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Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
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
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
"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
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
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."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com
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.
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
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.
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.
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
"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.
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.
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. "
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com
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
"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
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."
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com
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
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,"
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
"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
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
"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,"
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
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com 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
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
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.
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
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
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."
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
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."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was one of those nights where everything just seemed
to fall into place.
Taking on Michigan on Friday night, the Penn State baseball played perhaps its
best game of the season, dismantling the Wolverines 11-1 behind an excellent
performance from pitcher Nick Hedge and an offense that got hits from eight of
its nine starters.
Although the Lions fell the series' next two games, 5-3, and 8-4, they hung
tough against a 21-14 Wolverines squad and played their most consistent ball of
Numerous Nittany Lions had standout performances over the weekend. Here are
some of the highlights.
Hedge on the Hill
Prior to Friday, it had been a while since Nick Hedge had much luck on the
The junior had lived up to his billing as the team's No. 1 starter, averaging
six-plus innings and just over two earned runs in his previous five starts, yet
he hadn't been credited with a win all season. In fact, the last time the
6-foot-2 hurler had seen his name in the box score as the winning pitcher was
April 1 of last season.
That all changed in game one against Michigan. With a solid defense behind him,
Hedge gave a terrific performance in the Lions 11-1 win, blanking the
Wolverines over seven innings.
"I was just attacking the zone," Hedge said. "Getting ahead early and having
them guess. Threw a lot more breaking balls today and it worked out well.
"I know these guys behind me, trust them everyday. It's just good to get that
first win out of the way."
While he struck out just two batters, the junior allowed only six hits and
gutted out 94 pitches to help preserve the Penn State bullpen for the rest of
The Nittany Lion defense played great behind him all evening, not committing a
single error and not letting the Wolverines on the board until the ninth
inning. Afterwards, second baseman Taylor Skerpon said he and his teammates
were motivated to get Hedge the win he deserved.
"I told him walking down the hallway, I said, 'congrats man, it's a lot of fun
playing defense behind you,'" second baseman Taylor Skerpon said. "When a guys
on the mound like that, you really want to make that tough play, that highlight
reel play for him just get him right back up on the mound doing what he's
doing. It's awesome to see and I'm really proud of him."
Guers Keeps it Going
It used to be a rarity to see home runs hit at Medlar Field. That was before
Greg Guers started wearing blue and white.
The junior outfielder kept his recent power surge going against the Wolverines,
slugging his fourth home run of the season in the ninth inning of Saturday's
setback. All four of his homers have come since April 1 and three have come at
Similar to his second shot of the season against Kent State, Guers' blast cut a
four-run deficit in half and gave the Lions life in their final at-bat. Though
the team came up short, Guers once again proved he has a never-say-die attitude
at the plate.
"It's the same story for me with him," Cooper said. "I don't think he hits that
home run last year. He had some quality at-bats early in the game and had
nothing to show for it. He's 0-3 going into the last at-bat, but he stayed with
his approach. The younger guys need to understand that because they can make
that same choice as well."
Guers registered a hit in each game of the series against Michigan, and now
leads the team with 23 RBIs, in addition to being tied with Aaron Novak for first
in home runs.
Distasio Hangs Tough With Wolverines
While some freshmen have the luxury of being eased into the lineup their first
year of college ball, Nick Distasio is not one of the them.
The first-year pitcher has been one of Penn State's weekend starters all
season, frequently facing some of the team's best competition, a trend that
continued Sunday against the Wolverines.
Despite taking the loss, Distasio battled and pitched solid, giving up three
runs in 5 1/3 innings and walking only one batter. When he left the mound in
the sixth inning, the score was 3-2 and the Lions were still very much in the
"I think I got ahead of guys with my fastball a lot," Distasio said. "I was
locating it pretty well. I think I could just do better as a pitcher getting
ahead and using my off-speed stuff to my advantage.
"It's good to come out against all these teams, it's good experience as a
freshman to get it under your belt and kind of know what you need to do to be
successful at this level."
In his last three starts, the 5-foot-11 freshman from Oley, Pennsylvania, has
gone at least five innings and averaged just over two earned runs allowed.
Still, both he and Cooper agree there is plenty of room for improvement.
According to Cooper, the only thing preventing Distasio from being an elite
pitcher already is the development of his off-speed pitches. While he has good
velocity (85-87 mph) and placement on his fastball, he has yet to master the
rest of the pitches in his repertoire.
"I thought he did a lot of good things today," Cooper said. "His fastball
command was outstanding. He really went after guys with his fastball. But he
needs to go after guys with his off-speed stuff with the same intensity. I told
him, 'you're pitching really well against these guys with one pitch.' If he
does [master his off-speed stuff] its lights out. The kid can really pitch."
Fans Provide Great Atmosphere
When Cooper accepted the job to come to Penn State, perhaps the most enticing
part of the gig was having the opportunity to coach at school passionate about
Over the course of the weekend, the Nittany Lion faithful showed the
second-year coach just how great an atmosphere Medlar Field can provide. With
the weather the best it's been all spring, the attendance increased each game,
from 806 on Friday to 1,254 Saturday and a season-high 1,273 on Sunday.
"This is one of the reasons I really wanted this job," Cooper said. "If we can
continue to build this thing, we've got an unbelievable facility, an beautiful
day like today and you've got Mount Nittany in the background, I can see it
getting bigger and bigger. My goal is to host a regional here one day and I
think it would be an unbelievable atmosphere to do that."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Pa. - When Ryky Smith steps on the baseball field, his favorite movie about the
sport is never far from his mind.
But it's not The Natural or The Rookie or some other inspiration baseball film that the Penn
State senior is thinking of. Instead, it's the 1993 kids classic, The Sandlot.
For starters, Smith
uses one of the movie's songs, titled "Green Onions," as his walk-up music. But
it actually goes a bit deeper than that for the Nittany Lion infielder.
"It's one of my
favorite movies, that's for sure," Smith said. "That 's the mindset that I take
out there on the field every day. I'm going to play like a sandlot ballplayer
today. I'm not going to make it look too pretty, I'm just going to get the job
done. That kind of why I choose that song because I want to remind people what
kind of player I am."
It may seem like a humorous
approach, but the senior has certainly been showing what type of player he is
this season. After getting off to a slow start, Smith has hit .410 since March
18 and is currently second on the team in batting average at .317 and fourth in
RBIs with 15.
A player who has
the ability to play both second and third base, Smith has already started 13
games this season after making just 14 last year. He has also registered 63
at-bats after only receiving 53 in his third season.
According to the
York, Pennsylvania, native, his improved performance has been the result of
receiving more consistent playing and taking a more easygoing approach at the
"In the past, I
seemed to not have gotten the consistent play that you need to get on a roll,"
Smith said. "I've had at-bats here and there, but never really had the chance
to string them together. Now, I've gotten the chance to prove myself on a
consistent basis and that's kind of where the success for me has been.
mechanic about. It's just a mindset for me right now. I'm going to be extremely
aggressive out there, I'm not going to play scared and I'm going to have fun doing
Head coach Rob
Cooper agreed with Smith's assessment, and also added that he thought Smith put
too much pressure on himself last year, which helped lead to his .226 average.
Now, Cooper said
that Smith has accepted his role as a utility player that might not start every
game but is still expected to contribute on a regular basis and plug any hole
"I think last year,
one the coaching transition and him being an upperclassmen and wanting to do
well," Cooper said. "I think just relaxing and going, 'my role is going to come
off the bench and if I get a chance I'll do the best I can.'
"Last year when he
would get his chance he would put a lot of pressure on himself. Now, its just
like, 'I'm going to enjoy the moment and go out there and play hard,' and he's
having great success."
At the end of the
day, the biggest key for Smith has been staying loose on the field. A scrappy
player who runs out every groundball and isn't afraid to dive in the dirt, the
5-foot-10 infielder has become one of the Nittany Lions most reliable hitters
in his final season with the team.
Smith knows that
his days at Penn State are numbered, but he is determined to enjoy every one of
them. In his mind, there's no better way to end his career by approaching each
game with a "sandlot" mentality.
"I'm really just
focused on having fun right now," Smith. "I've said it before, I've put in the
hard work but now it's time to enjoy my senior season, go have fun and that's
what baseball is all about. That's kind of been the emphasis for me."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Pa. - On a night in which offense was hard to come by, the Penn State baseball
team got a boost from an unlikely source on Tuesday.
Taking on Bucknell
on a cloudy evening at Medlar Field, the Nittany Lions managed just four hits
against the Bison. The biggest one however, came courtesy of the team's
youngest starter, catcher Nick Graham.
With Penn State
having just tied the game 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Graham came to the
plate with two outs and runners on the corners. Unfazed by the pressure, the
freshman lined a 3-1 fastball into centerfield to produce the winning run in an
eventual 4-2 win for the Lions.
"It feels really
good, makes me feel good about myself to be helping the team," Graham said.
"I'm young, my at-bats are limited so I'm trying to do as much as I can with
those at-bats to show what I've got. I just let it happen and didn't try to do
Graham, who made
his 10th start of the season on Tuesday, finished the night 1-3 with
a walk and tied his career high with two RBIs. He picked up his second RBI in
the bottom of the eighth, scoring James Coates on a groundout that gave the
Lions an insurance run.
Still, offense was
only part of the story for the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, native on Tuesday.
He was also stellar behind the plate, making a nice catch on a popup behind the
plate in the second and gunning Greg Wasikowski out on a steal attempt in the
bottom of the sixth.
"He's come a long
way," starting pitcher Jordan Donmoyer said. "I just feel like he's a regular
catcher back there, I don't even notice he's a freshman. He feels a lot more
comfortable back there too, that makes it great for games, helping pitchers
Overall, it was a
clutch night for a player that's been thrust into an important role in his
first season of college ball. While sophomore Alex Malinsky is the starter
behind the plate, Graham has given the Nittany Lions a solid platoon at a
position where a strong backup is a requirement.
It hasn't been a completely easy transition for the freshman, who entered Tuesday
hitting just .161 on the season. At the same time, a catcher's No. 1 responsibility
is defense, and Graham showed against Bucknell that he's making strides in all
aspects of his game.
"Nick Graham just
put a real nice, easy swing on that ball," head coach Rob Cooper said. "It's
big when you have a guy hitting down in the order that is a tough out.
"I told him in
front of the guys, it's fun watching him develop. It's hard enough to be a
freshman. But it's harder to be a freshman catcher. A guy's trying to learn how
to catch pitches, call a game, trying to learn different arms, then he's trying
to learn how to become a better hitter and it's a lot and he's doing a heck of
For his part,
Graham admitted that making the transition from high school baseball to college
and immediately getting playing time hasn't been easy. He credited Cooper for
helping him adjust by throwing him right into the fire.
"Early on it was
kind of stressful," Graham said. "I've talked to coaches a lot and they've had
my back and just let me go out and play. I've played a lot of baseball growing
up so just going out and playing is the best thing I can do. It allows me to be
confident out there."
Donmoyer Gives Bounce Back Effort
While Tuesday was a
standout night for Graham, it was also a chance for his starting pitcher to redeem
against Kent State, redshirt junior Jordan Donmoyer struggled in the third
start of his career, giving up four runs in just 1 2/3 innings as the Lions
Handed the ball
again, Donmoyer was much stronger this time around, giving up just two hits and
one run in four innings to kick-start an excellent performance from the Penn
State pitching staff.
"Coached talked to me before and he just said, 'go attack hitters,'" Donmoyer
said. "I basically made a point to just go after them and just let my defense
do the work behind me, instead of just going it alone."
While Donmoyer only
struck out one batter, he also only gave just up a single walk and let his
defense make plays behind him. Though he was taken out after four innings, the
6-foot-4 hurler put his team in a position to win on a day in which the Lions
didn't have their strongest offensive performance.
"I thought he
competed, because he wasn't very good today but he made up for it with his body
language and competing," Cooper said. "And he did. I told him in there, he
grinded his way into helping us win that game. That was good."
It's been a year of
adjustment for the fourth-year pitcher, who missed nearly all of his first
three seasons with injuries but has been in the mix for a rotation spot so far
Despite having to
shake off some rust after last appearing for the Lions in two games in 2013,
Donmoyer said he's been anxious to contribute, and is excited to finally have
the chance to do so.
"I was hurt so I've always been preparing along the way through my rehab,"
Donmoyer said. "It's just been me translating to the games from doing bullpens
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio. - Even
during a tough stretch, the Penn State baseball team refuses to go down quietly.
Taking on Ohio
State in the third game of a three-game series Monday, the Nittany Lions found
themselves down 5-1 in the second inning. Having already dropped the first two
contests 7-1 and 7-6, it would have been easy for the Blue and White to just
accept it wasn't their series.
But that's not the
makeup of head coach Rob Cooper's baseball team. For the second straight game,
the Lions' offense brought them back, scoring six runs in a four-inning span
that put them ahead 7-6 going into the ninth.
It would not be
enough, as a walk-off double from Ohio State's Troy Kuhn gave the Lions a
heartbreaking 8-7 loss. Despite the disappointing results of the weekend, the
Lions continued to swing the bats well, scoring 13 runs and registering 24 hits
combined in the last two games.
"I'm proud of them
for fighting back and still competing when they had to play four games this
week," Cooper said. "We battled our way back but it's too much to put yourself
in that position like that."
Although the Lions
still have plenty to work on, it appears they have their own version of the
bash brothers in outfielders junior Greg Guers and senior Aaron Novak. Dating
back to last Wednesday's game against Kent State, the pair has combined for
four home runs and 11 RBIs.
Much of that production has come from Guers, who has been tearing the cover off
the ball lately. Following his two-homer, five RBI performance against Kent
State, the 6-foot-3 slugger hit .385 with five RBIs against the Buckeyes,
including a three-run blast on Monday that cut the Buckeyes lead from 5-1 to
Then there's Novak,
who was moved from the three-hole into the leadoff spot Sunday and responded by
ripping his fourth home run of the season. Hitting a remarkable .376, Novak has
combined with Guers and cleanup hitter Jim Haley to give the Lions a formidable
top half of the order.
"It's good when
those guys are locked in like they are," Cooper said. "Guers has taken the
approach to stay engaged and it's showing out there. It's not just one or a few
guys, we're trying to have an offense that's strong throughout."
Senior Ryky Smith
is helping make that a reality. On Monday, Penn State's third baseman and No.
8-hitter went 4-5 with two RBIs, driving in the go-ahead run in the seventh
inning with a double off the left field wall.
The career day
continued what has been a standout season for a senior. While he was a utility
player the past two seasons, Smith is hitting .328 in 2015 and is fourth on the
team with 15 RBIs.
"He's been huge but
the big thing with Ryky has been the mental approach," Cooper said. "He's just going
out and playing baseball with confidence and not worrying about anything. It's
awesome to have a guy at the end of the lineup that can produce like that."
While going down to
the wire against a 21-7 Ohio State club is commendable, the Nittany Lions
remain determined to win. Moving forward, Cooper said Penn State's goal is to
jump on teams from the start instead of always rallying from behind.
As tough as losing
walk-offs is, the Lions have no time to remain discouraged. They return home
Tuesday night against Bucknell and will look to get back to the formula that
has helped them go 6-2 at Medlar Field so far.
"I told them,
'starting games like that is difference between going 3-1 and 0-4,'" Cooper
said. "You've got to bring the mindset that we're going to win and want to get
that losing taste out of your mouth. If that's not motivation enough then
that's a problem."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Pa. - It's not everyday you see a ball clear the fence at Medlar Field.
Dating back to last
year season, only one Nittany Lion had managed to pull the feat off. On
Wednesday night against Kent State, however, that same player made hitting a
home run there look as easy as poking a single.
In a game that the
Lions would eventually drop, 9-7, junior slugger Greg Guers put on a show, knocking
two pitches for home runs over the right field wall.
It was the second
game in his Penn State career that Guers had homered at the team's home stadium.
Still, the 6-foot-3 slugger kept things in perspective afterwards.
"It feels good but
we lost so it doesn't feel that good," Guers said. "It's alright. I was just
looking for pitches I can handle, luckily got two good swings off of them."
Guers may not have
talked about himself much, but he really didn't need to. His teammates and head
coaches were happy to take care of that for him.
While home runs may
not be a typical part of the Nittany Lions' offensive arsenal (they entered
Wednesday with four on the season), nobody in Penn State's dugout was surprised
when either of Guers' shots cleared the fence. After all, the junior outfielder
hit two home runs last year, including one at Medlar on May 16 against Michigan
exciting," senior third baseman Ryky Smith said. "A game like today, you're
treading water, trying to stay into the game, and when somebody comes up with a
huge hit like that it's definitely uplifting in the dugout.
"We all know he has
the potential to do it. Tonight he was putting good swings on balls and it
clicked for him. It's a ticking time bomb I think. You see the swing, you see
it day in and day out on the batting cages so it's not all that much a surprise
to me when he goes out and hits two home runs in a game."
Guers' first blast
came in the bottom of the fifth inning, with Smith and Alex Malinsky on base and
the Blue and White trailing the Flashes 4-1. With the Lions needing to stage a
comeback, the right fielder ripped a curveball on a 1-2 pitch from Jared
Skolnicki into the middle of the right field bleachers that tied the game and
seemed to inject life into his teammates.
Later, with Kent
State having taken a four-run lead into the bottom of the ninth, the Langhorne,
Pennsylvania, native once again boosted Penn State's morale, taking Josh Pierce
deep on the first pitch to the same spot in right field to cut the Flashes'
lead to two.
Lions would come up short. But the game was still marked continued progress for
the junior, who raised his average from .242 to .253 with those two hits and is
now tied for second on the team in RBIs with 16.
it continued Guers' recent stretch of clutch play. A week ago against
Villanova, he hit a bases-clearing double in the bottom of the eighth that led
to a 5-2 win.
"The guy's been
having unbelievable at-bats," head coach Rob Cooper said. "He's been having
grinding, competitive at-bats, hitting balls hard at people. And it was nice to
see him get rewarded for those approaches. The ball he hit, hanging breaking
ball, to tie the game up was an absolute bomb. He's come a long way. Just the
threat of him being able to do that, if you give him pitches to hit, that's all
Although it was not
the desired outcome, the Nittany Lions still finish their recent eight game
homestand with a 6-2 record. With an important series coming up this weekend on
the road against Ohio State, Penn State will look to get back to the
fundamentals that helped them succeed at home.
"We've got to have
a great practice tomorrow but we would have had to have had a great practice
regardless," Cooper said. "We've got to make sue we address why this game came
out the way it did."