By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With Big Ten play looming, Penn State is coming off a somewhat disappointing four-game weekend series split with Columbia, but that hasn't changed the confidence in the Nittany Lions locker room.
"We stay positive," pitcher Taylor Lehman said. "We would've liked to take all four games this weekend, but you just got to learn from what we could've done better and take it to next week."
Lehman had an encouraging weekend himself coming out of the bullpen, appearing in two games and not allowing a run in three innings. He notched five strikeouts as well.
Head coach Rob Cooper said overall he was happy with the team's pitching performance over the weekend but mentioned the offense needs to put more competitive at-bats together heading into Penn State's first Big Ten series at Michigan starting this Friday.
"I know that this team can do it, but I think what we have right now are a lot of guys that are pressing from a mental standpoint and a confidence standpoint," Cooper said.
One player Cooper sees getting hot soon is senior Nick Riotto. Riotto was fourth on the team last season with a .307 batting average, but so far this year he's hitting just .157.
"This is a guy that I think has a chance to play professional baseball," Cooper said. "He just cares so much and wants to win so much that he's trying like crazy to almost make up for lost time, but he's starting to relax."
Riotto has been at the forefront of helping newcomers like freshman Braxton Giavedoni adjust to the college level. He's been pegged as the offensive leader of the team, and Cooper believes he'll find his groove soon and the offense will follow behind him.
As for Giavedoni, he's impressed coaches with his work ethic and steady improvement since day one. He's started 18 of Penn State's 22 games and has produced a .275 batting average in 2017, good for fourth highest on the team.
"I just kept my confidence up and kept working and found my way," Giavedoni said. "In TCU I got one hit, got my confidence up, and from there I've just been rolling. Once I got that first hit off a really good arm at TCU, then I just thought I could do it off anyone."
Giavedoni feeds off confidence. If he continues to believe he can thrive at this level, he'll be a force in the middle of the Nittany Lions lineup during the Big Ten stretch.
"Braxton's been a pleasant surprise, Cooper said. "It's not that we didn't think he could play at this level, but you're excited that a true freshman can come in and want to be in the moment and want to play and make the most of those opportunities."
Amidst the start to the season, Cooper said he sees no reason to panic.
The Nittany Lions haven't even started the Big Ten season yet, which is by far the most crucial stretch of the year. Penn State has almost a week to improve and flush the last two weeks out, putting them in the past. Two home midweek contests against Binghamton Tuesday night and Bucknell Wednesday night give the Lions an opportunity to right the ship before conference play begins.
"Every goal that our team wants to accomplish we can still accomplish," Cooper said. "We can make the NCAA Tournament. We can make the Big Ten Tournament. We can win the Big Ten Championship. All those things are possible for us to do."