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Penn State has won 92 Big Ten titles, including 21 in women's soccer (16 regular season).
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just four months into his tenure as commissioner of the
Big Ten Conference, Jim Delany recalls an idea brought to the table by former
Illinois President Stan Ikenberry.
It was October of 1989 when Ikenberry, who spent time as a senior administrator
at Penn State earlier in his career, broached the thought of adding an
institution to the Big Ten for the first time since Michigan State was invited
to become a member in 1949.
The Big Ten then began a formal research process of an institution that would
bridge a Midwestern league to the East.
The Pennsylvania State University was on the table for discussion as a superb
academic institution with a rich tradition in athletic success.
Delany, whose sister attended Penn State as a graduate student, didn't need much
convincing. He knew the level of potential a partnership between Penn State and
the Big Ten could foster.
Big Ten hadn't changed in many, many decades, but I thought if the opportunity
to expand presented itself it was a no brainer," Delany said earlier this week.
"Excellent academics. Excellent athletics. And pointed towards the East Coast,
I thought there was a lot of potential there. That was my recommendation at the
The process moved forward with the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten
institutions discussing the topic before news broke just before the holidays in
December of 1989 that Penn State could be on its way into a new conference. Under
the direction of athletic director Jim Tarman at the time, Penn State had been
competing as an independent in football for more than a century, and the rest
of the department had been a member of the Atlantic 10 since 1976.
When the news initially surfaced, women's volleyball head coach Russ Rose, who
along with field hockey coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss are the two current Penn
State head coaches who were on staff in 1989, was giving a presentation at the
annual women's volleyball coaches convention (AVCA) about the importance of
NCAA Tournament at-large bids for teams in smaller conferences.
"I remember talking in front of the group about
the importance that not all of the at-large bids go to the bigger conferences
and that there were good teams in other conferences even though they didn't
have the same notoriety, said Rose. "We have a lunch break. I turn on ESPN at
lunch, and I see that Penn State is going to be a member of the Big Ten. I come
back. I say to some people that I would like to retract what I said about
The formal process concluded with a vote in Iowa City on June 4, 1990, at which
time Penn State was officially accepted as a member of the Big Ten Conference.
Twenty-five years have passed in a partnership that allowed both the University
and conference to reach unprecedented heights on the field and in the
a broad perspective, at the time, my view was that it was a tremendous fit for
both sides. And history has proven that," Delany said. "With all the other
expansions around the country, I'm not sure there was one that benefitted both
institution and conference as much as this did, largely because of the
characteristics of Penn State were so well matched with the characteristics of
the Big Ten."
The positive news zipped throughout campus shortly after the vote in Iowa.
"I remember hearing about the announcement from Mary Jo Haverbeck, from the Sports
Information office," said Morett-Curtiss. "She told me about us going in and
how it was going to have a major impact for women's athletics at Penn State."
It was an announcement that changed the landscape of funding and development
for all of Penn State's 28 programs at the time, and it was a day
Morett-Curtiss remembers quite well.
"Ironically, I had gone for a run that day on the trails near Sunset Park and
as I'm running, I see someone walking in front of me and it was Joe Paterno,"
Morett-Curtiss said. "And it was that day, so I said to him, 'hey what's going
to happen?' He said, 'I think this is going to be a really good thing for Penn
State and the exposure all of the programs are going to get.'"
The women's volleyball program captured Penn State's first Big Ten title in 1992, marking volleyball's first of 16 conference crowns.
Penn State's teams felt the impact of the Big Ten conference almost
"What it did for us when we joined the Big Ten is that it No. 1 it resulted in
a reassessment of the levels of commitment we had to the various programs,"
Rose said. "We became fully funded when we joined the Big Ten. Prior to that,
we were not fully funded. And we were not fully staffed. Entering Big Ten,
collectively, for all of the sports resulted in us having a new commitment from
the University to try and be competitive. From a volleyball perspective, we had
been competitive prior to that, but playing in the Big Ten in women's
volleyball made us better because the level of competition was better than we
were experiencing in the Atlantic 10."
At the time, women's volleyball had just one assistant coach on the staff
alongside Rose and nine scholarships to field a roster. Joining the Big Ten
boosted the program to full funding and 12 scholarships.
"As I look at it now, we could have had some great teams if we had funding in
the early years," said Rose. "That was just the way that it was. When you take a job, that is the job you
took. When we joined the Big Ten, a lot of us got a better job without having
to move. But it's way more competitive. Recruiting is a lot different than what
we had experienced in the Atlantic 10."
The same can be said for what Morett-Curtiss experienced within the field
"The financial support from a scholarship standpoint was huge right away," said
Morett-Curtiss. "And knowing our field that we were going to build was going to
be a first rate facility."
The investment for success around the Big Ten stood out during Penn State's
transition. Every institution and athletic program strives to be the best. It's
a trait that has not changed during the department's 25 years as a member, and
it's something that will be a trademark of the Big Ten for decades to come.
"The level of commitment to being good across the conference, everybody cared,"
said Rose. "I don't believe every conference across the country has that sort
of commitment in all of their sports. I think that is one of the things that
makes the Big Ten really unique. If they offer it, they care and they want to
Penn State's time in the Big Ten has been marked by excellence in the classroom
and on the field of play. In all, Penn State's programs have accounted for 92
Big Ten championships from 15 different programs - 76 regular season and 16 post-season. Additionally,
more than 170 student-athletes have accounted for nearly 300 individual Big Ten
Penn State student-athletes have earned more than 5,000 Academic All-Big Ten
recognitions since it joined the conference, with its three highest totals
during the past three years, led by 296 in 2012-13.
"Penn State's entrance into the Big Ten not only changed the
intercollegiate sports landscape, it also changed our academic landscape and
our future. Our size, our academic reputation and our athletic tradition
matched up well with Big Ten schools," said Penn State President Eric
Barron, who also noted that all Big Ten schools are flagship universities for
their states. "The academic side of the Big Ten is known as the Committee
on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and the institutions together have annual
research expenditures topping $10.2 billion -- more than the Ivy League and the
University of California System combined -- and they educate a total of nearly
600,000 students. The benefits from being part of such an outstanding and
prestigious organization with such an expansive footprint across the nation are
The women's volleyball program earned Penn
State's first Big Ten crown during the 1992 season, just one year after the
team began competing in the league. The title marked the first of Penn State's superlative
16 Big Ten titles in women's volleyball, in addition to seven NCAA
Championships since 1999.
Like women's volleyball, the women's soccer program has been a benchmark of success
in conference play. The program became the department's 29th varsity
sport in 1994. Since then, Penn State has won an unprecedented 16 conference
titles, including a string of 15-straight from 1998-2012.
The football program claimed the Big Ten title in its second season of
competition during an undefeated Rose Bowl championship campaign in 1994. Coach
Joe Paterno's '94 squad became the first Big Ten team to ever post a 12-0
record. The '94 crown marked the program's first of three Big Ten championships
to date (2005 and 2008).
The fall season of 2005 stands out as a monumental period in Penn State's
history within the conference. Nittany Lion teams clinched five Big Ten titles
in a span of 30 days. The list included field hockey, football, men's soccer,
women's soccer and women's volleyball. Since the fall of 2005, Penn State teams
have won 51 Big Ten championships (5.1 titles per year in a 10-year span).
Penn State clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days
during the fall of 2005, including one for the women's volleyball team.
It's impossible to quantify how the partnership between Penn State and the Big
Ten altered the recruiting landscape for the teams on campus and how the
recruiting gains equated to success on the field of play. But pitching a
world-renowned education with an elite conference affiliation cultivated
relationships with premier student-athletes.
"The name recognition was big for football, but when you see how many of the Universities
and programs have been successful on a national level, I think that has greatly
helped," Morett-Curtiss. "Exposure for all of the Universities within the
conference has helped us all grow. Combining the academic side of what these
Universities have with the athletics, it's a very powerful combination when we
go out recruiting student-athletes."
A big piece to the exposure of Penn State teams during the past 25 years was
the launch of the Big Ten Network on Aug. 30, 2007. More than 800 Penn State
sporting events have aired live on the BTN since it launched. The benefits of
the conference's TV network, which is in more than 60 million homes, increased visibility across the country for
the department in a way that cannot be measured.
"The Network was a major step for us," Morett-Curtiss. "Just having the
opportunity to have games on TV so that little girls can watch and learn about
the sport. It's helped, not only exposure for the program, but it's helped the
sport grow. It's just a phenomenal avenue for us to showcase our University and
The BTN's impact goes back to what Rose talked about as one of the immediate
impacts his program felt - funding. Not only did the BTN infinitely increase
exposure for Penn State teams, it has played a paramount role in increased
revenues for each institution.
"Certainly, the Big Ten Network has been instrumental in generating funds for
the Universities and the conference and the bowl revenue sharing has resulted
in more money for all of the schools and the conference," said Rose.
In 2008, Penn State captured its third Big Ten title in football
en route to a trip to the Rose Bowl.
the competitive atmosphere is intense between teams across all of the
conference's sports, each member institution understands that the individual success
aids in the growth of the collective conference.
"I think the relationship has been a really positive one," said Rose. "There
are a lot of similarities between the various Universities."
"Everybody in the Big Ten shares what they do and why they do it; best
practices," said Dave Baker, Associate Athletic Director for Business
Operations. "We share lots of ideas, at least from the business manager and
ticketing perspective. We learn things from one another. And there aren't
secrets. We all work together and try to help each other out...We all don't do
things the same way. We all have limitations, but we are all looking to help
one another out for the betterment of the conference.
"Some people would find it hard to believe that people in the Big Ten root for
other Big Ten teams in the postseason, but we do. We follow what is going
on...It is a cooperative spirit and a partnership."
Baker is one of just a handful of Penn State administrators and coaches who
have been with Intercollegiate Athletics during the past 25 years. That list
includes Jan Bortner, who was head coach of the men's tennis team in 1990 and
has since transitioned into a role as an associate athletic director. Among the
key changes Baker felt from the business operation centered on travel. Bus
trips were the norm for Penn State teams in the Atlantic 10, but the geography
of the Big Ten led to more plane travel.
A quarter century has passed since initial discussions of a new relationship
took place and bonds were formed. Many things have changed significantly for
Penn State, the conference and intercollegiate athletics nationwide, but it's
been 25 years marked by growth stemming from a vision in 1989.
"Pennsylvania is a very important state. It served as a bridge to the East for
us. It made our football offerings stronger," said Delany. "It has been
excellence with national championships in a variety of sports. And I have
always felt that the 1994 Penn State team was the best team in the country; no
disrespect to Nebraska. When you look at the players that team had (five first
team All-Americans on offense) and what that group accomplished. That team was
the national runner-up. That was a tremendous football team. I've seen some
very good basketball teams both on the men's side and the women's side. And
obviously, the wrestling and volleyball programs have been dominant on the
Penn State has won a total of 27 national championships since joining the Big
Ten, including three in 2013-14, and the department's collective success speaks
By no means was the integration in 1990 an easy one, but the partnership
between the University and Big Ten is a match that enabled both sides to
mutually prosper in a way neither side could have envisioned when the formal vote
concluded 25 years ago today.
The wrestling team began a string of four-straight Big Ten
titles in March of 2011.
GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Anderson credits his division one baseball scholarship to Penn State and his
success in three seasons in Happy Valley to one thing: his delivery.
ever seen head coach Rob Cooper's right-handed closer pitch, you know exactly
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.
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."
natural arm slot has always been a low three-quarters, even when he was a young
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.
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."
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.
time in college, he has been able to find that release point and a place of
comfort on the mound.
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."
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.
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.
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
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."
haven't come often for Anderson and Cooper acknowledged the righty's ability to
finish off ball games.
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.
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.
not," Anderson said of whether or not he would be a division one pitcher if he
he can't even imagine pitching a baseball any other way.
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."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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.
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
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
"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
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
"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,
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
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.
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
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
PARK, Pa.- Watching college kids graduate is nothing new to Rob Cooper.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
that exemplify the improvements that the team has made the past two seasons are
second baseman Taylor Skerpon and right fielder Aaron Novak.
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).
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."
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."
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
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, GoPSUsports.com 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
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
"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."
Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student
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
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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."
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