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Inside the Pitching Style of Jack Anderson

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By Mike Esse, Student Staff Writer

Jack Anderson credits his division one baseball scholarship to Penn State and his success in three seasons in Happy Valley to one thing: his delivery. 

If you've ever seen head coach Rob Cooper's right-handed closer pitch, you know exactly why.

Anderson's pitching style places him in a unique group of pitchers, a group that in today's game is very small. They call it "submarine" pitching, but Anderson just calls it normal after deciding to make the pitching style his own during high school.

"My dad always told me my arm slot was dropping every year progressing through little league and then it was my freshman summer of high school playing against another team in the summer and an opposing coach came up to me after the game and said he could make me into a great pitcher," Anderson said. "He had me drop down completely and everything came natural after that since I had been throwing sidearm for so long." 

Anderson's natural arm slot has always been a low three-quarters, even when he was a young little leaguer. 

When he warms up before practices or games, his arm slot is at that three-quarters release point, but when he steps on the mound it's as low as he can get to the ground before he releases the ball. 

"I really want to start high and get lower," he said of his delivery. "I don't want to go down then up then down. I want to keep it one fluid motion and follow through and get behind the baseball."

With a delivery so unique, muscle memory and repetition is the key to consistency. Although, he said he doesn't do many drills that are different from pitchers that throw at a more conventional release point, he does put extra focus on where he releases the ball and which release point works best.

During his time in college, he has been able to find that release point and a place of comfort on the mound.

"Consistency is the biggest key to having the success and being able to repeat that delivery," Anderson said. "Sometimes I think about moving it up a little bit to get more spin but there's never a drastic difference. I'm trying to keep the same arm slot to keep deception with the hitter and then I'm snapping it off at the end to get movement across the zone."

He has experienced with challenging himself with how low he can go before releasing the ball, including during a game early in his career when he dropped down a little too far.

"One time during my freshman year against Iowa I actually scraped my hand on the ground on a pitch and it was bloody and it wasn't pretty," the junior said. "It kind of got in my head a little bit and I couldn't go any lower after that." 

Now in his junior season, he has reached a stellar point of consistency as Penn State's closer and most reliable option out of the bullpen. With two Big Ten series left, Anderson boasts a 4-3 record with a 2.59 ERA, 25 strikeouts and opponents hitting just .217 when he's on the mound.

He has appeared in a variety of ways this season, whether it's the conventional three-out save or a long appearance of two to four innings. Cooper said Anderson's confidence is a big reason why he appears in any situation for Penn State.

"From the day I got here he has not been afraid to pitch and hasn't been afraid to take the ball," Cooper said. "Every time he has had the ball the game means something, so when he makes a mistake it's magnified."

Mistakes haven't come often for Anderson and Cooper acknowledged the righty's ability to finish off ball games.

"Mariano Rivera said it perfect it's not that it takes a special guy to get three outs, it takes a special guy to get the last three outs and Jack has done a really good job of that," Cooper said. 

For Anderson, though, his success all goes back to his delivery. He doesn't think he would be the closer at Penn State, let alone a division one pitcher without the submarine approach.

"Absolutely not," Anderson said of whether or not he would be a division one pitcher if he threw conventionally.

Furthermore, he can't even imagine pitching a baseball any other way.

"I don't even know if I could," Anderson said. "I've just been throwing submarine for so long I don't even know what throwing differently would look like at this point."

Haley and Guers Lead Offensive Surge for Lions Against Rutgers

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11056778.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was the best Jim Haley had felt at the plate in a long time.

The Nittany Lions shortstop had just finished off a dominant performance, going 4 for 5 with two singles, a double and a triple during Penn State's 12-10 comeback victory over Rutgers on Saturday. Asked how he felt, the sophomore told it like it was.

"Honestly, today was one of those days I was invincible at the plate," Haley said. "Every time I went to the plate, [my mindset was] I know I'm getting a hit here. I was seeing the ball really well and it worked out well for me."

Haley wasn't the only one feeling that way during the weekend series against the Scarlet Knights. In a three game sweep, Penn State piled up 28 total runs, winning by final scores 8-1, 12-10 and 8-5.

Along the way, the Nittany Lions totaled a whopping 37 hits, including an astounding 18 on Saturday as they overcame an early 9-1 deficit to claim an improbable victory that clinched the series.

That win came after a comfortable 8-1 victory Friday night. On Sunday, the Lions saw an early 2-0 lead slip away yet battled back multiple times to clinch the sweep with an 8-5 win.

According to head coach Rob Cooper, the key to the offensive explosion was staying patient and not getting frustrated after last weekend's setbacks to Big Ten leading Illinois.

"Last year we would have had a series like Illinois where we had great at-bats but nothing to show for it and guys would have gone away from their approach," Cooper said. "This year, guys are more mature, and they said we're going to take the same approach and have something to show for it."

While the Lions had multiple standout performers, the star of the weekend really was Haley, who put together the best series of his still young career. The 6-foot-2 shortstop hit .538 over the course of the weekend and raised his season average from .278 to .299.

He also produced while hitting in multiple spots in the lineup. After hitting cleanup like usual during his banner day on Saturday, Cooper moved him up to second on Sunday. The Philadelphia area native responded by going 2 for 4 with an RBI and three runs scored.

"It was weird today, I was a little messed up in the head," Haley said with a smile on Sunday. "But I didn't mind it. I'll hit first, second, third, fourth, wherever."

But Haley wasn't the only Penn State hitter to thrive despite being moved around in the order. Greg Guers also continued his season-long power onslaught while hitting in two different spots.

On Friday, the 6-foot-3 outfielder ripped his seventh home run of the season while batting second as usual. With leadoff hitter James Coates getting a day off on Sunday however, the slugger was moved to the top of order and started the afternoon off with a monster blast to right field in the first inning.

Overall, Guers hit .417 and drove in six RBIs over the weekend. He is now hitting .291 on the season and is leading the Lions in home runs (eight) and RBIs (37).

"I think everybody had a feeling he was going to hit a home run [on Sunday]," senior Aaron Novak said. "It looks pretty effortless for him up there."

Yes, it certainly does look easy for Guers right now. But what impressed his coach the most was not his two home runs, but the bunt he laid down to advance a runner in the eight inning on Sunday.

For Cooper, Guers and Haley are two players that have benefited not only from hard work and coaching, but also their willingness to fill any role.

"I knew we were going to give Coates the day off, so then it's a matter of lets get Guers up as many times as possible," Cooper said. "He's locked in right now. It's really important because he hits a home run, hits line drives throughout the game and then gets a big bunt down, that's a complete offensive player.

"Haley's really stating to stay inside the ball a bit more. It's a testament to him and his approach but also to [hitting coach Ross] coach Oeder and the fact that he continues to work with these guys."

Still, they weren't only players to shine against the Scarlet Knights. Novak raised his season average to .346 with a two-hit day on Sunday while Tyler Kendall also went 2 for 4 with two RBIs in the final game.

It was a team effort, something that the Nittany Lions will look to continue during their final two regular season series. The Blue and White are 16-13 since March 17 and still looking to improve.

"We're just staying consistent with our approach," Novak said. "Nobody's trying to do too much, just trying to stay inside the ball and it's paid off. We're hitting balls hard."

By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Watching college kids graduate is nothing new to Rob Cooper.

After all, the Nittany Lions' head coach is in his 11th season at the helm of a college program, after working as an assistant for more than a decade. In that time, Cooper, like every college coach, has said goodbye to a different group of young men every spring.

Still, it's a process that never gets any easier for him. With Penn State's final home series of the season this weekend against Rutgers, the old emotions are already coming back for the skipper.

"I take senior days really hard," Cooper said. "I know number one, how tough it is to do something your whole life and then you're no longer playing baseball, something every spring you've gotten ready to do. I'm sensitive to that but I'm also sensitive to the fact that these guys, although they choose to, have given up a lot of time and energy and it directly impacts me and my family. So I want to them go out on a good note."

On one hand, this current group of eight Nittany Lion seniors may seem like any other graduating class. At the same time, Cooper will always remember this group fondly for helping him adjust to Penn State.

When Cooper accepted the head coaching job at Penn State two years ago after nine seasons at Wright State, it was clear the Nittany Lions were in a rebuilding phase. Cooper accepted the challenge from day one, yet it was still nice for the coach to have players who embraced his style.

Last year's crop of seniors, which consisted of nine guys, went a long way in helping Cooper implement the culture the coach wanted at Penn State. But this year's crew has been just as responsive.

"That group was very welcoming to me when I got the job," Cooper said. "Even though maybe on record it doesn't show that we've made progress, it's definitely night and day compared to when I got here and that's a testament to them."

The players feel just as strongly about their coach as he feels about them. When Cooper arrived after their sophomore seasons, many of them were still raw players just scratching the surface of their abilities.

Now, they've come a long way in reaching their potential. While the Nittany Lions are still in the process of becoming contenders in the Big Ten, they've played .500 ball in their last 26 games in part because of the efforts of the senior class.

Two seniors that exemplify the improvements that the team has made the past two seasons are second baseman Taylor Skerpon and right fielder Aaron Novak.

Before Cooper arrived in 2013, Skerpon was a talented shortstop that struggled with consistency and Novak was merely part of a mix of outfielders competing for playing time. Now, Skerpon is arguably the team's best defender at second while Novak has been the club's top hitter, leading the team in average (.331) and on-base percentage (.406) while ranking second in home runs (four) and RBIs (22).

"Coach Cooper has gotten me to consistently play the game the right way all the time, whether it's sprinting on and off the field in between innings or always running down the baseline hard," Skerpon said. "Just being a great guy. He's fun to be around and play for."

This group of seniors, which also includes infielders Ryky Smith and J.J. White, outfielder Ryan Richter, and pitchers Geoff Boylston, Ryan Harper, and Patton Taylor, has also grown closer with their teammates these past two years.

Novak said that although there used to be a bit of a disconnect between the older players and the younger ones, that is no longer the case.

"As a team, during [Cooper's] time here we became much closer," Novak said. "From the freshmen to seniors, we're all amazing friends and we've developed much closer relationships then we had in the past. There used to be this kind of divide between the freshman and the seniors and these past two years it wasn't at all like that so we're a much more cohesive team."

"It's just like having seven other brothers, and truly meaning brothers," Skerpon added. "We know how each other act, what can tweak somebody a little bit just to mess with them. But it's been amazing. I couldn't ask for better guys to have four years with."

Like most college seniors, Skerpon and Novak aren't trying to think too much about their careers winding down. While the inevitable will soon become reality, the pair is trying to take advantage of the time they have left.

"I try not to dwell on it too much because you know it's coming up," Novak said. "I guess it's got to end so you've got to deal with it somehow."

By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It only takes one swing to break out of a slump, something that Ryky Smith can attest to after Wednesday night.

The senior infielder went into a midweek contest against Pittsburgh on the bench after going hitless in his prior 24 at-bats. With the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth however, it was his bat that the Nittany Lions needed.

Smith came to the plate with the score tied 7-7 and runners on the corners with one out.  The situation called for a hit-and-run, and Smith executed it perfectly, slapping a grounder that shortstop Ron Sherman wasn't able to make a play on before Jim Haley crossed the plate with the winning run.

Apart from giving Penn State a thrilling 8-7 win, the play also went a long way in getting Smith his confidence back.

"I hadn't had a hit in a while, that's for sure," Smith said. "The thing going through my mind was, it's about time you get it done.

"[Head Coach Rob] Cooper put on a hit-and-run, all I have to right there is hit a ground ball and we win the game. So I made it a point to hit that ball on the ground no mater what."

In the clubhouse afterwards, Smith barely had a chance to finish his statement when Haley snuck up from behind and rubbed a celebratory shaving cream pie in his face. As his teammates looked on and laughed, the 5-foot-10 infielder couldn't help but smile.

"Anyway, now that that's over, jeez," Smith said as he wiped his face. "As soon as I hit the ball I knew they weren't turning a double play and the game was probably over."

While it's far from the hardest ball that the York, Pennsylvania, native, has ever hit, it may wind up as his most memorable. It came at a good time too, with his senior season winding down.

Easily one of Penn State's scrappiest players, Smith started the year on fire, hitting over .300 for most of the first two months of the season. Despite his recent slump, he's remained a versatile defender capable playing second and third base, and Cooper was pleased to see him get a moment in the spotlight.

"He's a good college player, but he's one of those guys you wish was loaded with talent because he would make the most of it," Cooper said. "He wouldn't be a guy who wouldn't work at it or take it serious, because that's not the way he plays, so it was good to see him do that."

Going into the ninth with a 7-5 lead, the Lions didn't appear to need their half of the inning to win. The Panthers battled back however, scoring two runs on three hits to set up the dramatic finish.

Before Smith delivered his game-winning infield hit, Haley and center fielder Ryan Richter started the inning with singles of their own. In a game in which Penn State registered 15 hits, all but one were singles.

Oh, but what a hit that one non-single was. In the bottom of the eighth with the Lions clinging to a 6-5 lead, left fielder Greg Guers ripped his sixth home run of the season on a solo shot that gave the Lions an important insurance run.

"Our guys made adjustments from at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch and the best example is Guers' home run," Cooper said. "He laid off a breaking ball down in the dirt and when he didn't swing at that, the pitcher for them realizes, 'He's not going to chase that, what am I going to do here.' Usually you have an approach like that, you get a lot of hits."

The win gave Penn State a 2-0 record against Pittsburgh this season, following a 6-1 win in 12 innings on March 17. While the Lions don't mind extra innings, they're glad they won this one in a timely fashion. 

"When Penn State plays Pitt, people are going to want to beat each other," Cooper said. "Last time it was 40 degrees colder than it was tonight, but I've always said I'll play as many innings as it takes as long as we win."

Nittany Lions Finish Series Strong Against Illini

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By Mike Esse, Student Staff Writer

With the No. 8 team in the country visiting Medlar Field at Lubrano Park this weekend and after a 10-1 setback in the series' first game, Penn State battled and nearly came up with an upset victory over the team with the conference's best record. 

While head coach Rob Cooper hasn't backed away from the fact that he wants his team to win games, he knows that Saturday's 15-inning 4-2 loss and Sunday's 6-3 loss are games with a few takeaway points to build on moving forward.

"I thought our guys competed and battled," Cooper said. "When you're trying to build a program you look for things like that. Illinois is a team that's probably going to host a regional and be a national seed." 

On Saturday Penn State took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning after seven shutout innings from freshman Taylor Lehman. With the Nittany Lions just six outs away from the result, the Illini bats came alive to take a 2-1 lead. Then, just as the upset seemed out of reach, Penn State came right back and tied the game in the ninth on a Taylor Skerpon RBI double. 

Then, after six extra innings, the Illini broke through to take the lead in the top of the final inning to get the win. Cooper noted how his team battled in the series' final two-games are what he wants to see.

"For us to have a chance to win Saturday and be in that game all day today like we did it shows that our guys won't quit and we're building toward the right things," he said. 

In building toward the right things, freshmen are going to be a big part of that. While the Nittany Lions have a strong group of upperclassmen, younger players are now working into becoming key parts of the Penn State lineup.

One player, freshman catcher Nick Graham, caught the eye of his upperclassmen teammates after going 3-for-6 with two runs scored between the final two games of the series.

"He was great," redshirt junior Greg Guers said. "Their pitching staff is pretty good and he battled all day and had two doubles and did a great job behind the plate too. It was great seeing him have success against one of the top pitching staffs around."

"He's only a freshman too and he's came a long way since the beginning of the year and has been putting some great at bats together," senior Aaron Novak said.

Cooper agreed that the play of Graham and a few other freshmen namely those in the pitching staff or bullpen has been promising, but the team as a whole still has a few areas they need to clean up.

One of which is limiting free bases for opponents.

"We have to clean up some things as far as playing the games," Cooper said. "We walked or hit nine guys and even though none of them scored, after the seventh inning we had thrown 142 pitches and they had thrown 97. You're working almost twice as hard just to stay in the game."

Secondly, even though the team was hitting the ball hard Saturday and Sunday, Cooper still knows his team has the ability to come up with runs with runners on.

"We have to find a way to break through with runners in scoring position," Cooper said. "We hit the ball on the nose but had nothing to show for it. With bases loaded Jimmy Haley hit the ball on the screws, but we have to find a way to push one of those through."

With just three Big Ten series remaining, Cooper said his team could have given up on the season, but it's clear they have not. Novak noted there was never a point in the weekend where he and his teammates thought they were not in the game, even against a stout Illini club.

"We are just trying to keep our heads up," Novak said. "We are just trying to finish as strong as possible and we are confident in our abilities that hasn't changed so we are going to play until the end."

Back In the Leadoff Spot, Coates Driving Lions Once Again

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11025526.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 2015 season didn't quite get off to the start that James Coates wanted it to.

After entering the campaign as Penn State's expected leadoff hitter and a team leader, the junior outfielder went hitless in the team's opening series against Elon and pulled his hamstring. By the time the Lions home schedule started on March. 18, Coates was just 2 for 19 on the season and fighting to get healthy and earn a spot back in the lineup.

"I had a rough first weekend, I hit the ball hard but got a few tough outs and then I was injured for a while," Coates said. "Just trying to fight through the injury but when you don't get to see a lot of live pitching it's hard to just come in and get hits and that was a big problem for me."

While it was starting to look like a lost year for Coates, his hamstring healed by the start of April and head coach Rob Cooper placed him back in the starting lineup. It didn't take long for the results to start showing.

Since April 7, Coates has hit .316 and worked his way back to the front of the order. Even with his slow start, the 5-foot-8 outfielder has a .352 on-base percentage this season and has looked like the player that hit .287 with a .393 on-base percentage over his first two seasons.

What has led to the drastic improvement? According to Coates, it's been about receiving consistent playing time and not being expected to turn things around in just one game.

"For me, it was about getting more at-bats and seeing more pitches and getting more comfortable in the box," Coates said. "Just trusting myself is what it comes down to."

For Cooper, the biggest difference between Coates right now and at the start of the season has simply been his health. The outfielder first began struggling with his hamstring at the end of last season, and the second-year coach said the injury was the only thing holding Coates back.

"He's healthy and has confidence in being healthy," Cooper said. "He's a guy that really cares about playing for Penn State and has a lot of pride in himself. Last year he was doing a good job for us before he got hurt and it ate at him and then to have it early on [this season], it's like, 'Gosh, is this ever going to heal up'. So one, he's healthy and two, he's mentally healthy."

Not only does Coates feel better than he has all season, his presence in the leadoff spot has Penn State's lineup ready to reach it's potential.

Although Cooper used second baseman Taylor Skerpon and even power-hitting outfielder Aaron Novak in that spot at times this year, neither player was a perfect fit there. With Coates sliding back in, Novak is back at his normal No. 3 spot while Skerpon has gone down to seventh, where he went 4 for 5 with two RBIs on Tuesday against Kent State.

But Coates hitting leadoff has done more than just help his teammates succeed. It has also allowed him to do what he does best, which is work counts, get on base and use his speed to his advantage.

"Unless you're able to watch him play, if look at look him on paper at his stats you might say, 'Why is this guy leading off,'" Cooper said. "Even when he doesn't get a hit he finds a way to get on base and when he is on base, because he can run he generates offense that way. And him being a leader, being on the field and being able to not just talk and lead but play and lead helps."

That's part of the reason why Coates enjoys the challenge of starting things off for the Lions. Not only does he feel it plays to the team's strengths, it also allows him the opportunity to lead by example.

That chance was once the things that the Girard, Ohio, native, looked forward to before the start of the season. Although he tried to remain a leader even when he wasn't playing, being back on the field has made it much easier.

"I always try to be a leader, that's the role I want to take on this team," Coates said. "I felt I had a duty to the team and responsibility to be a leader.

"I like having the leadoff role because for me, it's about doing anything I possibly can to get on base so the guys behind me can get me in and see more pitches. It definitely seems to have put our lineup back in synch."

On Tuesday, Coates put on a leadoff hitting clinic against the Flashes, going 2 for 4 with a walk, two RBIs and two runs scored. His ability to come through for his team didn't stop after the final out though.

With Coates' family living less than an hour from Kent State, his aunt provided the team with two-dozen homemade pepperoni rolls, which the team enjoyed on the bus ride home.

While he can't promise post-game snacks the rest of the season, Coates is determined to keep his hot steak going.

"They were a big hit on the bus for sure," Coates said with a smile. "Just a one time thing since we were so close to my home. I come from a big Italian family, we're really big into food, probably a lot of excess food." 

First Inning Explosion Jumpstarts Nittany Lions Over Kent State

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11021824.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
KENT, Ohio. - There are some nights in baseball when runs are just hard to come by. Tuesday, however, was not one of those games for Penn State.

The Nittany Lions entered a midweek contest at Kent State having averaged just shy of nine runs in their 12 wins this season. Against the Flashes, it took them just one inning to reach that exact total, as they blew open the doors with nine in the first on their way to a convincing 15-5 win.

Not only did the game get the Lions back on track after three loses against Minnesota over the weekend, it also evened their season series with the Flashes, who topped Penn State 9-7 on April 1.

"Obviously Kent State is a good team and they play us hard," head coach Rob Cooper said. "It's good to see our guys get of to a good start after a tough weekend and put it behind us. I'm proud of our guys and we got on them early and it was great to see."

Right from the jump, the key for the Lions was being patient at the plate. After loading the bases with walks from James Coates and Greg Guers and a hit-by-pitch by Aaron Novak to start things off, Penn State got on the board when Jim Haley also worked a walk off pitcher John Birkbeck.

First baseman J.J. White then ripped a double that scored two and ended Birkbeck's evening before the junior recorded an out. While the score was already 3-0, it was just the beginning for the Lions.

Using timely hitting and taking advantage of three Kent State errors, the Lions batted around and tacked on six more runs in the inning. Taylor Skerpon, Coates and Novak all registered RBI hits after Ryan Richter drove in two on a grounder that resulted in a throwing error by second baseman Tim Dalporto.

"You know, it helped out that their pitcher struggled and hit and walked some guys, but as hitters we did a good job of not chasing and when they threw a good pitch not trying to do too much, just putting a good swing on the ball," Cooper said. "And we also created some offense because we ran the bases aggressive which forced them into making some bad throws."

In the first inning alone, the Lions scored more runs than they did in seven of their wins this season. Still, the Flashes didn't go away quietly, battling back with one in the first and three in the third to cut Penn State's lead to 9-4.

That proved to just be a bump in the road for the Lions, as they scored five runs between the fifth and the seventh and tacked on another in the ninth to complete the rout.

Although nine Nittany Lions registered at least one hit, the two players who really stood out were senior second baseman Taylor Skerpon and sophomore outfielder Nick Riotto.

Skerpon, better known for his glove than his bat, was on fire all night and finished 4 for 5 with a double and two RBIs. Riotto on the hand, made the most of his one at-bat as a pinch hitter by slamming his first career home run with a two-run shot in the seventh.

"It's good to see [Taylor] swinging the bat well," Cooper said. "He had some good at-bats against Minnesota, but I felt like he's been putting too much pressure on himself and trying to do too much since it's his last year. He did a great job tonight.

"That's something we feel [Riotto] can do. We've just been trying to have him use his lower half to get barrel on ball. It's not about hitting home runs but to me that wasn't a surprise to see him do that."

As much as offense ruled the day for the Nittany Lions, they did get a great performance out of the bullpen from Dakota Forsyth, who went five innings and gave up just one run and one hit.

The Lions will need more performances like that this weekend, when they face Illinois, the top team in the Big Ten and the No. 8 team in the country.

"[Forsyth's performance] was huge, you don't really realize, that in that game with the wind blowing out you need a pitcher who isn't afraid to start bats," Cooper said. "When the game was 9-4 for him to come in and sure things up, well that was really big for us. "

Lions Look To Use Midweek Wins As Momentum For Weekend

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11004425.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Weekends never are a vacation for the Penn State baseball team.

That's because the Nittany Lions typically have a series against a Big Ten team from Friday to Sunday. This weekend will be no different, when the Lions hit the road to face Minnesota in a three-game test.

As important as those games are, that doesn't mean the Lions don't take the rest of their schedule seriously, something they proved this week by winning back-to-back contests against West Virginia (5-3) and Bucknell (11-2).

"These games are huge," head coach Rob Cooper said. "These games are just as important to us as the conference games, because at the end of the day, they all go towards our record. As we go forward, these games go towards whether you're good enough to play in a regional. They're important."

Though it would be easy for the Lions to get complacent against non-conference teams, they have a done a good job staying locked in no matter their opponent as of late. Since March 17, Penn State is 6-1 in midweek contests.

No only does every game affect the Lions record and keep them sharp for the weekends, they also give some of team's less heralded players the chance to prove themselves.

On Wednesday against Bucknell, it was a pair of sophomores in pitcher Tom Mullin and outfielder Nick Riotto that responded to those opportunites. Typically a reliever, Mullin gave up just one run in five innings in his first career start while Riotto went 1 for 2 with an RBI single and scored three runs in his 15th start of the season.

"A perfect example is Nick Riotto, who's had two really good games," said Cooper. "If we didn't look at these games as important than, well right now I'm really thinking that we probably need to have him in the lineup somehow Friday. But if we didn't look at these games the exact same way that wouldn't be a consideration.

"[Tonight] shows that Tom can do it. If someone gets hurt or down the road if we need someone to start he showed he can do it. I'm proud of him because it's part of the whole learning process."

In Minnesota, the Lions will face a team that is 13-19 and just one spot ahead of them in the conference standings. While Penn State's last two weekends brought tough challenges in Ohio State (24-9) and Michigan (21-16), the players aren't looking past the Gophers.

After all, the Lions know first hand how tightly contested games in the Big Ten can be, having beaten Michigan and Indiana once while losing to Ohio State by one twice. With the Gophers coming off a 13-5 win over North Dakota State on Tuesday, both teams will be riding some momentum into the series.

"These past two games are huge, especially going into this weekend," sophomore shortstop Jim Haley said. "We're not trying to put a Big Ten in front of it, I mean it's an important series for us, but we're just trying to carry that momentum over and at the minimum play 27 innings, just play our game."

With five Big Ten weekends left this season, the Lions aren't looking to waste games against anyone. As challenging as this season has been at times, the Lions feel good having won two straight and four of their last six.

"[Our morale] is definitely up right now," Mullin said. "After Michigan I would say it was tough, but yesterday it was up after that win (over West Virginia)."

"Our team morale is definitely up," Haley added. Maybe we didn't have the result we wanted against Michigan but day in and day out, from the lift to the practice, our morale is up, it has to be." 

Mullin Fulfills Goal in First Career Start

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By Mike Esse, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -  Before the start of his sophomore season, pitcher Tom Mullin set a goal for himself. The relief pitcher wanted to change his role on the team and earn at start in the Blue and White. Before Tuesday's game with West Virginia, Mullin finally received the news he was looking for: He was set to start Wednesday at home against Bucknell.

"He was pumped," head coach Rob Cooper said. "He was excited."

And, he was grateful for the chance to fulfill his goal.

"I was happy that Coach Cooper and the other coaches gave me the opportunity to do that and I just wanted to take advantage of it," Mullin said.

Took advantage of it, he did. Only 10 pitches were thrown to Bucknell's hitters in the first inning, one of which yielded a hit. After getting the first inning of his first career start out of the way, his teammates gave him some help.

Penn State came out firing in the first inning posting five runs on five hits, including a Tyler Kendall two RBI double with two outs.

After seeing 10 Penn State hitters bat in the first, Mullin came out for his second inning of work. Almost identical to the first, he only faced four hitters, allowing one hit. Through two innings, he had only faced eight Bucknell hitters and his team posted the same number of runs, getting three more in the second to race out to an 8-0 lead.

Mullin said the early lead allowed him to settle into a groove.

 "It's always nice to have the offense come in with eight runs in the first two innings and it calms your nerves and allows you to go on cruise control and work pitch-by-pitch," he said.

He then continued to plow through the Bison lineup, downing Bucknell hitters in order in the third. Then in the fourth is when Mullin got his first taste of adversity. He gave up a single, fielder's choice and a Bison reached via error to load the bases with one out.

After a Bison single to make the score 8-1, the sophomore righty settled back in and finished the job, getting out with just one run allowed.

"I just wanted to gather myself and make pitches," he said of the jam in the fourth.

In the dugout after the fourth, Cooper and pitching coach Brian Anderson deliberated whether or not to allow Mullin to continue for the fifth inning. After a quick chat with Mullin, they found their answer.

"We were at a pitch limit with him a little bit and we were getting close to it and Coach Anderson asked told him he was getting close and he said 'I want one more inning, I'll get three more outs for you' and he did," Cooper said.

Mullin retired Bucknell in order in the fifth to finish with a sparkling line of five innings pitched allowing just four hits and zero earned runs on 67 pitches.

Penn State's head coach wouldn't say if Mullin's start will lead to more in the near future, but it was a good sign that Mullin went out and proved he can be a starter.

"It shows that he can do it so if somebody gets hurt or down the road we need somebody to start, he showed he can do it," Cooper said. I'm proud of him because it's part of the whole learning process."

Penn State got the win 11-2 to improve to 12-20 on the season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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