Recently in Baseball Category
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
dramatic 5-2 win over Villanova Wednesday, Penn State continues its 10-game
home stand Friday night with a three-game set against Central Connecticut
be the first true three-game home series of the season after last weekend's Big
Ten clash with Indiana was shortened to a Sunday double header due to weather.
Penn State head coach Rob Cooper and his squad are looking forward to
(hopefully) having a full weekend series at home.
playing at home and I love playing at Medlar Field and just want to get after
it Friday," Cooper said.
winners of four of its last five, has begun to string together wins since
returning from road trips down south in the late winter and early spring.
It's been late game comebacks in the past few wins for Penn State, something
that Cooper is proud of his team for.
to not think it's the end of the world when another team gets ahead and know
that you have the ability to come back and bring the next guy up.," he said.
"It's something as a program you have to learn how to do if you want to be
reason why wins have started to turn in favor of Penn State, is the Nittany
Lion bullpen, which had another big night on Wednesday. Led by junior Jack
Anderson, the bullpen has turned in 28 2/3 innings with an ERA of 1.26 and
collecting 27 strikeouts to 16 hits in their last five games.
as the weather still doesn't favor pitcher's ability to have longer outings,
having multiple reliable relievers has been a luxury for the Nittany Lions. Freshman
Sal Biasi has hit the ground running in his first season at Penn State. Biasi
has posted a 2.35 ERA in 15 1/3 innings with 16 strikeouts.
Biasi is a
perfect example of what Cooper wants from freshman when they first enter the
guys when we recruit them, 'I don't want you guys waiting around until you're a
sophomore or just try to make the travel roster, I want you to come in and be
the guy,'" Cooper said. "A guy like Sal, Marco, Lehman and those guy shave
tried to come in and make an impact. It allows us to say 'yeah this is who we
need to use here.' (Biasi) has earned that right."
ahead to Central Connecticut this weekend, Cooper said upon looking at CCSU the
Nittany Lions have a tough task ahead against a strong program out of the Northeastern
very well coached team," Cooper said. "Coach (Charlie) Hickey does an
unbelievable job. They're usually a team that fights for a conference
championship and has played in a regional before. It will be a heck of a test."
begins Friday at 5:30, with Saturday's game at 1:00 and Sunday's slated for
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Pa. - Even on a tough night at the plate, Greg Guers couldn't help but feel he
was due for a hit.
It was the eighth
inning of the Penn State baseball team's contest against Villanova, and the
junior was 0-3 on the evening. Still, he found himself in a situation every
batter dreams of; tie game, bases loaded, two outs.
"I was trying to
get a pitch I could handle," Guers said. "We do a lot of mental game
preparation, with confidence and staying with things. Even though I was 0-3, I
thought, 'I'm in the biggest spot of the game right now I've got to contribute
to the team.'"
After fouling off
pitch after pitch, Guers finally saw a ball he liked on a 1-2 count and drove a
shot to the right center gap for a double that cleared the bases and gave the
Lions an eventual 5-2 win and their third victory in the past four games.
On a night in which
Penn State's pitchers shined throughout, Guers gave the offense a much needed
boost as the Lions threatened multiple times earlier in the game but stranded
10 runners on base.
In a way, it was
fitting that Guers delivered the winning hit. Dating back to last season, the
Langhorne, Pennsylvania native, has been counted on as a lynchpin in the
lineup, hitting third or fourth last year and currently batting second.
While Cooper has
always felt Guers is one of the most talented hitters the Nittany Lions have,
he believes the designated hitter and outfielder has turned a corner since last
season by improving his mental approach.
what's really awesome about it is last year at this time he wouldn't have been
able to do that," Cooper said. "He'll be the first one to tell you, he's really
made a choice mentally to battle and fight and compete. I had just gotten done
writing down, 'that's an unbelievable at-bat,' and he smokes a ball. Big time
It was the second-straight
game that Nittany Lions broke out offensively towards the end of the game, as
they used a two huge innings in the seventh and eighth to beat Indiana 13-7 on
Sunday. This time around, James Coates walked, Ryan Richter poked a single up
the middle and Alex Malinsky blooped a fly ball that the right fielder couldn't
catch to set up Guers at-bat.
According to Guers, the Lions were calm entering their half of the eight, yet
still determined to get a run across after watching pitchers Geoff Boylston and
Jack Anderson battle all night.
"We had a lot of
situations to score guys today and we didn't do that but I think everyone has
confidence in whoever comes to the plate in that situation," Guers said. "I was
just lucky to be that guy. The dugout's fine and the dugout's pumped up for
anyone in that situation.
pitching well the past week or two, so today it was great to get them a win
again. We're confident in them and they're confident in us."
The Nittany Lions
pitchers certainly have been on form since the team returned home last Wednesday
against Canisius. Similar to that game, it was Boylston who held down the fort,
even if things weren't as smooth this time.
A week after he
struck out a career high eight batters in an 11-1 win over the Golden Griffins,
the senior put down just three batters against the Wildcats. Regardless, he
battled for 5 1/3 innings and gave up just two runs, one of them unearned.
Anderson entered and looked dominant, giving up just one hit in 2 2/3 scoreless
innings before freshman Sal Biasi picked up the save in the ninth.
"When you have
those two guys, they're great pitchers," Boylston said of Anderson and Biasi.
"Jack you see time and time again gets it done. I never had a doubt in my mind
and Sal's a great arm too. There's never worry when those guys are in."
It may not have
been the prettiest win, but it was a win regardless. The Lions are now 3-1
since retuning home, and Cooper said he is impressed with the fight his team
has shown recently.
"We could have
played better defense, could have pitched better could have hit better," Cooper
said. "But to their credit, they made the choice and battled back into it and
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
PARK, Pa. - On a pitching staff loaded with young arms, it hasn't taken long
for reliever Sal Biasi to stand out for the Penn State baseball team.
freshman reliever has appeared seven times in the Nittany Lion's first 18
games, putting up a 2.51 ERA and registering 15 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings so
far in his first season of college ball.
Sunday against No. 21 Indiana, the right-hander gave the best performance of
his young career, striking out six batters and giving up just one hit while
throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings in a 5-4 extra inning loss to the Hoosiers.
Penn State came up short, Biasi's ability to throw multiple innings (he entered
in the eighth and finished off the 11th) helped the Lions save their
bullpen for the second game of a double header, a thrilling 13-7 victory.
first game Sunday, because of how well [the staff] pitched, we were able to
keep our bullpen intact," head coach Rob Cooper said. "I think [Sal]
understands the college game a little bit and understanding he doesn't have to
change. We recruited him for a reason. Understanding that he doesn't have to
change how he goes about things it's just continuing to get better at it. He's
not afraid to go after guys and compete."
Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Biasi said that the biggest adjustment he had
make when coming to college was learning how to pitch. A star pitcher and
batter at Hazleton High School in Barre, Pennsylvania, Biasi got by mostly on
talent until he started working with Penn State pitching coach Brian Anderson.
far, Anderson has stressed to Biasi the importance of placement, as well as
knowing what situations work best for specific pitches.
more about pitching and location and throwing different pitches," Biasi said.
"How to get guys off balance and what they're looking for in counts and how to
he's always been familiar with Penn State having grown up less than two hours
away, Biasi said what enticed him the most about the Nittany Lions was being
able to play for Cooper and having the chance to make an impact right away.
natural competitor, the freshman relishes getting the ball in big spots, and
he's glad he's on a team not afraid to put him on the mound in those
love being a competitor and going out and facing the best guys," Biasi said. "I
wanted to have an opportunity to pitch right away, so I came here and got after
it as much as I could."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Entering Sunday's doubleheader against Indiana,
the members of the Penn State baseball team were as anxious to get on the field
as they'd been in a long time.
Not just because their scheduled games on Friday and Saturday had been
postponed because of snow. A year after being swept by the Hoosiers at home by
scores of 10-0, 8-1 and 9-2, the Nittany Lions were determined to prove they
could compete with the Big Ten's elite.
They knew they still wouldn't be expected to win. They knew Indiana was
the No. 21 team in the country and arguably the best team in the conference.
None of that mattered to them. After battling Indiana for 12 innings in
a 5-4 loss, the Nittany Lions used back-to-back thrilling innings in the
seventh and eight to come back from down seven and beat the Hoosiers 13-7 in
the afternoon's second game.
"I think last year at this time, our guys didn't think they were at the
same level," head coach Rob Cooper said. "I think today, our guys feel like
they're at the same level. I think that's the difference. They still have a lot
of guys who've been to Omaha (the College World Series) so that's a good club."
After a draining first game, things started off rough for the Lions in
the second contest. The Hoosiers scored twice in the first inning and tacked on
five more runs to take a 7-0 lead in the fourth.
Still, the Lions never checked out of the game mentally. They scored
once in the fourth and again in the sixth to cut the lead to 7-2 and set up the
ensuing madness of the next two innings.
As if a switch had been flipped, the seventh inning started and the Lions
couldn't make an out. Five batters would reach base on two hits and three
errors as Penn State scored four runs to cut the lead to 7-6.
That was just the beginning of the excitement however. In the eighth,
the Blue and White would load the bases on singles by Taylor Skerpon and Greg
Guers and an intentional walk to Aaron Novak before sophomore shortstop Jim
Haley cleared them with a blast to the left field fence for a triple despite
having an 0-2 count against him.
"My mindset? Hit a ball like I did," Haley said with a smile. "I wasn't
trying to do too much I was just trying to push a run across and he left a
fastball over the pate and I took advantage of it."
By the time the dust had cleared, the Lions were entering the ninth
inning with a six run lead. On an afternoon in which the Lions' bullpen was terrific
in both games, Tom Mullin tossed his third scoreless inning to finish off the
game and give Penn State their third win in four games.
Asked what he believed the turning point off the game was, Cooper said
it was when the Lions answered a four-run Indiana fourth inning with a run of
their own. While, it only made the score 7-1, the second year coach said it
proved his club was still invested in winning.
"Man if I knew where that switch was I'd flip it a lot earlier," Cooper
said. "It was 7-1 and our guys understood, we have to keep playing and they
did. The game of baseball, man, it's a crazy game.
Penn State's first conference win of the year was played right after the first
game, in which the Lions came up just short despite a terrific overall game
from their pitching staff.
Starter Nick Hedge weathered a storm during a second inning in which two
of the four runs he allowed were unearned, and still managed to go a total of 5
2/3 innings without giving up any more damage. Then, junior Jack Anderson and
freshman Sal Biasi combined to throw 5 1/3 scoreless innings to keep the score
knotted into extra innings.
Although the Hoosiers ended up tacking on a run in the 12th
off of Nick Distastio, it was a very encouraging performance from a young
pitching staff. In particular, Biaisi looked dominant in his seventh career
appearance, striking out six batters (including five in a row) in 3 1/3 innings
"Unbelievable," Cooper said. "Our guys in the first game pitched their
tails off and gave us a chance to win. But if they don't pitch like that, we
have no chance to win the second game because we blow our bullpen."
Now in his second year at Penn State, Cooper had already gotten the
players to by into his program, but he was still looking for a signature win
before Sunday. With the Lions beating a ranked opponent for the first time
since April of 2012 however, he knows that his team is improving.
"I rank today up there, if not at the top because of their choice to
compete," Cooper said. "I said after the first game, I said, 'guys, that's the
first time since I've been here that I felt like you guys felt you were as good
as anybody.' I could feel it. So that's why it ranks up."
Mike Esse, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
into Wednesday's midweek clash with Canisius, Penn State baseball was focused
on producing runs and producing them early. Why? Well, one reason was to avoid
another 12-inning game like they had the night prior with Pittsburgh. Another
reason, prior to Wednesday Penn State had scored just two runs in the first
inning all season long.
numbers drastically changed against the Golden Griffins in the Nittany Lions'
home opener. After Canisius got on the board first with one run in the top of
the inning, Penn State piled home four base runners to get out to a strong 4-1
was nice to get some runs in the first inning but it was even better because
they scored and our guys responded. I thought our guys did a good job and put
good at bats together," head coach Rob Cooper said. "Even when their lefty came
in, he was doing a good job, we kept battling and didn't waste some at bats
there and it was a good job by our guys."
infielder Ryky Smith had a strong day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with four
RBIs, including a first inning two-RBI single that gave Penn State its third
and fourth runs of the inning.
said coming into Wednesday producing with runners in scoring position was a point
of emphasis for the Penn State bats, and the team had confidence in the first
inning that they would reverse that trend.
no secret we've been struggling with guys in scoring position over the last
couple weeks, but today we had guys step up with clutch hits," Smith said. "I
think the main thing we were doing was keeping the ball out of the air. We
stayed down through the ball and hit some hard line drives. other than that we
just had confidence today that we were going to get the job done with guys in
echoed Smith, stating he was pleased with the team's ability to come through
with runners on and with two outs.
philosophy is if we get a runner on second base with nobody out we should score
them every time," Cooper said. "If we get a runner on third with less than two
outs we should score them every time. Today we did that early, then we did a
great job with two outs, too."
with two outs was huge for the Nittany Lions in building their 11 run lead. In
the seventh inning Penn State seemed to be going down 1-2-3, but with two outs
the bats came alive. A Jim Haley walk and Tyler Kendall single began what led
to a two run seventh inning that sealed the convincing win.
with one of the Big Ten's best in Indiana heads into Medlar Field at Lubrano
Park this weekend, Penn State's hitting wouldn't mind a similar effort. The
Nittany Lions had a slightly difficult time adjusting to Canisius lefty Zachary
Sloan who entered in the first inning and then was forced out by Penn State
bats in the fifth.
said the Nittany Lion lineup took time to adjust, which they cannot do against
the strong Hoosier staff.
was a lefty that came in and we didn't make the adjustment too soon
(Wednesday)," Smith said. "Going into this weekend we need to make the
adjustment quick. Figure out what the pitcher is trying to do to us early and
try to make the adjustment quick. Indiana usually does have a pretty good
pitching staff and if you don't make the adjustments they're going to make you
pay for it."
postponed the first game of the three-game set with Indiana, game times are
still to be determined. Stay tuned to GoPSUSports.com for updates.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
PARK, Pa.- In his Penn State career, Geoff Boylston has always had a knack for
seizing the opportunites that come to him.
the junior pitcher didn't get a chance to start until the 31st game
of the season and responded by giving up just two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings
in a victory over West Virginia. This season, he received just one start in the
team's first 15 games, yet gave an even stronger outing (6 innings, two earned
runs, seven strikeouts) against South Carolina on March 10.
ball again during the Nittany Lions home opener against Canisius on Wednesday,
Boylston made a strong case to start getting it more frequently. The senior
tossed six innings, gave up just one run and struck out a career-high eight
batters as Penn State cruised to an 11-1 win.
"I was just going right at guys," Boylston said. "I wasn't messing around, wasn't feeling
for anything, just going at them from the first pitch and the next thing I
knew, I was in the six inning. When you attack guys and get ahead, life's a
little bit easier."
his start against West Virginia last year, Boylston had his only struggles of
the day early on. After striking out his first two batters to start the game,
the lefthander gave up back-to-back doubles that led to an early 1-0 deficit
for the Nittany Lions.
It may have
only been two batters, but the Nittany Lion hurler was admittedly not pleased
with himself. Feeling as though he was too careful with a curveball on the
second double to Jesse Puscheck, Boylston vowed to start attacking hitters
livid," Boylston said. "Because I hung a breaking ball, I had two strikes on
him. When you have a guy on the ropes, to let him square it up like that, it
drives me nuts. I just figured I'm going to out there, and if I get a breaking
ball called again, I'm going to go right at him with it, and I'm not going to
dump it over, I'm going to throw the daylights out of it."
to the mound to start the second, Boylston did just that, quickly retiring the
side with a groundout and two strikeouts against Tyler Smith and Nick Capitano.
From that point on, the West Chester, Pennsylvania native gave up just three
more hits and no runs as the Nittany Lions turned the game into a rout.
was working for him, the fifth year pitcher said he just kept things simple.
Once he realized that his curveball wasn't breaking for him, he decided to
stick to his fastball.
may seem easier to hit, the key for Boylston was putting them exactly where he
wanted to. A perfect example was the end of the fifth inning, when he chucked a
ball on the outside corner that Golden Griffins leadoff man Jake Lumley
helplessly flailed at, giving the pitcher his seventh strikeout on the evening.
didn't think I had my best stuff," Boylston said. "My breaking ball was
terrible. I was just able to locate my fastball. I think the best pitch in
baseball is a located fastball. When you do that consistently, you're going to
impressive as the strikeouts were, even more important was the control Boylston
exhibited. On a night in which he threw 98 pitches, the senior didn't walk a
of the performance was what head coach Rob Cooper was most pleased by. While
he'd always known that Boylston possessed plenty of talent, the coach and his staff
had stressed control to the hurler in the past.
always had that ability, the biggest thing for him is getting ahead and not
walking guys," Cooper said. "Today, and his last outing against South Carolina
was the exact same way. I'm just proud of him, he's attacking, he's not second-guessing
himself. He's worked really hard physically, but more importantly, he's worked
really hard mentally to just trust it and go out and pitch."
seen him strikeout 15 batters, give up just three earned runs and throw 12
innings over his two starts this season, Cooper said he plans to give
Boylston the ball a lot more in the future. The Nittany Lions have an
exceptionally young pitching staff, and they can certainly benefit from
Boylston's experience and savvy.
know how you can keep him on the bench when he's giving you quality starts like
that," Cooper said. "He's earned the right to continue to get the ball."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Heading into the 2015 season, Penn State head
baseball coach Rob Cooper knew it was going to be a process for his young team
to develop into a contending club.
Now six games in, the Nittany Lions have yet to get into the win column.
Still, that doesn't mean they haven't been making progress, especially
So far, Penn State is third in the Big Ten in batting with a .260 avg.
and has five players with double-digit at-bats hitting better than .300. While
he is pleased with the performance of his hitters, Cooper knows there is room
"Our offense has done a good job but we can improve," Cooper said. "We
can have more consistent at-bats. You're playing a team like Texas A&M,
you've got to find a way to win against those guys offensively. But I've been
happy with some of our at-bats so far."
With six returning position players that started at least 30 games last
season, Penn State has benefited from the experience of their hitters. Leading
the charge has been a pair of sophomores in shortstop Jim Haley and
outfielder/designated hitter Nick Riotto, two players that Cooper believes made
big strides in the offseason.
Haley, a starter for the second straight season, is leading the Lions in
hits (eights) and RBIs (seven), to go along with a .320 avg. Riotto, who
started just 15 games and hit .164 as a freshman, has been in the lineup every
day so far and is hitting .304.
The Lions have also gotten strong games from junior outfielder Greg
Guers (.273 AVG, .429 OBP) and junior infielder Tyler Kendall (.400 AVG, .438
OBP). With a pitching staff that has already gotten multiple starts from two
freshmen, Cooper is glad the offense has been carrying its weight.
"Are we farther ahead offensively than we are pitching, sure," Cooper
said. "One thing you have to look at, we threw four true freshman this weekend.
They're learning on the fly. Then you look at us on offense, [James] Coates has
played a lot for us in his career, [Ryan] Richter, Guers, J.J. [White],
[Taylor] Skerpon. These guys have experience. I expect them to be a little bit
farther ahead because they know the speed of the game. We've just got to keep
Two players who have really made an impact, however, are ones that
weren't mainstays in Penn State's lineup last season, third baseman Christian
Helsel and outfielder Aaron Novak.
Although Novak isn't new to the Penn State program, he is in the middle
of arguably the hottest stretch of his career. Having registered 12 at-bats in
five games this season, the senior is hitting a ridiculous .583, the second
highest average in the Big Ten among qualifying hitters.
A career .241 hitter entering 2015, Novak says he hasn't changed his
swing much, but that he was motivated during the offseason to make a big impact
in his final year after starting just 13 games as a junior.
"I think I'm just trying to be aggressive up there, I'm not trying to
take too many pitches," Novak said. "I think I can help the team out so I
definitely want to be the starter. It was only [five games] and I did well. I'm
looking to play more and make more of a case to be an everyday starter."
Helsel, on the other hand, is the new guy in Penn State's lineup, having sat
out last season after transferring from Mississippi. In his first six games
with the Lions, the third baseman is hitting .300 and has two multi-hit games.
Apart from his production, the Altoona native has injected plenty of
energy into the Lions' lineup with his determination and positive attitude.
After missing last season, Helsel came into 2015 stoked to represent Penn
"He played a year of Division I baseball and he bleeds blue and white,"
Cooper said. "This is where he wanted to be. He's really driven and he a good
player and has experience, it doesn't surprise me that he's doing that. More
importantly, he's playing good defense for us."
"I'm seeing the ball well and my swing feels good I just need to do a
little more to help us win," Helsel added. "I grew up 40 minutes down the road
so I grew up loving Penn State. There was a little pressure but we've got a
great group of guys here so they take a lot of pressure off the individual."
Although their hitting has been strong, the Lions are still just six
games into a long season. With another test on Friday against North Carolina
State. Penn State will look to continue its process of improvement, while
hopefully getting into the win column.
"I'd like to improve and win at the same time, that'd be the best
thing," Cooper said. "I hate losing and our guys hate losing. We can't fall
victim to short term satisfaction. We've got to make sure we're building this
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Leadership
is key to any business, team, organization or program. Especially when a new
direction is introduced. While Penn State head baseball coach Rob Cooper is in
his second year as the Nittany Lions' skipper, he and his staff haven't been
able to put their imprint on the baseball program by themselves.
In year one, they had leaders
like Zach Ell, Alex Farkes and Steve Snyder to head the locker room and the
diamond. Now, in year two, those three are gone and new leaders have come out
of all directions for Cooper, much to his delight.
"Both Taylor Skerpon and Jack
Anderson do a great job both from a position player and a pitching standpoint,"
Cooper said. "Christian Helsel has been a new addition that has done a good job
just by how he goes about his business. James Coates obviously has done a good
job. Nick Hedge has done a good job."
Not only is it important to
have visible leaders for the freshman to recognize as approachable sources of
knowledge, but also the whole team has welcomed their new teammates right away.
"The thing I have been happy
about is the way that everybody's kind of accepted the new guys, too," Cooper
said. "And you see some new guys that are kind of evolving into leadership
roles from a standpoint of this is the way we do it and this is what's
Cooper's freshman class is
his first full recruiting class since arriving in Happy Valley. It features
seven true freshmen, with five being from the state of Pennsylvania. Pair them
with two redshirt freshman and Helsel, an Ole Miss transfer, nine players on
the roster have yet to play see a game as a Nittany Lion.
To Cooper though, being
newcomers shouldn't matter, as everyone on the roster should have the mindset
of winning the job at their respective position.
"My big thing is I want them
to put themselves in the best possible position to be successful," Cooper said
of his freshman. "One of the things we try to tell them is to not make the
mistake of just trying to fit in or trying to make the team. You need to come
in and have the mindset that you are going to win a job, and that you can help.
My expectation is for them to
not let age or their class determine whether or not they have a significant
role on the team. It should be their efforts and their abilities."
Penn State is perhaps at its
youngest with the pitching staff. Geoff Boylston and Nick Hedge are the lone lefties
to return to the staff that had appearances in 2014. The righties do feature a
little more experience, especially out of the bullpen with Anderson, Ryan
Harper and Dakota Forsyth.
Freshman Mark Boricich,
Taylor Lehman, Reid Frazier, Nick Distasio, Austin McMonagle and Sal Biasi are
new pieces to the puzzle for Cooper and his staff.
Anderson, a junior reliever,
said he has liked what he's seen from the new Nittany Lion arms.
"We've had a few people step
up into leadership roles, and I think it has been important with a younger
staff," Anderson said. "It's been exciting to see them grow, and learn as we
go, as well. Helping them through that process has been exciting."
His help and guidance hasn't
gone unnoticed from his head coach.
"Jack has done a phenomenal
job educating these guys on how we do things," Cooper said. "Even though these
guys are upperclassmen, last year they were freshmen in regards to they did not
know what to expect from myself and our coaching staff. This year, they are
able to explain to the new guys `this is how we do things,' so they've done a
Penn State's first test is
the season opener on Friday against Elon at 4 p.m.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Rob Cooper looks at this year's roster for the
Penn State baseball team, there's not one set lineup that jumps out to him.
That's because Cooper, now in his second year at the helm of the Nittany
Lions, doesn't believe that any player has to be automatically penciled into
any one batting spot or position. For him, it's all about taking advantage of
who is performing well at that given time.
"When I do a lineup, I don't really look at it from the traditional
fastest guy leads off, the guy who can bunt and handle the bat is second and
your best hitter is third," Cooper said. "I try to get the guys who are
swinging the bat the best up as many times as possible during a game. I'm not
quite sure what I'm going to do from a batting lineup standpoint yet."
With 11 returning
position players that saw time in at least 20 games last year, not to mention
six that started at least 30, Cooper has plenty of options as well as
experience at his disposal. When the season kicks off this Friday against Elon
however, the key for the Nittany Lions will be staying consistent.
Last year, Penn State showed plenty of flashes of how dangerous a team it
could be, winning 12 of 14 games during a stretch from March. 18 to April 11. Now,
the next step will be sustaining that success over a longer period of time.
"I think the biggest thing we
have been trying to talk about is just taking care of today," Cooper said. "And
then just being more consistent, trying to cut down on the 'freebies,' whether
it's an error or a walk or a hit by a pitch, and giving the other team more
outs to play with."
Lineup wise, the
biggest hole the Lions need to fill is right at the top, where last year's
leadoff man and top offensive player Steve Synder (.321 AVG, .395 OBP, 9 SB)
has graduated. Right now, the most likely man for the job is junior James Coates,
who will also be a candidate to replace Synder in centerfield.
Coates, who was the team's primary right fielder and two-hitter last
season, is coming off a campaign in which he hit .277 with a .395 OBP and was
fourth on the team in RBIs with 15. Though just a junior, Coates has already
been cited by Cooper as one of the strongest leaders on the squad.
As for the rest of the outfield, the Lions have multiple players who can
play any of the three spots. After Coates, the competition for playing time will
mostly be between senior Ryan Richter, senior Aaron Novak and junior slugger
"James Coates can obviously play out there," Cooper said. "Ryan Richter
had an unbelievable fall for us. He'll mainly be an outfielder but he can still
play some infield. I think between those two guys, Aaron Novak, Greg Guers is
going to be more of an outfielder this year, so we've got some pretty good
competition out there."
While there will
also be competition in the infield, the Lions return a strong core of players
there. Last year's double play duo, senior second baseman Taylor Skerpon and
sophomore shortstop Jim Haley, are both back along with senior first baseman
and middle of the order threat J.J. White.
The biggest addition to the crew is redshirt sophomore Christian Helsel, a
transfer from Ole Miss who has the ability to play third base, shortstop and
"[Helsel] is just another guy that likes to come in every day and pour
his heart out onto the field," Skerpon said. "Having a bunch of guys like that,
it's definitely a lot of fun.
"I think [Haley] is really a
completely different player. It's amazing what one year will do for a young guy
like that. His maturity level has gone way up and I'm excited to see what he
can do this year."
Other players who will
likely see time are junior third baseman Tyler Kendall, who started 31 games
last season and drove in 13 RBIs, and junior catcher Alex Malinsky, who split
time in 2014 with senior Alex Farkes.
Although the batting order
is far from set, Cooper has plenty of confidence in Guers and White to produce
in the three and four spots once again. Last season, the duo each cranked two
home runs and both topped 20 RBIs (Guers with 27, White with 24).
Cooper's message to the
pair is the same as it is to the entire team. While they need to play at a more
consistent level, the way to do so is to be relaxed and enjoy the game they're
"We have to be more consistent as a team," Cooper said. "But what I would say
to that is, what do both of them need to do to be more consistent. With both of
them, you're seeing what I call a 'mentally lighter' player. They're just
trying to have great quality at-bats and not put too much pressure on
themselves. And that's the biggest thing."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was a night to celebrate the past, present and future
of Penn State baseball on Saturday, Jan. 31 at the Penn Stater Conference
Center Hotel. A record number of alumni ventured back to a snow-covered Happy
Valley and a full banquet hall of supporters enjoyed an evening filled with new
traditions and baseball talk.
Former Major League Baseball player Sid Bream highlighted the event and talked
about his career and what made him into the player and person he is today. Head
coach Rob Cooper and former All-Big Ten catcher Derek Ryder also spoke to the
crowd on a snowy evening.
Talks Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
Former Major Leaguer Sid Bream opened his time at the podium with a
small video clip. It was a clip that probably didn't make him many friends
right off the bat. The video was of his famous slide into home plate during the
1992 National League Championship Series, a slide that sent his Atlanta Braves
to the World Series and the hometown Pittsburgh Pirates into a playoff drought.
Bream quickly lightened the mood by telling the tale of the Braves play-by-play
radio announcer pleading with manager Bobby Cox over the airwaves to put in a
pinch runner for the 10-year MLB veteran. No such move was made and Bream made
one of the most memorable plays in postseason history.
"Everyone might have wanted to see a pinch runner, but I knew everything was
working in my favor," said Bream. "Bobby [Cox] only had pitchers left on the
bench. It was perfect for me, a guy with a surgically repaired right knee; I
could go on contact because there were two outs and I knew [Pirates' pitcher] Doug
Drabek wasn't going to try to pick me off. I got a great jump...I just kind of
coasted into home plate to build the drama."
After some baseball talk, which included a story of how his father was drafted
but unable to pursue professional baseball because his parents didn't want him
playing on Sundays, Bream touched on his 32 years of marriage and his hobbies of
sleep, AMC cowboy movies and golf. He then delivered a well thought out message
to the all in attendance.
He spoke of life and how his journey would have been much different if not for
a guidance counselor that talked him into taking the SATs. A baseball junkie
from his youth, Bream grew up playing in the sandlots of Mt. Holly Springs, Pa.
and was lured into the sport with a promise of ice cream for every home run he
"My little league coach told us he would give us ice cream for every home run
we hit," said Bream. "I love baseball and I made sure I hit some home runs. By
the end of the season I finished second on the team in home runs, which was
kind of disappointing. But, I had 19 containers of ice cream in my freezer."
As a high school player, Bream didn't think of baseball as a career path until
a scout approached him about being drafted. Immediately the prospect of being a
professional ball player was his only thought. He wasn't drafted coming out of
Carlisle High School, but luckily he took his SAT test and was accepted to
Liberty Baptist College.
He then talked about Liberty, the university he attended and starred on the
diamond for. Bream said he would be cheering on the Nittany Lions all season,
except when they travel to Lynchburg, Va. to face his alma mater.
"I did well my first semester at Liberty, but once baseball started I think I
went to one class all spring," said Bream. "I caution you, though, that it
isn't a good idea. I was on academic probation for the next year and that
really straightened me out."
He told the current Penn State players that academics should be first on their plate,
because baseball and the money you make as a professional won't last you a
lifetime. He cautioned them about their odds of making it to the major league
level, but implored them to chase their dreams.
"Understand that academics are the utmost because your odds of being a big
leaguer are slim. Chase your dreams, though, but hold academics high and give
them your all."
He closed by talking about how he pursued his passion of baseball. He told the
crowd that baseball was a blessing in his life. It showed him that you could do
what you love for a living and has afforded him many opportunities in
He cautioned the players to be humble and talked about players that were
'clubhouse killers' during his time in baseball. His advice was to go into the
clubhouse and have a quite strength; don't be negative, be someone that everyone
can count on and be a good teammate.
His point was made in his final statement:
"Don't let anyone outwork you...I don't just mean in hitting, I mean
everything: fielding, attitude and your studies. At the end of my career I was
known for my glove," said Bream. "At Liberty, I was a great hitter, but I had
the eject-o-mitt. I took 100 to 200 ground balls each day just to make myself a
complete player. That is what it took for me to chase my passion."
Sets the Tone
Head coach Rob Cooper is fully aware of Penn State's rich history on
the diamond and know that his players should be cognizant of it as well. In his
second year at the helm of the program, Cooper wanted the alumni in attendance
and all of those unable to make it back that the current players and coaching
staff welcome them with open arms for what they have laid the foundation for.
"This is your program," Cooper said to the crowd, "because you put you [the
alumni] are the ones who paved the way for this group of players to enjoy all
of the luxuries that we have now. I want our players to realize what the
significance of wearing that Penn State across their chests means."
That's when any baseball alum in attendance was beckoned to the front of the
banquet hall. They were directed to a stand where 32 white Penn State uniform
tops hung. That's when the past meet the present. Each of the current players was
presented their uniform tops by a former player. You could sense the amount of
pride each Nittany Lion - current or alum - had as they traded handshakes and
hug. They exchanged quick but meaningful statements, like, 'Wear that number
proud,' "Get this program rolling again,' and 'Thank you, we're going to make
you proud this season.'
Then, prior to the alums returning to their seats, it was the current players
turn to welcome the alumni back to campus. Cooper, a history and military
enthusiast, began the tradition of the Penn State Baseball Challenge Coin on
senior day last season. These coins are given to former players that sacrificed
for the betterment of the entire program and were handed to each of the record
number of Nittany Lion alums in attendance.
"You're welcome back anytime," Cooper said. "Our home is your home and we can't
wait to see you Medlar Field this spring."
A record number of baseball alums returned for the third annual Penn
State baseball First Pitch Dinner. They enjoyed a pre-banquet meet and greet
and were thrust into action by dugout boss Rob Cooper to help handout some
important equipment, as we mentioned above.
Former All-Big Ten catcher Derek Ryder spoke on behalf of the former players.
He offered his support, not just as a fan or donor, but as a resource for the current
players. His message was simple:
"I truly loved my time playing at Penn State and I am excited about what coach
Cooper is doing with the program. However, not all of you are going to make it
to [major league baseball] and we, as baseball alumni, want to be a resource
for all of you. A Penn State degree can take you a long way and there are a lot
of [alums] out there willing to help you out any way we can."
Ryder joked that no NCAA rules would be broken, but wanted the current Nittany
Lions to know that there would always be someone there if help was needed once
they are ready to make the jump to their professional careers.
"Focus on what you have to do this season," Ryder said, "both in the classroom
and on the field, but when you are ready to take the next step in your life,
there will always be someone there to lend a hand."