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Penn State Offense Comes Alive

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The second inning Wednesday night was the type of inning the Penn State offense has been waiting for all season long. 

The Nittany Lions kept the bottom of the second going for about 30 minutes, sending 11 total batters to the plate. The result was six runs on seven hits that led Penn State to a 7-2 victory against Mount St. Mary's.

"It's good for us," left fielder Parker Hendershot said. "Obviously we have been struggling lately. It's good to have a game where we get these runs and these hits here and there and it's hopefully something that can get us started for the rest of the season."

Hendershot got the second inning started with a single through the right side. After moving to third on a wild pitch and a ground out, shortstop Joe Weisenseel singled him home with a lined drive under the second baseman's glove. Tommy Gibson then knocked in Weisenseel on a single down the left field line before Ryan Sloniger brought home two more on a single to center.

Third baseman Connor Klemann kept the offense rolling with his first career triple on a shot to deep left center field. Hendershot, who started the inning, then knocked in the final run of the second with a double down the left field line. 

"It was fun," Hendershot said of the second inning. "Everyone was into it and we just kept piling them on. Hopefully we can continue to do that."

The offense tacked on another run in the third inning, but was unable to put another run on the board for the rest of the game. 

Although the scoring may have slowed down, Klemann did not. 

On top of his first career triple, the third baseman tied his career high with three hits on the evening with a run scored and an RBI.

"It definitely feels good," Klemann said of his three-hit night. "Baseball has its ups and downs. It's a long season and we're only half way. I've been hitting some balls hard, so I've been sticking with it. It was good to finally see some results tonight." 

Klemann got off to a hot start to the 2018 season hitting .297 through the first 20 games of the year, but over the past few weeks he has struggled at the plate. Entering Wednesday's game, Klemann was hitting just .243, but the third baseman was able to bump his average back up to .259 after his three-hit night.

Slumps are not something Klemann has had to battle in his time at Penn State. The third baseman has played and started in all 30 games this year, which is more games than he has played in a single season since his first season with the Nittany Lions in 2016.

In his freshman season, Klemann was named the opening day starting second baseman, but ended up with an injury in the first game that sidelined him until April, allowing him to play in only 28 games. Again in 2017, Klemann only played in 10 games before he was forced to end his season due to another injury.  

For Penn State head coach Rob Cooper, because Klemann hasn't be able to get a full season under his belt, he hasn't had to learn how to bounce back from hitting slumps. 

"It's been awhile," Cooper said. "It's one thing that we talked about earlier. It was like, 'Hey man, I know you're struggling. I know you want to get out of it. It's kind of new to you. You got to stay with it.' He made some adjustments to his swing yesterday and it kind of showed up today."

The adjustments the third baseman made to his swing prior to Wednesday's game paid off with two singles and a stand up triple that gave Klemann his first multi-hit game since March 30 against Purdue.

"Obviously he can really hit," Cooper said. "He's a guy that hits in the middle of our lineup and when he can do some damage it helps."

Along with Klemann's hot bat, Hendershot continued his hot streak going 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI, while Weisenseel went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI. The hot offensive night gave Penn State its first win since March 25 snapping an 11-game losing streak.

The Nittany Lions hope that the hot bats continue in Ann Arbor, Michigan this weekend when the team takes on the Wolverines.

"I think we should treat every game the same no matter who it is," Hendershot said. "I think we should go in there knowing what we are capable of and put the past experiences behind us. Just focus on the task at and just knowing that we can beat any team in the country as long as we just focus and put our mind to it."

Hendershot's Unconventional Journey

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Last spring Penn State freshman Parker Hendershot was just a few months away from starting his collegiate baseball career at the University at Buffalo when he found out on social media that his future was about to change. 

Hendershot scrolled through Twitter early one morning to find out baseball was one of the four programs Buffalo would cut at the conclusion of the 2017 season.

"I kind of panicked because it was late in the recruiting process," Hendershot said. "I didn't know who was going to give me another opportunity or where I was going to go."

Committed to Buffalo since the spring of his junior year in high school, Hendershot was forced to start from square one exactly one year later.

Not only was it late in the recruiting process, but most schools also require an academic decision from the institution by the beginning of May. With Hendershot receiving the news around March, that left him just two months to create a new plan. 

Instead of taking all two months though, Hendershot got things turned around in just two weeks when he selected Penn State as his new home.

"Unfortunately, in the last 10 years, we've seen some [baseball] programs get cut and that has not good for our game," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "It's worked out where it's been really good for Penn State baseball. He's an unbelievable young man. He comes from an unbelievable family. He works extremely hard."

Although Hendershot was looking for the best place to continue his baseball career, he also wanted to find a school that he loved outside of baseball.

Penn State's campus was the perfect fit.

"I wanted to go to a big school and Buffalo was a big school too," Hendershot said. "Obviously, this is a step above. I liked all of the facilities here and the coaches. Obviously every program here is a great program. I told myself once I committed here that if I don't get to the next level, that's on myself because obviously the coaches and the facilities are going to put us in a place to thrive. If we don't perform and improve the way we want to, then that's our own fault."

As ready as he was to start his journey to the next level, Hendershot was thrown yet another curveball. With an injury plaguing him through the entire fall season, the young freshman was not able to start the 2018 season as ready as his teammates were.

"Some of the things he's gone through in January, February and early March, a lot of our guys got to go through in September, October and November," Cooper said.

In the first series of the season at Elon, Hendershot was not selected to travel with the team because Cooper and the coaching staff felt as though he was not quite ready.

"He never pouted. He never complained," Cooper said. "He said, 'Yes, sir. I'm going to keep working.' In fact, the morning we left for our first trip, he and some other freshmen were there at the bus wishing our guys luck. It shows the kind of person he is. It shows you how he works."

While some freshmen may get frustrated under tough circumstances, Hendershot uses it as motivation. Although he's a natural hard worker, Hendershot has previous experience being a young member on a veteran team, which has helped him keep his confidence throughout the beginning of the 2018 season.

Hendershot is from Barton, New York, where high school sports teams sometimes allow middle school students to play up if the player is good enough to make the cut. In middle school, Hendershot made his high school team and graduated as a five-year letterwinner from Tioga Central High School.

Serving as team captain in his senior year, the Tigers MVP was ranked the ninth-best player out of New York and the second-best third baseman ahead of arriving in Happy Valley.

"It does [help] because there are some teams that have freshmen that struggle and then there are teams that freshmen thrive on," Hendershot said. "I think, in regards to this program, the freshmen have gotten a lot of opportunities and I think we've done our fair share of contributing."

Despite the early season challenges, Hendershot has started to heat up at the plate, hitting .313 (5-for-16) in his last four appearances. Last time out, the freshman had a career day, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored, two RBIs and a walk. 

For Cooper though, he believes this is only the start for the young freshman. When it comes to Hendershot's future, the sky is the limit.

"One thing he does love to do, is he loves to play baseball," Cooper said. "He's not afraid of competition and he's extremely coachable. He wants to soak up knowledge. Love having him. We're lucky."

Underclassmen Flash Future Potential

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State has an extremely young roster this season that features 13 freshmen and nine sophomores. Only five of the team's 35 players are seniors.

 

While the young roster may have experienced trouble adjusting to division I pitching and hitting early on this year, many of the promising Nittany Lions of tomorrow are hitting their stride in the middle of the season.

 

Penn State lost both games of its Saturday doubleheader against Ohio State by scores of 5-1 and 19-8, but multiple underclassmen showcased what the bright future of Penn State baseball could look like in the process.

 

Most notably, sophomore infielder Logan Goodnight broke out of his recent slump in the three-game series with the Buckeyes.

 

Goodnight had gone three straight games without reaching base leading up to the weekend series, but he rocked Ohio State's pitching for two multi-hit games and went 5-for-12 with a run scored in the series.

 

Goodnight has only started 11 games so far this year, but head coach Rob Cooper has given him the nod the past four games. He could become the regular starter at shortstop if his bat stays hot.

 

"This is a guy that we thought a lot of coming out of high school. He was an All-American coming out of high school," Cooper said. "He's a kid that we think has a lot of potential. I hope this is a sign of things to come with him."

 

Freshman Parker Hendershot also started all three games as the designated hitter against the Buckeyes and made his own case to stay in the normal rotation. Hendershot exploded in game two of the doubleheader, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. His three hits Saturday marked a career high.

 

"One thing I love about Parker is that he will basically do whatever you ask him to do," Cooper said. "He's super coachable. He takes his role here personally. He wants to be the best he can be."

 

Hendershot's .262 average is the highest among underclassmen and third highest on the team.

 

Fellow freshman Curtis Robison also put together a solid weekend at the plate with a hit in each of the three contests. Robison was less than a foot away from his second career home run in game two of the doubleheader when his bomb in the third inning hit the top of the right field fence.

 

Robison's 21 starts are the most on the team out of all freshman.

 

On the mound, a duo of freshman put together the two best relief performances of the weekend.

 

In game one Saturday, Conor Larkin relieved starter Taylor Lehman in the fourth inning with two runners on base and promptly struck out Ohio State's best hitter, Noah McGowan, to end the inning.

 

Larkin tossed a career-high 4.2 innings out of the bullpen and held the potent Buckeye offense to just two hits and no runs. Ohio State may lead the Big Ten in runs scored, but Larkin handled the Buckeyes with ease.

 

"I think the sky is the limit [for him]," Cooper said. "Right now, being a freshman, he's trying to learn how to pitch at this level. At times it can feel like drinking water out of a firehose for these young guys. He's gotten back in the bullpen and he's really starting to pitch well."

 

Larkin has now gone three straight appearances without allowing a run.

 

Freshman reliever Mason Mellott followed Larkin's performance in game one with a 2.2-inning effort in which he didn't allow a hit in game two. Mellot's 3.63 ERA is the lowest of all Penn State bullpen pitchers.


Despite Penn State's recent slide, the team's rich pool of underclassmen are getting more opportunities to showcase what the future may hold. If Saturday's performances are any indication, there's nothing short of excitement and optimism to look forward to. 

Bowersox, Hagenman Continue Hot Streaks

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Juniors Jordan Bowersox and Justin Hagenman have been the leaders for Penn State both offensively and defensively across the past two and a half years.

 

Coming in as a freshman, Bowersox played in 42 games, starting in 34. He batted .244 on the season and recorded a .310 on-base percentage. As a sophomore in 2017, Bowersox took a big leap with his bat. The centerfielder batted a team-best .333 in 33 games and also led the team in slugging percentage (.480) and on-base percentage (.418).

 

Bowersox was poised to top the lineup in 2018 as a junior, but his offense hasn't translated to statistical success quite yet this season. Bowersox, though, is seemingly heating up at the dish.

 

Hitting .259 coming into Friday night's matchup with Ohio State, he's currently riding his hottest streak of the season. Over the last seven games, Bowersox is 11-27 (.407) and has recorded at least one hit in six of those contests.

 

"I think he'd be the first to admit to you that early he was trying to do way too much because he felt like he [had something] to prove to [MLB] scouts, whereas he's really got to look at it the other way," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "What he did up until that point is what got him noticed in the first place, so he's starting to get back to that. You're seeing him have unbelievable at-bats against good pitching."

 

"J Bo" continued his dominance Friday, going 3-3 at the plate and reaching base in four of his five at-bats against the Buckeye pitching staff. The only time he failed to reach base was in the seventh inning, when Bowersox put down a sacrifice bunt to move a runner to second.

 

Bowersox roped a two-out double in the bottom of the ninth inning to advance the tying run to third, but junior Ryan Sloniger flew out to center field to end the game.

 

Bowersox increased his 2018 batting average to .279 Friday, good for second highest on the team behind Sloniger.

 

"I feel more comfortable at the plate, more calm," Bowersox said. "I've been working hard. I started off a little slow but this game is a game of failure and you get new opportunities every day."

 

As much as Bowersox has conquered opposing pitchers of late, Hagenman has done the same to opposing hitters.

 

Penn State's ace has given up just three earned runs combined in his last three starts. Over his last 18.1 innings, Hagenman has racked up 22 strikeouts and surrendered just 12 hits.

 

On Friday, Hagenman held the Big Ten's highest scoring offense to one unearned run off a throwing error in 6.1 innings pitched. Ohio State averaged 7.23 runs per game before Hagenman shut them down to the tune of seven strikeouts and just four hits allowed.

 

"Those guys can definitely swing it, but that doesn't change the way I go about pitching against them," Hagenman said. "It's up to me to go at them with my best stuff."

 

Hagenman said he made an in-game adjustment with his curveball, and once he started throwing it for a strike it opened up the zone and he rolled through the Buckeye lineup.

 

Hagenman brought his season ERA down from .333 to .292 with the effort. That's the lowest mark on the team even though Hagenman has tossed almost 20 innings more than the next pitcher.

 

"[Hagenman has been] unbelievable," Cooper said. "I love coaching him. If I'm a professional scout, I'm drafting Justin Hagenman because he's a good pitcher and he can really compete."

 

One of the biggest reasons for Hagenman's recent success has been his ability to get hitters to look at strike three. Of his 49 strikeouts this season, more than half have been looking.

 

Hagenman is second in the Big Ten with 25 backward K's on the year.

 

"That's because he executes pitches," Cooper said. "If a guy can execute a pitch when he needs to and where he needs to, you're going to freeze some kids and that's what he does."

 

Penn State dropped the pitcher's duel to Ohio State 1-0 Friday in the first of a three-game series at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

 

Even so, it's encouraging for two of Penn State's most consistent contributors over the last few years to be clicking at the same time.

 

The Nittany Lions return to the diamond Saturday for a doubleheader against the Buckeyes to finish the three-game set. Game one's first pitch is set for 2 p.m.


Mellott Finds Home at Penn State

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Many college students struggle with the transition from high school to college because it is often their first experience away from home. For freshman Mason Mellott, his collegiate choice happened to be right in his back yard.

Mellott was born in State College at Mount Nittany Medical Center, which is just one mile away from Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. The freshman pitcher grew up just five minutes away from campus and has had Penn State football and wrestling season tickets for as long as he can remember.

During his decision-making process, Mellott looked at schools like VCU and George Washington to continue his baseball career. With Penn State as his dream school though, it seemed to be a perfect match. 

"I always thought about playing college baseball and Penn State was always the big school for me, but I didn't pick this school right away," Mellott said. "It was definitely in the conversation, but I looked other places and then my love for the school brought me back to here. It was an easy decision for me then."

Penn State head coach Rob Cooper can also recall his initial impression of Mellott.

"The thing that stuck out to me the most was he has this competitive nature that's very infectious," Cooper said. "He kind of pitched on the attack the entire time. You could tell that he enjoyed that. You could tell he enjoyed playing. He kind of had this personality out there that you're like, yeah, that's what you want when you see a guy pitch."

His childhood home may only be five minutes away, but Mellott opted to live on campus to get the full college experience. Being closer to home helped the freshman through some early college struggles. 

"Having family around me all the times during the struggles I went through helped me cope a little better," Mellott said. "Obviously being used to the weather and everything that comes with being in the north and playing baseball I was used to, so I definitely think that helped me."

On top of transitioning to college, Mellott had to undergo yet another transformation, going from starter to reliever. While he may not have had much experience working in relief, he turned to a few veteran relievers on the team for advice.

"Nick Distasio [helped me]," Mellott said. "Marko [Boricich] has really helped me and Jake Pilewicz has helped me on how to come out of the bullpen and how to be a reliever. Like the mental side of it and what you have to do to prepare yourself to go into a bases loaded situation with no outs or something like that, to not freak out on the mound, and stay composed. Their experience has helped me learn and helped me have this early success."

Whatever the veterans shared with him, it worked. Mellott has the most appearances (13) out of the bullpen of anyone on the team. In his 19.1 innings this year, Mellott has posted a 3.72 ERA with three saves and 17 strikeouts. 

For Mellott though, it's hard to pin-point why he has had so much success.

"I think just trusting myself, trusting the coaches, sticking to a plan and how I went out and pitched in high school. Just stay with the same mentality. Obviously players are a little better at this level, but I think just sticking to the same mentality and going out there and pitching with the same heart and my head in the right place has helped me get to where I am right now."

For Cooper, it's his ability to remain calm on the mound that has been the major reason for success.

"I think the biggest thing with Mason is he loves to pitch," Cooper said. "When he comes into a situation or he looks at making that jump from high school to college, he doesn't look at it the same way some other guys do, where it's a stressful deal. He keeps it real simple and so because of that, he has been able to have some success that maybe some other guys haven't been able to have yet, but they will."

Cooper is unsure whether Mellott will stay a reliever or transition back to a starter in his three years to come with the Nittany Lions. For now though, Mellott is enjoying his time in the new position.

"I do like the role," Mellott said. "It was definitely different to get used to because you have to warm up before the game and then kind of get your body ready and your mind ready late in the game. It's fun to come in with the pressure and the game on the line and obviously save the game for the team."

Hagenman, Weisenseel Lead Passionate Purdue Series

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After Wednesday's loss to Cornell, Penn State head coach Rob Cooper was quick to point out his team didn't bring the effort and passion to the field Penn State is accustomed to.

 

"We have to decide if [respecting the game and our uniform] is something that we want to do and we can," Cooper said after the game.

 

Following a day off Thursday, Penn State rebounded Friday with a passionate effort against Purdue featuring Nittany Lion fielders diving for anything near them, batters fighting for every pitch and pitchers digging deep to give it all they had.

 

Friday's battle ended in a narrow 3-2 victory for Purdue, but Cooper was nevertheless proud to see his team fight again.

 

"I was not pleased with our team after Wednesday's competitive level," Cooper said. "I'm 180 degrees the other way [tonight]. "I thought our guys fought like crazy. I thought our guys played with great energy. I thought they competed, I thought they fought. I'm proud of this team's effort today, and if we can learn from that I think we're going to be in a good spot moving forward."

 

Junior starting pitcher Justin Hagenman turned in a gritty performance on the mound for the Nittany Lions. Hagenman notched season highs in innings pitched (seven), pitches (104), and strikeouts (nine). He surrendered just five hits and one earned run in the game.

 

Hagenman hasn't been able to pitch that deep into games this season so far, but he fought through the fatigue and put together one of his finest starts of the season Friday. Even when his offense wasn't giving him any run support, Hagenman battled to keep Penn State within striking distance.

 

"You know there are going to be days when you get all the run support and days when you get no runs until late in the game, but it's just your job to do all you can do to keep your team in the game until you hand the ball off," Hagenman said. "It doesn't really change the way I go about it."

 

Cooper said Hagenman's statistics this year and last don't reflect how good of a pitcher he really is.

 

Last season Hagenman received less than two runs of support in eight of his 14 starts and three or less in 11 of 14 starts. Despite leading the team in innings pitched (80.1) and placing second in strikeouts (75), Hagenman recorded just one win in 2017.

 

"He's a tough kid, competitive kid," Cooper said. "I thought he took a huge step today because even in the seventh inning his [velocity] was good and his stuff was sharp, and that's the mark of an ace."

 

On the offensive and defensive ends, sophomore Joe Weisenseel also exemplified what it means to be a Penn State athlete during the weekend series against Purdue.

 

In the seventh inning of game one with a runner on third, Weisenseel ripped a ground ball off the pitcher's foot and the ball sprayed to the second baseman for what seemed to be an easy, lucky out. However, Weisenseel shot out of the batters' box and slid head first into first base to beat the throw and drive in Penn State's first run of the game.

 

"Every time [Weisenseel] has been healthy since he's been here, he hasn't had a whole lot of fear," Cooper said. "He's not a physical kid, so he has to play with that mindset. He's able to have success at this level because of that."

 

Weisenseel kept his foot on the pedal for Saturday's second game and his contagious energy spread throughout the dugout.

 

Junior Shea Sbranti ran about 100 yards combined on two foul ball plays--sprinting backward with his hat falling off both times, Sbranti bolted toward the dugout and laid out for the two pop ups. He was unable to reel in either of the fly balls, but Cooper praised his and others' efforts during the doubleheader.

 

Both Weisenseel and freshman Curtis Robison made diving plays that seemed impossible to make off the bat to save runs.

 

Penn State ended up dropping all three games to Purdue over the weekend--two in close fashion that could've gone either way. The bats and arms haven't quite clicked at the same time yet this season, but a confident mindset is necessary for success. Penn State seems to have found it again.

 

"Sitting here right now I don't think we're going to be like this the entire year," Cooper said. "There's a lot of season left. There's a lot of Big Ten play left. There's nothing else you can do except put your head down, keep working, stay positive, and try to pull the good out of what we did today and improve on it."

Nittany Lions Look for New Start

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State finally returned home Wednesday after not playing at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park for nearly two weeks because of three postponed games. Despite being back on their own turf, the Nittany Lions hardly had home field advantage.

In a game where the box score may only reflect sloppy play, both Penn State and Cornell battled less than ideal weather conditions. What started as a hazy evening at first pitch turned into extremely dense fog by the seventh and eighth innings.

"I've never played in fog like that before," catcher Derek Orndorff said. "That's a first for that."

The Nittany Lions trailed by just two runs entering the eighth, but the fog became so thick that it was nearly unplayable. After two fly balls were hit to the outfield and neither left fielder Braxton Giavedoni nor center fielder Mason Nadeau was able to see them, the umpires decided to call the game early with Cornell ahead, 10-6.

"I couldn't see the ball," left fielder Braxton Giavedoni said. "It was kind of distracting. It probably was one of the craziest [games I've played] I'd say."

Although Orndorff and Giavedoni said it was difficult to see, they definitely did not show it in the batter's box. Giavedoni went 2-for-4 with two doubles and two runs scored, while Orndorff drew a walk in each of his four plate appearances. 

"It was easy close up to see," Giavedoni said. "Once I [went] into the outfield, it was kind of hard seeing the ball go over the plate like the whole game."

"I felt like I was seeing the ball pretty well," Orndorff said. "Just taking it one pitch at a time and really focusing on what I could control." 

Although the weather conditions were not favorable, Giavedoni and Orndorff were sure to point out that the fog was no excuse for the team's loss. Leading into this weekend's series against Purdue, Penn State head coach Rob Cooper wants the Nittany Lions to focus more on their mindset and passion rather than working on hitting or fielding. 

"We're not practicing tomorrow," Cooper said. "Us practicing tomorrow is not going to make us better. Tonight wasn't about being able to field a ground ball or take batting practice. We didn't compete." 

"We practice great. We really do. We have great practices. This is about [the players] making a choice and us as a group making a choice of what kind of team we want to be. If we come out Friday, Saturday and Sunday, whether we win any of them, but we fight hard and we compete and we play the game at the level that I think we can, then we will get right back at it."

With a 7-12 record to start the season, Cooper noted it's easy for the team to add pressure at the plate, especially with runners in scoring position. However, Cooper is hoping Penn State can push that pressure aside and relax at the plate. 

"We're 19 games into this," Cooper said. "At some point you have to go, 'I don't care what my average is. I don't care if I make a mistake as long as I make a mistake doing it the right way.'"

After Sunday's 9-3 win against Rutgers Sunday, Cooper knows that his team is capable of playing at a much higher level than Wednesday's performance demonstrated. The Penn State head coach is hoping that Friday's series opener against Purdue will get his team back on the right track. 

"We have to decide if [respecting the game and our uniform] is something that we want to do and we can," Cooper said. "We did it opening weekend against Elon. We did it Sunday against Rutgers. We can do it."

Penn State Ready for B1G Play

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is set to begin its Big Ten slate this weekend with a three-game series against Rutgers on the road in Piscataway, New Jersey.

 

The Nittany Lions are coming off a 2017 season in which the team posted a 4-20 record in conference play, but that isn't sending Penn State head coach Rob Cooper astray from his yearly goals.

 

Cooper said the team's goal for conference play is to make the Big Ten Tournament at the end of the season.

 

In the Big Ten, the top eight teams are invited to the tournament after the regular season. The Nittany Lions are currently sitting in 12th place in the conference with a 6-9 record, but Big Ten games matter much more in regards to conference standings.

 

A strong opening weekend against Rutgers could vault Penn State to the top of the conference standings in a hurry.

 

"Last year is last year. Now we got to work on just trying to win one game at Rutgers and going from there," Cooper said. "It's really honestly just about us and this year's team and what we can do to get better."

 

Taking from conversations with Penn State football head coach James Franklin, Cooper's approach to the start of Big Ten play has been Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers.

 

"It's a different challenge. It's a different part of the season, but I don't look at it much differently because if I look at different parts of the season differently then I'm not getting our guys to buy in to one game at a time, one pitch at a time," Cooper said.

 

Cooper and the rest of the team are locked in to the one game at a time approach, but there's no denying conference game have an extra splash of excitement.

 

Junior starting pitcher Justin Hagenman knows the difference between suiting up against Big Ten teams and nonconference opponents. Hagenman has recorded the most starts for Penn State against conference teams over the last two seasons.

 

Hagenman has recorded some of his best starts and notched personal best performances against Big Ten teams. In his freshman season, Hagenman won his sixth game against Rutgers to become Penn State's winningest pitcher in one season since 2011.

 

It's also the thrill of conference rivalries that fuels the junior to another level.

 

"Everything's on the line," Hagenman said. "Every game is very important. Every weekend is very important, so you just got to do everything you can. All these games and practices--this is what you're working for."

 

Looking out across the Big Ten, seven of the teams currently have winning records, with Indiana holding the top spot at 15-4. Illinois and Ohio State round out the top three.

 

Rutgers sits at sixth place in the conference with an 11-7 record.

 

The Scarlet Knights boast five players with batting averages above .300 in their balanced offense. Leading the charge is Kyle Walker, who owns a .417 average and a .491 on-base percentage.

 

On the mound, Eric Heatter leads the starters with a 2.35 ERA in 23 innings pitched. Bullpen aces Collin Kiernan and Brito Serafino have logged nine and 10 appearances, respectively, and have both been shut down so far this year.

 

Kiernan owns a team-best 1.74 ERA and Serafino leads all relievers with 17 strikeouts in 14.2 innings.

 

"[Rutgers is] super aggressive on the bases," Cooper said. "Their starting pitching is going to attack the strike zone and they're tough to beat at home, so we're going to have our work cut out for us. We got to keep them off the bases. We got to hold their running game down, and we got to just do a better job of limiting the free baseball that we give up."

 

For Cooper, he believes his team will succeed this weekend if it can cut down on strikeouts offensively and errors and walks defensively.

 

For Hagenman, it's Penn State's four days off this week that will help, ensuring every pitcher is rested and ready to contribute this weekend.

 

"It would've been good to play them just to get everybody in there, but we get fresh without playing those games," Hagenman said. "Everybody's good to go now pitching-wise, and we got some good days of practice in, so I feel like we did what we needed to do without playing those games and I think we're ready to go for this weekend."

Biasi Dominates in Series Finale

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After missing the 2017 season due to injury and a slow start in 2018, redshirt freshman Dante Biasi proved exactly why he was worth the wait in Sunday's 8-6 loss to NJIT.

The Nittany Lions have been waiting to work Biasi into the starting rotation since he joined his older brother, Sal, on the Penn State pitching staff in 2017. The younger Biasi was forced to watch from the dugout throughout what would have been his freshman season after undergoing surgery. Now, he is getting his first action at the collegiate level.

"My arm feels great [now], so there's nothing really wrong there," Biasi said. "It's just getting experience. This is my first time facing college-level hitters, so I'm pretty happy with where I'm at right now, but there's still a lot to work on and get better by the end of the season."

It's tough for Nittany Lion fans to not have high hopes for the young starter because of the success his older brother had in his three years at Penn State. Sal posted a career 3.41 ERA while recording an impressive 185 strikeouts in 174 innings pitched. 

Not only are expectations high because of his brother's legacy, but the younger Biasi proved his talents prior to college, getting drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 22nd round of the 2016 MLB Entry Draft. Despite having the option to become a professional player straight out of high school, Biasi decided to follow his brother and play at Penn State, but had to take his first year off for his surgery.

Biasi finally took the mound for the first time in the third game of the 2018 season. In his collegiate debut at Elon, the left-hander carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning giving Penn State fans a taste of what could be to come. Biasi then struggled through his second outing lasting just 1/3 of an inning against St. John's before going 3 2/3 innings against UC Santa Barbara in his third start. Because the lefty is fresh off of surgery, the Penn State coaching staff has had to be careful with Biasi's pitch count. 

"What we do with him, just like we do with everybody else, is we kind of monitor what his velocity is at, how his stuff is," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "You know if all of the sudden he really drops off, that's good sign that he's kind of hit the wall physically."

He may have had to come out early in the first few starts of the season, but Sunday, Biasi was in a groove. The lefty was dominate on the mound, pitching six scoreless innings of one-hit baseball.

"It felt good [to get that deep into the game]," Biasi said. "Me, [junior catcher Ryan] Sloni[ger] and [pitching] Coach [Josh] Newman worked all week on just developing my secondary stuff. I was able to throw that for strikes, so kind of made it easier on myself. We just got after it and competed out there." 

On top of logging his first quality start of the season, Biasi recorded seven strikeouts, allowing just one walk on the afternoon.

"Couple of my starts before, I couldn't really throw my off-speed for strikes," Biasi said. "Today we went with a lot of curveballs early for strikes and I was just getting ahead with that and pitching off that. So, I really think Coach Newman and Sloni[ger] did a great job calling the game and we just kept going with what was working." 

"I think the biggest thing for him today was his fastball command. He was ahead of everybody," Sloniger said. "All his secondary stuff was good, but he was able to locate and he was ahead of guys. It makes it a lot easier to pitch like that."

The Nittany Lions are not looking to rush Biasi into the season, however, once the lefty is at full strength, there's certainly evidence he could spend much more time on the mound.

"Let me make sure you guys understand why he's had three starts," Cooper said. "This kid was rehabbing at this time last year. I want you to understand how hard this kid is working. The fact that he was able to go six innings today and, based on where he was last year at this time, he is well ahead of schedule."

Sloniger, Giavedoni Share Special Chemistry

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ryan Sloniger and Braxton Giavedoni.

The Penn State catcher and outfielder have become accustomed to seeing their names side-by-side.

Sloniger and Giavedoni grew up together in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. When they were six years old, the two began playing baseball on the same team in the Coach Pitch league. Since then, they have gone through Little League, high school and even college without ever playing on different teams.

"Oh yeah [I remember playing with Giavedoni when we were six], Sloniger said. "Our dads were our coaches. We started in Coach Pitch together. Like t-ball, coach pitch, all that stuff and our dads were our coaches all the way up through." 

As if playing together for their entire baseball careers did not make them close enough, the two have hit back-to-back in the batting order on every team they have played on. From youth baseball through high school, it was common for Giavedoni to hit right in front of Sloniger and for Sloniger to drive in his childhood friend.

"[My favorite memory playing with Giavedoni was when] we had back-to-back homers in a Little League game to walk it off in the sixth inning," Sloniger said. "I was 11 and Braxton was 10. That was in the regular season of Little League. My dad was the head coach and Braxton's dad was the assistant coach."

Sloniger committed to play baseball at Penn State when he was a junior in high school. When he left for his freshman year in Happy Valley, Giavedoni was still a senior at Punxsutawney. The outfielder was getting recruited by multiple schools, but Penn State ended up becoming an obvious choice.

"I mean [Sloniger didn't] really [have an impact on me deciding to come to Penn State]," Giavedoni said. "This is where I wanted to come to begin with. He was obviously there along the way telling me this was a great place and that he wanted me to come here."

After a year of experience under his belt, Sloniger was ready for Giavedoni to make his arrival to Happy Valley to take him under his wing.

"We've been friends since we were born probably," Giavedoni said. "We grew up two minutes away from each other. When I got here as a freshman, he really helped me out so I always love that guy."

Whatever it was that Sloniger did to help make Giavedoni's transition to the collegiate level easier, it worked.

The freshman outfielder ended up leading his team in hitting (.287), runs (30), hits (54), doubles (10), total bases (77, tied), slugging percentage (.410) and on-base percentage (.355). 

Through the first 12 games of the 2018 season, the two Nittany Lions leading the team in batting average are none other than the childhood friends. Sloniger has 13 RBIs already this season including two home runs with a .302 average. After a .215 season at the plate for the catcher last season, Penn State head coach Rob Cooper is pleased with the start Sloniger is having this year.

"We always felt like Ryan could be a really good player for us," Cooper said. "He's always caught well and he's had moments where he's shown he could swing the bat. But, what I think you're seeing is a guy that's just really confident, really confident in his own skin and not afraid to make a mistake. I think at times he's tried to play too perfect in the past. So, to see him get off to the start he has, it doesn't surprise anyone that knows him that he has that ability."

Not only have both of the Punxsutawney natives found success at the plate early this season, but they have also continued the tradition that's been in place since they were little kids: hitting back-to-back. Of the team's 12 games played this season, the two have hit consecutively in the batting order in seven different games. However, this year, instead of Sloniger hitting behind Giavedoni like they did in high school, the roles have reversed.

"[Cooper] definitely knows we have that chemistry together because we have been together for so long," Sloniger said. "We always talk about how Braxton always hit in front of me in high school and I hit right behind him. The amount of times I've driven him in and stuff and then now he's been hitting behind me and he's like, 'Now I get to return the favor a little bit for you.'"

"I know it brings them some pride to see them next to each other in the lineup or in the dugout or in the locker room because of where they came from," Cooper said. "They're two really, really quality kids that are blue collar players and we're lucky to have them."

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