me is how close I am with all of my teammates," said Montesinos. "Playing with this team has been awesome and this is a great group of guys."
Underclassmen don't always take the advice of those who've come before them, but the seniors say they will try to impart the age-old testimonial upon the younger Nittany Lions as they depart to enjoy their time and soak everything in.
"It's kind of cliché, but being a Penn State student-athlete is something very special," said Searer. "You're able to compete on a national level and not many people get a chance to play in a great facility like [Medlar Field] and get an education that is highly regarded around the world."
One thing that the entire senior class looks forward to is continuing the momentum built over the last week and ending the season on a high note.
"We just want to come out swinging," said Montesinos. "We hit the ball well last weekend and we came out and kept it going [Tuesday] versus Villanova. Hopefully we can go out there and get three wins against Michigan State."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In a season that has
featured its fair share of ups and downs, Penn State (12-34, 3-18 Big Ten) enters
the final week of the college baseball regular season with optimism. Even after
dropping their series at Illinois (31-15, 12-9 Big Ten) last weekend the
Nittany Lions are focused on closing out the year on a high note.
A pair of narrow losses on Saturday and Sunday followed a series-opening shutout loss on Friday night at Illinois, but the ability to bounce back has been something this group of Lions has shown all season.
The Lions have three come-from-behind wins, but there are at least a handful of games that have seen Penn State close the gap late in the game and put themselves in a position to win the game.
"We've had a tough year, but our kids are still battling," said assistant coach Eric Folmar. "They work hard and they play hard. They get after it and there's no quit in these guys. There is no doubt that are ability to rally late in games is a credit to our guys not giving up."
That ability to keep a steady temperament was on full display Saturday in Champaign, Ill. when Penn State found themselves down, 7-1, in the third inning after being shutout, 9-0, in the series opener. The Lions kept that fighters mentality that Folmar mentioned and eventually brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the ninth inning of an 8-6 setback.
"Even when we are down [our guys] are still out there fighting," Folmar said. "They don't throw at-bats away, they just keep competing. A lot of teams just shut it down when they are struggling, but our guys just continue to battle."
On Sunday some late offense by the Illini gave them a 5-4 lead entering the ninth. However, nothing changed for the Nittany Lions, who put a pair of base runners on before UI closer Bryan Roberts induced a game-ending double play to close out the contest.
An error led to the eventual game winning run in Sunday's game and a couple of errors on Saturday led to runs for Illinois, as well. Errors are one thing that has hurt this team in 2013. The misplays lead to more opportunities for the opposition on offense and this group knows that they can't give extra outs to their opponents.
"When you look at a lot of our games this season it seems like there is one inning in each game that has haunted us," said assistant coach Eric Folmar. We keep telling our guys is that we have to eliminate mistakes."
The Nittany Lions saw some of the aforementioned mistakes come into play in each game over the weekend at Illinois. In Friday's loss, a mental error with two outs allowed the Illini's time at bat to be prolonged and the home squad took advantage, scoring seven runs in the inning.
"If you go back to the Friday game, Illinois scored all of their runs in two innings," said Folmar, "so the big inning hurt us, again. The Friday score was a little misleading and we just came out [on Saturday and Sunday] and our guys believed we could win both of those games."
Those big innings, when four or more runs are scored, have been a bugaboo for the Blue and White all season. They know there's not reset button to push when big innings happen, but if you look at their games and take away the big innings this team has been in nearly every game they have played this season.
Penn State has played 10, one-run games this season and nearly half of their games, 20, have been decided by two or fewer runs. This team knows the importance of moving on quickly from a mistake and the coaching staff continues to instill this into their players.
With the Illinois series now in the rearview mirror, Penn State turns its attention to a four-game homestand to close out the 2013 campaign.
Sophomore Patton Taylor will take the mound vs. Villanova (11-39) in a Tuesday afternoon matinée at 3:35 p.m. before the Blue and White try to send their nine seniors - eight players and one manager - out in style against Michigan State (29-16, 10-8 Big Ten) in a three-game series that begin on Thursday, May 16 at 6:05 p.m. inside Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
"We are going to go out and get after it at practice [on Monday]," said Folmar, "and we are going to keep fighting and keep battling this week. The most important thing for us is to make sure we send our nine seniors out on a good note. We want to make sure they can remember these last four game for the rest of their lives. We have to make sure we finish on a positive note and send these seniors out the right way."
By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State was thinking long-term when it hired new strength training coach Jamie Burleson. The addition gives the Nittany Lions an important edge playing in the Big Ten and on against some of the nation's top teams.
Building a winning baseball program requires combining a variety of different elements. While recruiting may provide the foundation for success, it's strength and conditioning that creates the structure around which these players grow and prosper as athletes.
Burleson to the staff was an important step for Penn State moving forward
according to head coach Robbie Wine.
"He's another motivator, another person that these guys can look to in a different area," said head coach Robbie Wine. "The players respect him and [strength and conditioning] is an area that we were lacking for a long time."
Prior to joining the Nittany Lions in 2013, Burleson was a part of two prestigious baseball programs at the University of South Carolina and the University of Florida, where he learned the techniques that are implemented by teams consistently competing at the highest level.
"He's just brought that extra edge that we've been missing," said sophomore catcher J.C. Coban. "Knowing he came from an SEC program, South Carolina and Florida, he's got experience. He knows what he's talking about."
Appointing an additional coach who can focus on developing the strength and stamina of each player by creating individualized training regimens will give Penn State a key advantage heading into the season.
Burleson brings with him a concrete and proven training program that will keep players healthy during the long and arduous season, as well as enhance their strength and conditioning to meet the standards for a top-tier college baseball program. It's a long-term process, but the players have already seen results.
"I think that over the course of this season, even just one semester, the guys have become better athletes and I think that that's going to benefit these younger guys," said senior third baseman Elliot Searer. "It's just good overall to have him on board."
One of the main focuses for Burleson's program is to enhance movement and speed to match the pace of college baseball. He does this by implementing strength exercises that will help outfielders when reading fly balls and increase the range of infielders on groundballs.
"[We're] really focusing more on explosive strength and explosive exercises because of the pace of college baseball today," said Burleson. "It's a fast-paced, explosive game, so we've tried to bring that in and include some speed improvement."
During the season, Burleson's focus will be on keeping the players healthy with exercises that will increase their stamina, strengthen critical arm areas, like their rotator cuffs, and keep their bodies loose and flexible.
"It's a grueling season," said Searer. "There's a lot of wear and tear [on your body] and you have to take good care of your body. Jamie has really brought something to the table that we haven't seen before here."
It's a long-term program that will begin the moment the 2013 season ends. Burleson will develop personalized training schedules for each player that they will be expected to fulfill during the off-season in order to succeed.
"Over the next year, as soon as these guys leave from here, they'll be given a summer manual that I'll put together," said Burleson. "It will consist of three days of lifting and two days of conditioning that they're expected to do for the next three months over the summer."
When the players return in the fall, Burleson will work them hard to prepare them for the upcoming season.
"We really take charge in the fall and they'll be working hard in the weight room to try and get that to carry over into next season," said Burleson. "It's long-term in that it's a year-round program."
In addition to a well-designed strength and conditioning program, Burleson brings a work-hard, never-give-up mentality that he hopes will motivate the Nittany Lions both on and off the field.
"I'm trying to encourage these guys each and every day in the weight room and trying to get that to spill over onto the field," said Burleson. "Because of the nature of the season, it's a long year, and you're going to be faced with some difficult situations and no matter what happens you have to stay positive."
The coaches and players are excited to have him with the team. Burleson is a competitor and he understands what it takes to be successful.
"He wants to win," said Coban. "He saw South Carolina win. He saw Florida win. He wants us to win too, so I feel like it's a great addition for us."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was a precarious situation the Nittany Lions found themselves in; bases loaded, no outs in the bottom of the tenth inning in a tie game. Penn State (12-30, 3-15 Big Ten) got out of the jam unscathed and flipped the script on Minnesota (28-15, 11-4 Big Ten), loading the bases with no out before a Tyler Skerpon fielders choice pushed the game winning run across the plate.
If you were in the stands at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park you could feel the momentum begin to shift in the sixth inning when the Lions tied the game at 3-3 with a pair of runs and when Neal Herring got out of the bases loaded jam in the tenth inning, you knew that it was a now or never moment.
"The pitching feeds off the defense, which feeds off the hitting," said senior Luis Montesinos. "Everything feeds off the other and when [the pitchers] are doing well [the hitters] are going to take that confidence to the plate."
The team fed off of each other down the stretch in the series final against Minnesota.
After starting pitcher Steven Hill allowed a pair of runs in the top of the sixth inning it looked like the Lions were headed towards a sixth straight loss, but that was not the case.
J.C. Coban and Skerpon got the bottom of the sixth inning started with a single and a walk, respectively. James Coates followed with his fourth infield single of the year and when Gophers third baseman Ryan Abrahamson's throw went wide of the first baseman, Coban and Skerpon were both able cross the plate to tie things up.
Both team's threatened during the next four innings, but it wasn't until Skerpon stepped to the plate in the tenth that someone was able to end the battle of wills.
"I've been struggling a little bit lately," said Skerpon, "but going into my last at-bat I told [Coban], 'if you don't do it, I'm going to'. I just went to the plate wanting to hit the ball hard somewhere. The corners were playing in and I obviously didn't hit it very hard, but I did my best to beat it out and it was enough."
The sophomore was 0-for-3 with a walk entering his fifth plate appearance of the afternoon, but the confidence never wavered and he delivered one of the biggest hits of his young career.
In life you do your best work when you feel comfortable; it's the same way in baseball. On Sunday, the Lions entered the series final with a comfortable feeling at the plate and it showed as they out-hit the Gophers, 8-7, and put base runners on in seven of the ten innings.
Wine felt like his team had played well offensively all weekend, especially against a pitching staff as deep as Minnesota's. The Gophers do not allow many big innings and have limited opponents to 4.6 runs per game this season and own a Big Ten-best .230 batting average against, however, Penn State never felt uneasy in the batter's box.
"We are a team that is going hustle and play hard," said Skerpon. "We are always working hard, everyone is up early working in the weight room, doing conditioning and getting in swings. That's one thing we stress before every game to make sure that you are locked in and playing hard on every pitch."
Now the Lions have to carry that momentum into the final two weeks of the regular season. With just eight games left on the schedule, Penn State will play four straight road games, before closing the year with four straight at home and are looking to keep this momentum going down the stretch.
"We just have to keep moving forward," said Skerpon. "We saw some pretty good pitching from Minnesota this weekend and the bats started to come alive a little bit. We just have to keep playing out game, getting on base, moving runners, stealing bases and playing solid defensively."
The effort has been there, but sometimes baseball is about catching - or making - a break or two and the Lions made their own breaks on Sunday and were able to end the weekend on a high note.
"I have been really happy with our effort," said Wine. "Sometimes things just haven't gone our way, but today we just went out there and reacted and it worked out for us."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State (11-30,
2-15 Big Ten) dropped their second straight contest to Minnesota (28-14, 11-3
Big Ten) on Saturday inside Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, but the final score
of 7-3 didn't damper the spirits or reveal the positives that have been
building in the Nittany Lions clubhouse.
Penn State was again stung by an early onslaught of offense from the Gophers, who tallied all seven of their runs between the second and fourth innings, but three PSU relievers combined to throw the final five innings scoreless and the offense was able to put pressure on the Gophers, even though they were unable to capitalize on opportunities against one of the best pitching staffs in the country.
That wasn't an excuse for the players, however, as they know they need continue to relax, take it one pitch at a time and keep pushing forward with just nine game left in the 2013 season.
"The effort is there," said senior Cody Lewis. "I have no doubt about that. Sometimes we play a little tight and put [the game] on a pedestal and try too hard, instead of playing loose and just letting the game come to us. Sometimes we [think too much] and that gets in the way. We just have to go out and play our game."
That is something that Lewis did on Saturday as the first reliever out of the bullpen versus Minnesota. Entering the game out of the bullpen to start the fifth inning, Lewis retired nine of the first 11 batters he faced and fired three and two-thirds innings of scoreless work. He tied his career-high with five strikeouts, four of the looking variety, and allowed just five base runners.
"Cody struggled with an injury last year, but he's past that now," said head coach Robbie Wine. "He changed his arm angle and he's always been a competitor. He's been one of our main guys [out of the bullpen] and he came in today in a game that was far from over and kept putting up zeroes for us. He's been doing his job [all year]."
Another player that has been doing his job is junior Alex Farkes. The catcher was able to put some good swings on the ball, but had nothing to show for it, which ended his 10-game hitting streak, but it is the little things that he does that stand out to his coaches.
"Farkes has done a good job," said Wine. "He's been throwing and receiving the ball well, and he's really taking charge behind the plate. As a coach you see things he is doing that the everyday fan might not see. His big thing has been building confidence and taking control of the pitching staff. He's also a great guy in the dugout and the clubhouse"
For Farkes, it has been about getting back to the fundamentals and getting a chance to play every day. He has already set career-bests in a host of offensive categories and is hitting .247 15 runs scored and nine RBIs. He made his career-high 25th start on Saturday and has played in 30 of the team's 41 games and is fielding almost .980.
"I've been trying to keep it simple and just make solid contact," said Farkes. "Seeing opposing pitchers on a consistent basis has been huge, too. You start to feel good at the plate and you're not trying to prove too much [when you get to play every day]. It helps the game slow down a little bit and makes it fun."
Farkes, Lewis and the rest of the Nittany Lions will try to get back on track in the series finale with Minnesota on Sunday starting at 12:05 p.m.
The Blue and White will send senior Steven Hill to the mound for his tenth start of the season and coach Wine knows his team needs a strong outing from Hill to help the team build some momentum down the stretch.
"We are going to get back to the basics and find the fun in the game," said Wine. "We are hoping Steve [Hill] goes out there and keep us in the game early...We're not playing bad, but it just feels like we are climbing a mountain right now. We need to get some momentum early and build on it."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -When you look at the
scorebook for the Nittany Lions from Friday night contest vs. Minnesota (27-14,
10-3 Big Ten) you see that Penn State (11-29, 2-14 Big Ten) put runners on base
in seven of the nine innings against one of the Big Ten's top pitchers, but 12
free baserunners and 12 hits by the Gophers were too much in the 11-2 loss.
"It starts on the mound," said Wine. "When you have long innings...it takes the wind out of you both offensively and from a pitching standpoint. If tonight's was closer, it would have been a different game. Tomorrow [Greg Welsh] needs to go out there with some energy, get deep [in the game] and give us a chance to win."
It looked like sophomore T.J. Jann would present the Lions with a great chance to grab a victory after allowing a first inning run and then limiting the Gophers offense to just a hit over the next two frames.
Penn State grabbed their first lead of the game in the second inning by taking advantage of a misplay by the Gophers and using some timely hitting. J.J. White reached on a two-out error and Alex Farkes moved his hitting streak to ten games with a base hit. Zach Ell stepped in and delivered with a two-out, two-RBI double down the left field line to push the home squad out to a 2-1 lead.
The Lions faced Minnestoa's Friday night starter, Tom Windle, twice last season and that helped them in the early going. Windle, one of the top hurlers in the Big Ten with a 2.00 ERA and a .179 batting average against, took the loss on Friday night vs. Penn State in 2012 and that success against the left-hander carried over early.
"We hit [Windle] a little bit last year when we went to their place," said J.C. Coban, "so we came into today with a little confidence. Confidence was a big key today. And we were pretty loose and things were going our way early on."
A six-run fourth inning and two more runs for the Gophers in the fifth slowed the momentum that Penn State had built and made the road a little tougher against an efficient and effective Windle.
The good thing about college baseball is that the Lions will have another chance tomorrow to get back into the win column.
"We just have to take care of the things that we can take care of," said Searer. "[Coach Folmar] always tells us to focus on what we can control, like hustling and coming to ballpark prepared. We just have to keep playing the game the right way. We need to come out and put pressure on [Minnesota] and see what good comes out of it."
Playing 56 games in four months is a daunting task, but it makes focusing on what you can control that much more important. An old baseball adage tells you that momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher.
That momentum will come in the form of junior Greg Welsh on Saturday. He will make his seventh start of the season and carries a 3.62 ERA, the best among the Penn State starters, while ranking second on the team in strikeouts (33) and batting average against (.278).
The left-hander also brings an edge to the mound that his teammates know they can feed off of.
"[Welsh] brings a great demeanor to the mound," Coban said. "He's a competitor. He wants to win. You can always see it in his face; he is just ready to go once he steps on the mound."
Those attributes will go a long way in helping the Lions even their series with the Gophers.
By Mike Esse, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State enters their three-game weekend series at Ohio State (25-13, 9-6) with an 11-25 overall record and a 2-10 mark in the Big Ten. However, there are a lot of things that record might not tell you as the Nittany Lions look to win their second straight Big Ten series.
For the first time all season, numerous Nittany Lions are contributing, whether it is in the field, on the mound or at the plate.
It's not just one or two guys, it's six or seven guys each day, and that is what has allowed them to turn the page and play better baseball.
"Anytime you look at teams that are having success they have several guys throughout the lineup that are contributing and we [have had] that," said assistant coach Eric Folmar. "Now you are starting to see [production] from different guys offensively and on the mound and there is no question when we have that kind of production throughout the lineup, it's a great thing."
The stats can prove Folmar's point true as in Penn State's last five games, which they are 4-1, Penn State has at least seven hits in each game and at least six different players have gotten a hit in each of those games.
Head coach Robbie Wine is now seeing players like sophomore's Aaron Novak and J.J. White produce from the bottom of the lineup and combining that with the production Penn State has seen from the top of its lineup via James Coates, Elliott Searer and Luis Montesinos, the offense is rolling at the right time.
Continuing to get this production against Ohio State is very important, especially against a Buckeyes pitching staff that has been very efficient this season.
Ohio State's pitchers boast a 2.94 ERA, which is third in the Big Ten behind only Indiana and Minnesota. The Buckeyes have also struck out 261 batters, the second most in the conference, and that makes getting timely hits even more important this weekend.
"They're going to be around the plate, so when we get guys in scoring position we are going to have to execute," said Folmar. "They have been really good on the mound so when we get a guy one base and move him into scoring position, we have to execute."
On the other side, Folmar is also looking at the pitching staff to produce this weekend, which is something they have done as of late. Cody Lewis has been strong out of the bullpen along with Ian Parvin and a host of other Nittany Lions.
If they can throw strikes and get help defensively, Folmar believes Penn State will be in each game of the series.
"It's pretty simple on the mound for us. I think our guys are very capable and are going to go out and throw strikes for us," he said. "Defensively we have to be clean and we have to make the plays."
Arguably the biggest positive for Penn State as they are set to open the series with Ohio State on Friday is that its mindset hasn't changed at all this season.
Even when they were struggling, Wine's team was positive. Now, with wins in four of its last five games, they still aren't satisfied and that in itself is a good thing.
"The record is not at all what we want it to be, but the one thing that has been constant is that they have battled," said Folmar. "They have worked from day one in the fall to today. They continue to get after it in practice and work hard. There is no quit in these guys."
By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When it comes to winning in baseball, the bullpen rarely receives the recognition it deserves. The starters may set the tone and the hitter may provide the run support, but nine times out of ten it's the bullpen that decides the victor.
Penn State (11-25, 2-10 Big Ten) has won four of its last five games, including a marquee conference series win against Iowa. The hitting has shown improvement, but what truly made the difference were the relievers who shut down the opposing offenses until the final out was recorded.
"The bullpen's everything," said head coach Robbie Wine. "You've got to have strong guys that can come in and get players out in tough situations."
The Nittany Lions have scored first in 19 games this season, but until recently have struggled to retain the lead to the 27th out. A lack of repetition was partially to blame early as a number of pitchers rarely saw time on the mound until midweek games began at the University of Houston.
Immediately following the Houston series, the coaches and players saw a marked improvement both offensively and defensively, but were sent back to square one when the next two midweek games were cancelled due to inclement weather. Repetition and rhythm were instrumental.
Now, the Penn State bullpen has found its midseason form. Five relievers have played in ten games or more and pitchers who struggled earlier in the year are falling into a rhythm.
"We all have a good amount of innings under our belts and we're figuring out how to compete," said senior pitcher Cody Lewis. "Each time we go out we get better, so the more reps we get and the more chances we get to play, the better we are going to get."
The bullpen threw a combined 15 and one-third innings over the previous four games, allowing just four runs on seven hits and recording nine strikeouts. Sophomore Geoff Boylston and senior Neal Herring pitched four hitless innings in game one of the series with Iowa, allowing the offense to rally from seven runs down to win, 8-7, on a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.
Herring is a prime example of a pitcher who struggled early on, but has since settled into a groove and solidified his spot in the bullpen. The senior veteran out of West Chester, Pa. earned his first win against Iowa on Saturday and his first save against La Salle on Tuesday.
"I just go out there and try to get better every single day," said Herring. "I just hope I get a chance to prove myself. I feel like I've been able to do that recently."
Sophomore Ryan Harper took the mound in the sixth inning of game two against the Hawkeyes and proceeded to throw four scoreless innings, while giving up just one hit. Lewis assumed the reliever's role in game three on Sunday, recording three and one-third innings of work. He held Iowa to one run on two hits and notched five strikeouts.
The key to the bullpen's recent performance has been commanding the strike zone and working ahead in counts to keep batters on the defensive.
"These guys have been doing a good job of coming in, pounding the [strike] zone, and pitching in positive counts," said pitching coach Jason Bell. "When they do that they can expand the zone and hitters will chase [pitches out of the zone]. Then you can use the hitter's aggressiveness against them."
The bullpen's success has been a confidence booster for both the offense and the defense, allowing the entire team to believe it can win, even after being down by seven runs heading into the bottom of the fifth inning.
"We want our starters to go as far as they can go, but they all can't go nine innings," said Lewis. "When guys end up getting on base and we go in and end up shutting them out, then it gives [the rest of the team] that much more confidence to go out and win the game."
Coach Bell needs to have a lot of trust in his bullpen when deciding whether he should pull his starter or not. Often, relievers enter the game during pressure situations with runners on base and are expected to promptly extinguish the threat.
Keeping themselves focused on the task at hand is crucial for pitchers entering in a tight spot. During warm-ups, relievers mentally prepare themselves to simply get the job done regardless of the challenges ahead.
"We're warming up in the bullpen, so we're just thinking about pitching at that point," said Lewis. "We know what the situation is, but we try not to think about it too much and just go out and do our job."
Lewis chooses to face the pressure head on and embraces the competition between him and each batter that stands in his way.
"You just try to beat that guy at the plate," said Lewis, "for me that's what [pitching] is."
Coach Bell tells his staff to attack the strike zone and stay ahead in the count, which thrusts the anxiety towards the opposing player at the plate.
"We try to turn the pressure on the hitters instead of putting it on us," said Bell.
Penn State returns to action on Wednesday against Mount St. Mary's. Game time is slated for 6:05 p.m. The Nittany Lions then travel to Ohio State for a weekend Big Ten series.
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach Robbie Wine has said all year that sometimes a team needs a few breaks to get rolling and the Nittany Lions (10-25, 2-10 Big Ten) manufactured some breaks this weekend against Iowa (14-20, 2-9 Big Ten).
Penn State took two of three from the Hawkeyes, marking the team's first series win in the Big Ten in 2013, and will look to carry some momentum into the midweek schedule, as well.
After Friday's contest was rained out, the two teams played a doubleheader on Saturday and squared off in a single game on Sunday and took the two wins in interesting and intriguing fashion.
In both games, the Nittany Lions were behind with little to no momentum, but found a way to swing all of the momentum into their own dugout late in the game and put themselves in a position to win.
In game one on Saturday, Penn State erased a seven run deficit and J.C. Coban's walk-off double in the bottom of the ninth inning scored a pair of runs to complete the comeback.
It was gritty and motivational win in the first game of two on the day.
"The way we won the first game Saturday really was who we are," said Wine after Sunday's win. "We've had a lot of games where we came from behind a lot of runs and never finished it. That was the first game where we finished it and won [the game]."
After dropping game two, 5-2, on Saturday, Penn State started slow against Iowa on Sunday, as well. The Lions found themselves down, 2-0, heading into the bottom of the third inning.
Penn State then took some of the momentum with two runs in the inning to pull even. Then, in the bottom of the fifth, Wine decided to play small ball and it was the perfect time to do it.
Alex Farkes, James Coates and Steve Snyder laid down three consecutive bunts and reached safely on all three as the Hawkeyes defense couldn't execute on any of the three bunts.
Farkes' bunt, which he did on his own, gave Wine the idea to continue to lay bunts down and force Iowa to make plays.
"The at-bat before (Farkes') had an opportunity, we thought, for the bunt to move the runner, but [Farkes] remembered that and the next at-bat he [bunted] it on his own," said Wine. "He saw the opportunity there and he's a pretty good bunter and had confidence in it and got a hit out of it.
"The other ones were just sacrifices that worked out for us."
It was an odd series of events after Iowa bobbled the ball on Snyder's bunt, but those are the breaks Penn State needs to turn the season around. However, Penn State still needed to take advantage of the situation and they did.
Sophomore's Taylor Skerpon and Coban posted back-to-back two-RBI doubles and all of a sudden Penn State was leading 6-2.
"The way they came out today, fresh and rejuvenated, that's who we are," Wine said. "We feel good in that locker room right now."
Senior Cody Lewis' performance in game three that sealed the 7-4 victory was a perfect ending to an outstanding weekend from the Penn State bullpen, something that satisfies Lewis as a fifth year senior.
This is satisfaction for Lewis because of the play of his fellow pitchers, but also because of the contributing Nittany Lions in all facets of the game, and there have been many, as of late.
"It's so cool," said Lewis. "I'm a fifth year guy and to see a freshman step up or a sophomore step up is huge, especially [for the program] down the road for next season. Seeing those guys perform well now only raises their ceiling [in the future]."
With a number of guys contributing, true freshman to fifth year seniors, things are moving in the right direction for Penn State. Wine has found a lineup he is comfortable with and a bullpen he can rely on, which is an improvement from just a few weeks ago.
Now, after winning three of its last four, Penn State is starting to get on a mid-season run, something they did one year ago.
"It's where we are settling into a lineup, I like the way our lineup flows," said Wine. "We did it last year, where we got to a point where we said 'okay let's do it' and we went on a pretty good streak."
Penn State will host LaSalle and Mount St. Mary's on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, at 6:05 p.m. before heading to Columbus for a weekend series with Ohio State.