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Lions Focused on Positives

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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."

Forsyth Gives Lions A Boost

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After Columbia's Shane Adams ripped an RBI double in the third inning of game two on Saturday afternoon to stretch the lead to 5-1, it seemed as if the Lions may cruise to sweep the afternoon doubleheader against Penn State.

 

With still no outs in the inning, starting pitcher Cole Bartels was pulled for Dakota Forsyth, who struck out two of the next three hitters and escaped the inning without surrendering a run.

 

Forsyth remained in the game for another three innings and turned in his best relief performance of the season, striking out a career-high eight batters without allowing a hit. The only player to reach base against Forsyth was Joe Engel via a sixth inning walk.

 

"I was just trying to work ahead of the batters," Forsyth said. "Usually I fall behind and I'm always trying to get back into the count, but today I was just free out there going 0-1, 0-1 as much as I could. It was fun."

 

For head coach Rob Cooper, the difference was simply that Forsyth stayed within himself.

 

"That's the way Dakota has pitched his entire career here," Cooper said. "He's a competitor, and I always feel good when he has the baseball."

 

Forsyth recorded the win in game two and improved his 2017 record to a team-best 3-0. He now owns a 4.50 ERA and has struck out 20 batters in 20 innings on the hill this year.

 

While Forsyth quelled the hot Columbia bats, the Penn State offense perked up. The Nittany Lions scored four runs in the third inning to tie the game at five, then added another three in the fourth and two more in the fifth to open up a 10-5 lead.

 

Sophomore Ryan Sloniger opened the gates with a leadoff triple in the third and scored on a Joe Weisenseel RBI fielder's choice.

 

"I made some adjustments," Sloniger said. "I got up taller in my stance to be able to get my momentum It's felt a lot more comfortable the more and more swings I've gotten with it, so I feel really good right now."

 

Penn State pushed runs across in a variety of ways after that.

 

Three came from fielder's choices, one came from a throwing error, two came from RBI singles, and two came from walks with the bases loaded. The Nittany Lions worked five walks against reliever Ben Wereski in the third and fourth innings combined.

 

Conlin Hughes led the surge with three hits in the game. He also walked once, scored a run and recorded an RBI. Sloniger, Willie Burger and Jordan Bowersox also recorded multi-hit games.

 

"[I have] a lot of confidence in Conlin," Cooper said. "I just feel like he gives us competitive at-bats, so right now while you've got a team that overall is struggling, we're trying to get him up as much as possible."

 

Columbia pushed across one more run in the ninth inning, but Penn State held on for the 10-6 victory to take a 2-1 lead in the four-game series.

 

The Nittany Lions dropped the first game of the Saturday doubleheader 4-2. Justin Hagenman ended up with the loss on the mound, but it was one of his most effective outings of the season.

 

Hagenman pitched 7.1 innings and allowed just one earned run on eight hits. He recorded nine strikeouts and threw 71 of his 96 pitches for strikes, but errors and other mistakes costed him and the Nittany Lions the game.

 

"He was great. He gave us a great outing," Cooper said. "We self-inflicted those three runs early. We didn't do anything to help ourselves there and they took advantage of it. When you give teams enough free baseball they're going to take advantage of it."

 

Offensively, Burger smacked a 400-foot double to the deepest part of the ballpark in the fourth inning. Braxton Giavedoni then tripled to score Burger, and Nick Riotto hit a sacrifice fly later in the inning to score Giavedoni and give Penn State a 2-0 lead.

 

Columbia fought back with three runs in the fifth inning and held the lead the rest of the game.

 

The Nittany Lions had the best chance to mount a comeback in the seventh inning, but they failed to plate a run with runners on second and third with one out.

 

Cooper said he was proud of his team for bouncing back in the second game after a winnable first game.

 

"Eighteen innings is a lot of innings of baseball," Cooper said. "Our guys found a way to battle back, especially being down in that second game."

Huge Fifth Inning Sparks Lion Offense

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State was leading Columbia 2-0 in the top of the fifth inning Friday evening. Starting pitcher Sal Biasi was throwing a one-hitter with eight strikeouts when Columbia's hottest hitter, Randell Kanemaru, stepped up to the plate.

Biasi's pitch count was nearing 100 pitches, so Penn State head coach Rob Cooper knew that his ace would be pitching his final inning. With two outs and runners on first and second, Kanemaru sent a ball over the wall in deep left field to take the lead 3-2. Although the Nittany Lion lead was gone, Biasi came right at the next hitter to record the final out of the inning. 

"Overall I thought our body language was pretty good," Cooper said. "I give Sal Biasi a lot of credit. He's such a competitive guy. In the past, I think that's something that would've set him off a little bit and gotten him out of control a little bit pitching wise, and he came back and got the next guy out. I think Sal gave up two hits and that's one. He pitched well, but that's baseball."

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Joe Weisenseel was due to lead off the inning followed by the top of the lineup. Weisenseel worked a walk on four straight pitches to get a runner on first base.

"I have been used to leading off in high school," Weisenseel said. "So, I knew just trying to be myself and get on was going to be big, and that was going to boost the inning for us." 

The true freshman started the trend of finding a way to get on base for each of the batters in the Nittany Lion offense. Conlin Hughes then doubled, Nick Riotto walked, Willie Burger doubled, Jordan Bowersox singled, Braxton Giavedoni doubled, Keith Leavitt walked, Christian Helsel reached on a throwing error, Ryan Sloniger singled and Weisenseel topped it off with another single. 

As the Penn State offense batted around through the entire lineup, each of the hitters crossed the plate in just the fifth inning except for Weisenseel, who was thrown out at home. The power inning accumulated nine runs giving Penn State a comfortable 11-4 lead.

Weisenseel finished the night going 3-3 with a walk in his first career multi-hit game.

"It felt really good to get that one under my belt," Weisenseel said. "At one point I knew it was going to come. I just have to stay confident in myself and a couple days off in the middle of the week was kind of good for me to regroup mentally and then get back at it today."

"What you saw today from Joey is what we saw in the fall," Cooper said. "He was one of our best hitters in the fall even as a freshman. You're asking a guy as a true freshman to play a premium position like shortstop. That's hard. When you're not competing at the level that you feel like you can, guys need to learn how to handle that pressure they are putting on themselves."

Although Weisenseel kicked off the rally inning, Burger was the man who sparked the offense to knock in runs. In the third inning with two runners on base, Burger drove in both runs on a single to right field. In the fifth, his offense relied on the sophomore again to bring in another run.

With runners on first and second, Burger drove the ball to deep left-centerfield to bring in his third RBI of the game and tie the game at three. From there, the rest of the Nittany Lions followed in his footsteps knocking in eight more runs.

"I want to be in those situations," Burger said. "The last couple games I have been trying to do way too much, so I just tried to simplify things today. I'm proud of my at bats and I hope to be able to keep it going moving forward. Just have to slow the game down and let my ability show itself."

After relying heavily on Hughes' and Bowersox's offensive consistency so far this season, Cooper said it was nice to have more bats come alive in the starting lineup.

"I know this team can hit," Cooper said. "We've got good players. We just have had the majority of them struggle at the exact same time. Then you have guys that mentally it starts bothering them because they all want to do well. Hopefully that's the kind of game that can get those guys out of it. One of the things we said in the locker room afterward was that all of us need to stop trying to do way more than what we can do. We all have to do a better job of it, coaches as well. It comes from the right spot because they all want to do well, but you have to be able to slow it down."

Although this win was a big one for a previously struggling Nittany Lion offense, Penn Sate knows that tomorrow brings a brand new game. 

"You got to feel good heading into the other games after hitting like we did tonight," Burger said. "But you have to stay competitive. It's baseball. What you do tonight means nothing tomorrow, so we have to wake up and show up here ready to win game one." 

Penn State will host a doubleheader against Columbia starting at 1 p.m. Saturday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Mock, Hughes Lead Lions Past Bison

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9753008.jpegBy Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student feature writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions relied heavily on their pitching staff Tuesday evening to defeat the Bucknell Bison and pick up the team's 13th-straight win against an in-state opponent since 2014.

Although Penn State has mostly started pitchers Sal Biasi, Justin Hagenman and Taylor Lehman, this season, head coach Rob Cooper decided to give the ball to redshirt freshman Eric Mock to start Tuesday night's game. 

Entering the game, Mock had made four appearances in relief in the 2017 season. In those appearances, Mock totaled 8.1 innings giving up four hits and two runs with six strikeouts. With one of the lowest ERAs on the team (2.16), Mock started the game on the mound for the first time in his career. 

"He earned the starting spot," Cooper said. "He has been pitching well, we didn't use him against Delaware, so he was fresh and we are trying to build his pitch count up a little bit. He deserved it. He has been working really, really hard and he's pitched well every time he's touched the ball."

Switching from the reliever role to a starting pitcher did not impact his performance as the redshirt freshman dominated the Bison lineup. Mock pitched four innings of scoreless baseball allowing just one hit. He also struck out five batters while giving up just one walk.

"I must prefer starting," Mock said. "You get to get in a routine and I was able to kind of plan out what I wanted to do in order to make my arm feel as good as possible. Due to my injury, I have had to take more time warming up, getting my arm hotter and it's a lot easier to do when I'm not being called on and having to go into the game in two minutes." 

Without knowing Mock's history, one may have wondered why a pitcher who was mowing down Bucknell's offense would have been taken out of the game after just 44 pitches. However, just one year ago, the dominate right-hander had an injury that caused him to redshirt during his first season. Now, as he is working his way back into baseball, the Penn State coaching staff does not want to take any risks on him hurting his arm.

"We weren't going to let him get anywhere past 50 pitches and he finished at 43," Cooper said. "So we said that was a good job for him." 

"I was kind of upset with Coach because I wanted to throw a few more innings or so because I felt great," Mock said. "But he said he needed me for the weekend. We have four games coming up this weekend, so I'm trying to stay healthy." 

Even though a pitcher can hold the opposing offense to just one hit, a team still needs to put runs on the board to get a win. Penn State has constantly turned to sophomore Conlin Hughes this season to give his offense a spark any time it's needed. 

The Penn State offense recorded six hits Tuesday evening, three of them belonging to Hughes. The second baseman went 3-for-4 with a double, triple and two runs scored to help Penn State outscore Bucknell by just one run. 

"I definitely feel more pressure to provide for my team," Hughes said. "I feel like I need to get something started so I can get some momentum going for my team because right now we are struggling at the plate as a whole, so you just have that feeling of stepping up and teaching younger guys even though I'm still young, so I am still learning as well."

He may still be young, but Hughes has been performing like a veteran in the 2017 season. So far, the sophomore has hit .314 with seven RBIs, two home runs and 14 runs scored.

"He's learned how to play the college game," Cooper said. "I think last year he just got really overwhelmed and his confidence took a hit. He works extremely hard, he cares, he's sticking to his approach and so now everyone's starting to see the type player we really feel like he can be. I'm just glad he's on our team."

After the Bison tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, Penn State failed to push a run across the plate forcing the game into extra innings. Nick Distasio escaped runners on first and second in the top of the 10th inning to bring up the top of the lineup for the Nittany Lion offense.

Hughes started the inning with a single to right field to get the momentum going for his team. Braxton Giavedoni was then hit by a pitch putting runners on first and second for Willie Burger. Burger grounded the ball back to the pitcher who made a throwing error to first base. Hughes, at second, was running a full speed and when he saw the ball escape the first baseman, he ran home celebrating.

"It's great to be the winning run," Hughes said. "I immediately started fist pumping and yelling at Willie. It was awesome. I love walking off."

"I'm just really proud of our guys," Cooper said. "I'm proud of the way they fought and competed. You know, I didn't think we played exceptionally well, but we pitched great. But, our guys competed, we didn't do a very good job of that this past weekend against Delaware, so that was a great change for our guys to do that. You know, we have a lot of stuff to get better at, but I'm glad our guys fought and found a way to win." 

With weather cancelling Wednesday's West Virginia matchup, Penn State will now host Columbia in a three-day series beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Nittany Lions Return to the Northeast

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK - After a week of playing baseball in 70-degree weather on the road in California, the Nittany Lions will be playing in the Northeast for the first time this season. 

Prior to the Nittany Lion spring break trip, Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said that these long road trips generally result in team bonding off the field. 

The Nittany Lions did just that.

"Going into it I felt like we had a team that was pretty close," Cooper said. "But you saw them interact with each other on the road, you saw them hang out together, you saw them do things together, you saw them handle wins together and you saw them handle a loss together and try to bring each other up. These are all things you get to see in a short period of time when you play that many games and you go somewhere and it's just you. I was really proud of the guys and I thought they did come together. From a camaraderie standpoint, I thought it was really good." 

"My favorite part was probably going in the hot tub," sophomore Jordan Bowersox said. "After we would get a win pretty much the whole team would go down to the hot tub and hang out and relax a little bit."

On top of spending time together at the hotels, on busses, at meals and even in the hot tub, the Nittany Lions found other ways to make the trip fun off the field.

Assistant coach Andre Butler and head student manager Jack Davenport faced off in a one-on-one pickup basketball game outside the team hotel. As the two went head-to-head, the rest of the team lined the sidelines to cheer them on. For junior Nick Distasio, this matchup was his favorite part of the trip off the field. 

Following trips to Texas, North Carolina and California to start the season, the Nittany Lions have finally returned to the Northeast. Penn State was scheduled to have its home-opening series Thursday and Friday, but due to inclement weather, the Nittany Lions will now be waiting until next week to play in front of its Happy Valley crowd.

Starting Saturday, the Nittany Lions will play nine games in nine days. Penn State will start the nine-game stretch in Delaware on Saturday and Sunday and finish with six games at home. For Bowersox and Distasio, playing seven games in eight days over spring break has helped them prepare for this upcoming stretch of games.

The cancellation of Thursday and Friday's games gives Penn State a full week of rest from last week's trip to California and the upcoming nine-game stretch. Although some may think a week of rest would be purely beneficial, Cooper would rather be playing.

"We got back at 6:30 Sunday night and we gave the guys Monday off," Cooper said. "We were going to practice Tuesday and Wednesday and originally play Thursday and Friday. From a rest standpoint, I think it's the opposite of beneficial. The way we are doing things, we ned to get back out there and play. I think our guys can learn from that and try to keep this momentum going." 

The biggest transition from the beginning of the season until now is not the amount of travel, but the adjustment to the weather. Playing in the south and the west has allowed the Nittany Lions to experience summer-like weather conditions in the first few weeks of the season, however the predicted weather in Delaware is in the mid-40 degrees.

"Pitching in cold weather is not my favorite thing to do, but I am sure for everyone else it's the same," Distasio said. "You just got to do what you got to do. You have to suck it up and compete regardless of the weather or where we are playing. I definitely have to stretch a little bit more, but it's more about the mental side of it. You have to prepare yourself to throw in cold weather. 

Although the Nittany Lions were excited to finally play at Medlar Field this week, waiting until next week is only building the anticipation for the players even more.

"Spring break is really cool because you get to be with the guys for a week and a half with no school and only worrying about baseball," Distasio said. "But staying around home is a lot nicer because we get to play at our home field and in front of Cooperstown. I'll give a shout out to them for coming out supporting us every time no matter what the weather is. So, it's really fun to come out and play in front of a home crowd." 

"I am most looking forward to coming back home and playing in front of our fans, especially Cooperstown," Bowersox said. "They are a great student section. I can't wait."

Penn State Prepares for Spring Break in California

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK - After picking up their first two wins of the season last weekend, the Nittany Lions are preparing for a stretch of seven games in The Golden State. 

With baseball season opening in February, Penn State typically begins each season on the road traveling to warmer climates. After traveling to Texas and North Carolina the past two weekends, the Nittany Lions have battled the common downfalls of being away from home.

"It sure is a lot to travel so much," sophomore Conlin Hughes said. "We just have to make sure we take care of our bodies. Get ourselves some fuel during the short weeks that we have so during the long weekends won't be so bad."

"Traveling so much is something I am going to have to get used to," freshman Joe Weisenseel said. "It's also really fun to be able to travel and go around the country. I am looking forward to it, but it is a little bit hard to kind of just adjust to having to do school work on the road and then coming back and only having a few days of class."

Although the constant travel and living out of a suitcase may not seem appealing to some, the Nittany Lions have expressed that traveling is one of the highlights of the season, especially a week-long trip over spring break. 

"First of all, if they aren't excited to go play, there's something wrong," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "When you spend all fall and early January and February indoor practicing, you get tired of practicing and playing the game against each other. That right there is motivation alone. Second, if you look at spring break, that's a week like the rest of the students. They don't have to worry about class. They can just be baseball players for a week."

The players agree that traveling is what brings everyone together. On the bus and plane trips, the team likes to talk, sleep and download movies to watch together. Also, sharing rooms at hotels and eating together before and after games allows the team to spend all of their time together and get closer than what they would being at home. 

"The thing I found a lot is that a lot growth happens within our program," Cooper said. "The guys are together for a week and when guys are together for an entire week, they bond and get closer. I am excited about that part of it."

Last year, the Nittany Lions traveled to North Carolina for spring break to play three games at UNC-Wilmington and one game at Duke. In the team's spare time, Hughes remembers having a few hours at the beach with his teammates as the highlight of his trip off the field. 

This year, Penn State will be playing seven games in eight days in both Stockton, Davis and Sacramento, California, meeting Pacific, UC Davis and Sacramento State.

"I've never been this far across the country so we will see what happens," Hughes said. "It'll be busy, but hopefully we do something fun like last year. We are hoping the weather will be nice. That is what I am most looking forward to about California."

With 11 freshmen on the team, the upperclassmen have had to mentally prepare the young class as to what to expect when traveling on the road. 

"I think senior Nick Riotto and fifth-year senior Christian Helsel have really shown me the ropes and taught me how we work as a program," Weisenseel said. "They have also told me things I have to look forward to on road trips like spring break and they also tell me what I need to work on as well. They have been a big help to me."

After spring break, the Nittany Lions will have kicked off the 2017 season with 14-straight games on the road. Penn State returning to Happy Valley for the home-opener just five days after arriving from California. Although the away games can build chemistry between the team, there is nothing like playing at home. 

"The excitement to play in front of the 'Cooperstown Kids' in Medlar Park and play at home in front of our fans, that is something that is exciting all the time. It really is," Cooper said. "I think any time you get a chance to play at home, you know the weather is just a little bit closer to breaking. It's fun to play here. We have a true home field advantage and our guys look forward to it."

The Nittany Lions will travel to California Saturday to start a week-long stretch beginning with a three-game series against Pacific.

Breaking Down Nittany Lion Hitting

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State will have to rely on some fresh faces in 2017 to pick up for the bats lost from last season. Tyler Kendall, Jim Haley and Greg Guers were the top three hitters for the Nittany Lions in 2016, and none of them return this year.

 

The only other Nittany Lion batting higher .300 last season was left fielder Nick Riotto. Riotto, a senior, will be expected to take over the leadership role in a lineup that features very few upperclassmen.

 

Riotto, an extremely patient hitter, has already been setting a solid example for the younger Nittany Lions, and a few have already said he's taking them under his wing.

 

Last season, he led the team in walks (24) and led the main starters in on-base percentage (.405). He gets on base often and rarely strikes out, too. He was fanned only 14 times last year, meaning he struck out about once every 13 trips to the plate.

 

Riotto could potentially be the leadoff man in head coach Rob Cooper's lineup all season. He was out of the final two games in the opening series against TCU, but Cooper said the injury isn't serious enough to keep him out long.

 

Aside from Riotto, five freshmen, seven sophomores and three seniors comprise the Penn State offensive roster in 2017.

 

One of the most consistent returning sophomores, Conlin Hughes, played in all but three games last season and figures to be a main cog at the top of the lineup.

 

Hughes leads the team early with a .300 batting average through three games. He smacked three hits and scored two runs on opening weekend against a stellar pitching staff from TCU.

 

"It's a real confidence booster, especially for our young lineup, so being able to face those arms during the year is definitely a plus moving on into conference play," Hughes said.

 

He was moved around in the lineup a bit in the first three games, but he says he feels comfortable anywhere. Cooper noted Hughes' potential to have an integral role in the top portion of the lineup moving forward.

 

"I think he can do a lot of damage up there," Cooper said. "He's a guy that gives us quality at bats and I want those kind of guys to get more at bats throughout the year. The first three guys in the order are going to get up a lot during the year."

 

Another sophomore already doing major damage to opposing pitchers is Willie Burger. Burger hit two homeruns in the third game of the opening series. He hit just one last year in 39 games played.

 

Burger also cracked a double in the second game of the series and led the team with five RBIs over the weekend.

 

"Willie's always been a kid that's just never been afraid. He loves to play he loves competition he has a lot of pride," Cooper said. "He wants to win so bad that he wants to hit a six-run homer. When he slows his internal clock down and just plays, he's a really good player, so that's the challenge for him this year."

 

Several freshman already got their first game jitters out of the way, and some will be expected to take on important roles this season up and down the lineup.

 

Joe Weisenseel started all three games at shortstop and was one of two freshmen to notch their first hits of their careers last weekend. Braxton Giavedoni was the other.

 

Weisenseel was even thrown in the lead-off spot with Riotto out of the lineup, and he fared just fine. He said that the biggest difference jumping from high school to college competition is the quality of the pitching.

 

"They're coming a lot harder, coming with a lot better stuff than high school and summer ball," Weisenseel said. "That's something to adjust to. I know I have to get my confidence at the plate, and that's just something that's going to be big for me moving forward."

 

Cooper said the freshmen's play overall was encouraging, but he did mention he'd like to see the strikeout numbers improve over the next few weeks.

 

Penn State struck out 26 times in the opening series. Freshmen were responsible for 10.

 

"We got to find a way to cut down on our strikeouts and put the ball in play a lot more, and then when we do have runners in scoring position we got to figure out a way to get them in," Cooper said.

 

Another freshman who turned the coaching staff's collective head was Mason Nadeau. Nadeau wasn't able to get his first collegiate hit, but he did catch Cooper's attention with a nine-pitch walk.

 

Cooper said he was impressed with Nadeau's confidence and patience in such a tough atmosphere. He said that's exactly why he recruited Nadeau.

Nittany Lions Take the Mound in 2017

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com Student Feature Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK - With the majority of the team's pitchers returning for the 2017 season, the Nittany Lions look to improve on last year's 28-17 record and 3.71 combined ERA. 

Last season, Penn State relied heavily on its bullpen to come in early in games and pitch a lot of innings. This past weekend, the Nittany Lions kicked off the 2017 season against the No. 1 team in the country making it challenging for the starters to last deeper into games than what they did last season. However, as the team gets later into its season, the Nittany Lions hope to have their starters pitch more innings.  

"They need to be more consistent," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "This is something we have talked about. We have to be more consistent. We've got to win early counts. We've got to get ahead and get outs and be more efficient with it. The longer our guys can pitch into the game efficiently, the stronger our bullpen. That is something we really do need. If we can take that jump, then I think you will see us really have success on the mound." 

Having a strong bullpen is something the Nittany Lions were used to last season with senior closer Jack Anderson's 55 innings pitched, 43 strikeouts, 13 saves and a 2.14 ERA. Although the team lost its go-to reliever, Cooper thinks the different options of relief pitchers this year will be able to fill Anderson's role.

"I don't know if we have a guy that we can rely on as heavily as we did Jack," Cooper said. "Part of the reason we could do that with Jack was because he was a sidearm pitcher and he was able to bounce back quickly. We have Dakota Forsyth, Nick Distasio or Tommy Mullin, you know I like the different options we have. Yeah, we are sad to lose Jack, but it's an opportunity for someone else to go in there and get that role." 

As far as the starting rotation, the Nittany Lions have all of their main starter pitchers returning from last season. Entering the series against TCU last weekend, Cooper named Sal Biasi, Taylor Lehman and Justin Hagenman the top three starters. Cooper said the pitching rotation could change at any point in the year. He just wants who is pitching best at the time to be on the mound. 

Biasi, who pitched Friday evening, is coming off of a 66 strike out season in just 67 innings pitched. Although he only pitched three and two-thirds innings on Friday, Biasi struck out seven batters in his first outing of the 2017 season. 

Hagenman, who pitched on Sunday, is coming off of his 6-3 freshman season pitching 82 innings which was the most on the team. Hagenman struck out four batters through three innings on Sunday.

"I expect to build on what I did last year," Hagenman said. "I went out there and started every game and that was good, but this year I want to be more consistent and get stronger throughout the year. I hope to be one of the go-to starting pitchers. We have a lot of guys we can go to, but I think getting the balls on Sundays is a good spot. It's a good place for me to be able to make some noise." 

Now a sophomore, Hagenman is able to approach this season with a lot more comfort and confidence than a year ago as a freshman.

"It's a lot different as a sophomore," Hagenman said. "You know what you're expecting from day one, from the fall until now. You can kind of lead more. You can help the guys that need it like I needed last year. It's a little different with having experience." 

In the past few seasons, the Nittany Lions have put a lot of freshmen on the mound to help make a difference for their team. Biasi, Lehman and Hagenman all pitched as true freshmen. After looking at this year's freshmen, Cooper is open to pitching anyone who is willing to make an impact for his team. 

"One thing that we try to do is open up every job every year," Cooper said. "I don't care if you are a freshman or a senior or a walk on or on high scholarship, if you are going to help us win, we are going to put you out there. If you look at last year, we had a lot of freshmen pitch. We have freshmen that will pitch this year and get some time." 

This weekend redshirt freshmen Blake Hodgens and Eric Mock, along with true freshmen Cole Bartels and Myles Gayman all got time on the mound against the top team in the country. 

Cooper is also really focused on keeping his team healthy. The head coach said that everyone always feels great to start the season, but around two weeks in the players start feeling some aches and pains. To keep his pitchers healthy, Cooper will be monitoring their pitch count carefully to make sure their arms will last the entire season. 

"Their arms are ready to go for this point of the season," Cooper said. "Their pitch count today is going to be different than what it will be later on in the year. For some guys, it may even be lower as the year goes on just depending on how we use them. Right now they are at about 75-80 pitches. We are going to make sure we take care of our guys. When you are able to use more than one guy, you give more guys opportunities and more experience." 

Although the team has the majority of its pitchers returning, this year's mindset is slightly different. The team wants to keep the pitcher's pitch counts low and allow the starters to run deep into games. In order to do this, the pitchers must attack.

 "We have really made it a point to be on the attack," Hagenman said. "Just to go right at the hitters and make them hit the ball, eliminate walks and have good intent with every pitch. Just make it your game."

Intersquad Scrimmages Boost Preseason Prep

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9342635.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The start of the 2017 baseball season is inching closer and closer for the Nittany Lions, and the anticipation surrounding the team is growing with each passing day.

 

The anticipation, however, will need to soon be channeled into focus. Penn State faces a daunting challenge in its first action back on the diamond since last season, as the Blue and White will be traveling to Fort Worth, Texas this weekend for a three-game series against No. 1 ranked TCU.

 

"To me there's no better opportunity than opening weekend going and playing the consensus number one-ranked team in the country in all the polls because you're going to find out right away what you need to work on, what you need to get better at and that's what I think we're going to be able to do," head coach Rob Cooper said.

 

TCU was voted as the consensus No. 1 team in the NCAA by all six major college baseball polls, so there's little doubt around the country that the Horned Frogs are the team to beat this season. The Horned Frogs have reached the College World Series three straight years and have the talent to win it all in 2017.

 

"We can't really worry about any of that," Cooper said. "For us, it's about playing a faceless opponent and about trying to get better every single day. If we do that, it doesn't really matter who we play."

 

The Lions did get a taste of TCU last season, but they were swept in a home three-game series at Medlar Field. The series was much closer than a sweep usually expresses, though. Penn State was able to score on TCU all weekend and lost the second game by just one run.

 

The Lions are confident a second chance will produce more favorable results.

 

"We're going to expect a pretty good series," senior outfielder Nick Riotto said. "I think that everybody here will tell you we expect to win no matter what they're ranked or who they are really."

 

Confidence is exuding from the Nittany Lions even before the season has begun. Riotto sure shows it, and so does sophomore pitcher Justin Hagenman.

 

Hagenman will toe the rubber to start the finale of the series on Sunday. He said the Horned Frogs offense must be respected, but it doesn't scare him.

 

"They do a lot of little things right," Hagenman said. "They're really good at running the bases and stuff like that. They really don't give away at-bats, but I think if we pitch our game and we all play our game I think they're just another team. That's the way we have to look at it."

 

Barring any changes, Hagenman looks to be the regular Sunday starter for Penn State like he was last year. For this weekend, Sal Biasi will start Friday's game and Taylor Lehman will get the ball on Saturday, Cooper said.

 

Everything the Lions have said leading up to opening weekend gives the impression that they're fully prepared and excited for the test. Maybe the biggest reason for this is the emphasis coaches place on intersquad scrimmages during recent practices.

 

Penn State tried to implement live action in at least a few practices each week during the preseason. Getting players used to seeing hard fastballs and adjusting to off-speed pitches as opposed to just soft toss is crucial to full preparedness when there's a real opponent in the other dugout.

 

"It's a huge deal," Cooper said. "Honestly it's one of the reasons why I really wanted to take the job here at Penn State because I knew in January and February we can actually play intersquads and get our guys to face hitters, to have to hold guys on, to cover first. So our guys have actually played baseball games rather than just hit in a cage or throw bullpens."

 

Riotto echoed Cooper, noting that he thinks it's one of the most crucial aspects of preseason practices. He said the team started off a little slow, but now the energy is better and he thinks they're right where they need to be.

 

Riotto said Hagenman is a tough pitcher to face during inter-squads because of his changeup, but he thinks Biasi is the hardest to hit off of.

 

The Lions are getting used to their own teammates' tendencies, so facing other pitchers and hitters should be a refreshing challenge. Cooper hopes the focus on intersquad play for the past few weeks will have the team ready to jump right in and compete with the best team in the country.

 

First pitch of the 2017 season is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday. Saturday's game will start at 3 p.m. and Sunday's at 1 p.m.

Baseball Spring Sports Media Day: Five Things to Know

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com Student Feature Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State baseball head coach Rob Cooper, senior outfielder Nick Riotto and senior pitcher Dakota Forsyth all participated in Spring Sports Media Day Monday afternoon. Check out the five things to know from the the Q&A session heading into the 2017 season.

Big Opening Weekend
The Nittany Lions open their season on the road Friday, Feb. 17 in Fort Worth, Texas against No. 1 TCU. Although some may be intimidated by a tough first opponent, Penn State is excited for an opportunity to challenge itself.

"The thing I love about it is that they are the number one ranked team in the country," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "That's the direction that we want to take this program and the very first weekend we are going to be in that type of environment. We are going to find out very quickly what we are doing well, what we need to improve on and we can go from there."

Last year, Penn State took on the Horned Frogs at the end of the season losing all three games of the series 6-2, 5-4 and 9-5. Some may be satisfied with keeping the game close against one of the best programs in the country, but Cooper said his team was disappointed and knew they could compete at that level. 

Consistency in Pitching
When Cooper first started coaching the Nittany Lions, the six 2017 seniors were freshman. Cooper said he is very excited to watch all of his returning pitchers grow and learn from past mistakes and be better this season.

One thing that has plagued the Penn State pitching staff over the past few seasons has been consistency. Jack Anderson, Penn State's most reliable pitcher out of the bullpen last season, graduated last spring leaving the Nittany Lions searching for a consistent leader for the 2017 season. 

"We have to make sure we give quality starts and innings," Cooper said. "That's where I feel like we are deeper throughout our pitching staff, we just need a couple guys to step up and I definitely think we have those guys."

Sloniger Developing Behind the Plate
Last season, the Nittany Lions rotated their three catchers behind the plate to try to find the best fit for the most successful team. This season, Cooper is pleased with the depth at the position, noting that sophomore Ryan Sloniger, freshman Brett Davis and Willie Burger all provide options behind the dish.  

Cooper noted that he is particularly excited to see Sloniger's development take off this year. 

"You were asking a true freshman to play arguably the toughest position on the field at a Division I level," Cooper said. "We are seeing him, right now, be a lot more relaxed and comfortable with what's going on. Because of it, he's playing more free and more athletic."

Cooper also noted that an injury to Alex Malinsky will sideline the Nittany Lion senior. 

"We are going to miss Alex and his everyday leadership and the senior moxie that he brings to the table," Cooper said. "But the next guy has to step up."

It's a Process
A theme of almost all of Penn State's spring sports teams this season is focusing on the process of getting better. The Nittany Lions are focusing on creating smaller goals this season, the most important being to win each series against each team they face. Although the team avoided being swept in a conference series last season, picking up at least one win out of three against a team, is not enough for this year's team.

Not only are the Nittany Lions focusing on the improvements on the field, but the chemistry off the field is stronger than senior Dakota Forsyth has ever seen it.

"I know coming in my freshman year the locker room was kind of separated," Forsyth said. "Over the years, we have learned to accept each other and have gotten comfortable with holding each other accountable. We are getting freshmen acclimated to what we are doing here and having them come in and being able to compete right away. We are trying to get them as ready for the season as possible."

With these mindsets, the Nittany Lions are looking to achieve much more success than last year's 28-27 season.

"The difference between being an average team and a great team is razor thin," Cooper said. "It's making the choice to compete every day. It's making the choice to be present emotionally and mentally instead of just physically. It's getting them to understand that that's what great teams do. It's being consistent with that approach rather than just when things are good."

Cooper's Town Returns
Everyone knows about the "S Zone" of the football student section or the "Roar Zone" at the ice hockey games, but at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, there's Cooper's Town. 

Last season, the Cooper's Town student section became an energetic attraction as fans would fill the stands to listen to the rowdy group of students behind the visitor's dugout. 

"Those guys are awesome," Cooper said. "They care, they are into it and they are passionate about it. It's a microcosm of what Penn State is all about. For them to take it over the way they did, there's no question they make an impact on our team and our season. They are bringing excitement and people to the stadium."

The group brings a lot of excitement to the fans, but the energy also carries over to the field.

"When it's the beginning of the year and only 40 or 50 degrees, you might be thinking about how cold it is," Forsyth said. "But then you look over and see all those students there and it fires you up a little bit and makes you go a little bit harder."

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