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Penn State Ready for B1G Play

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Biasi Dominates in Series Finale

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sloniger, Giavedoni Share Special Chemistry

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Klemann Overcoming Adversity for Strong Start in 2018

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the sports world, injuries are part of the process. The strain collegiate athletes put on their bodies year round through training and competing can often makes student-athletes more vulnerable to injuries.

 

While some are fortunate enough to enjoy an entire four year college career without missing a single practice or game, that's not always the case with every student-athlete. Some too, are just downright unlucky.

 

Of those unlucky few is junior infielder Connor Klemann.

 

Klemann rarely had injuries during his high school playing days, but the injury bug decided to introduce itself to him once he arrived in Happy Valley. During Penn State's offseason trip to Cuba in November of 2015, Klemann joined the team but could play in only the final game of the trip because of a minor injury suffered beforehand.

 

Alright, no big deal. Klemann had two full months to recover before opening day. He'll be ready.

 

And ready he was.

 

Klemann impressed the coaching staff so much leading up to the season that he was named the opening day starter at second base and was placed in the fifth spot in the lineup.

 

When head coach Rob Cooper was recruiting Klemann, he noticed a skilled hitter beyond his years at the plate and knew he could make an immediate impact to the team.

 

"He knows how to put together at-bats and he's a tough guy to pitch to," Cooper said. "He's not an easy out. He can adjust. He's smart. He's probably one of the more advanced guys I've been around in college as far as approach to hitting."

 

In the 2015 opener against Monmouth, Klemann reached base on a fielder's choice in his second at-bat and scored the team's only run of the game. He was well on his way in the path to success. It was an in-game injury though that sidelined him for the day.

 

Unfortunately, that day turned into a whole month. Klemann didn't return to the lineup until April.

 

When he got back to full strength, Klemann again showed flashes of greatness. He rattled off a seven-game hitting streak in April and hit a walk-off RBI single in Penn State's season finale that secured the team's first winning season since 2012.

 

However, Klemann appeared in only 28 of the team's 55 games his freshman season. He hit .260 and registered a .345 on-base percentage while not playing at full strength for most of the year.

 

During the summer, Klemann was named to the Cal Ripkin League All-Star team. The momentum was building for a monster sophomore year.

 

That is until 10 games into the season when Klemann hurt his right arm. He eventually needed season-ending surgery.

 

Klemann couldn't even travel with the team for the rest of the year because he was busy completing his rehab. He was determined to come back the following year stronger than ever.

 

It wasn't until August of 2017 that Klemann could get back to lightly throwing and hitting again, but that didn't mean he wasn't actively trying to improve. Before he was cleared to swing, Klemann would track pitches from the box to keep his eyes and instincts fresh for when he could return.

 

Cooper said Klemann never had his head down during the whole process and was a great teammate all year despite not being on the field.

 

"His attitude was about as good as to be expected," Cooper said. "When you love the game and you want to be a part of something so bad it's difficult. "He cares. He wants to do well, and he has missed being out there."

 

Klemann wasn't full-go for fall practices in 2017 and he wasn't finally cleared to practice until January of 2018, less than two months away from opening day.

 

Despite the long rehab process and the short amount of time he's been able to fully prepare to get back on the field, Klemann hasn't missed a beat so far this season.

 

Klemann recorded two hits in his first game back after almost a year off the diamond. Out of Nittany Lions who have been active for more than two games, he leads the team in batting average (.333), total bases (12) and is tied for the team lead in hits (8) and home runs (1).

 

"It feels amazing to be back," Klemann said. "I'm just grateful to be playing and to be back with the guys. It feels great."

 

With his arm feeling better than ever, it's an encouraging sign, especially considering he has to make the longest throw on the infield from third base.

 

Cooper said Klemann is full-go right now and the coaching staff isn't holding him back if he feels healthy. Cooper hopes to keep Klemann near the top of the lineup for the rest of the season.

 

"Since Connor Klemann committed to us and signed with us we always thought he could be a high-level hitter," Cooper said. "Unfortunately he's had some injuries along the way. He's been kind of snake bit there, but he's finally healthy and he's finally now starting to get that confidence back. Everybody's starting to see the kind of hitter we always felt like he's going to be."

 

Finally at full health and confident at the plate and in the field, it's clear Klemann is  due for some good luck. Already early the season, it might just turn out to be the year of Connor Klemann.

A Strong Start on the Mound in 2018

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK - After ending the season with an 18-37 record and a 5.96 combined ERA last year, the Nittany Lions knew they needed better pitching in order to find success in 2018. Last weekend, the pitching staff proved just how hard it worked in the offseason, posting a combined 3.00 ERA to lead the team to a series sweep. 

 "A lot of those guys have really matured and taken a lot of responsibility for their development as well," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "I think [pitching coach Josh] Newman has done an unbelievable job in his first year getting them to really buy in and believe that he has their backs. And he does, so that's a huge thing and a huge difference for us." 

Last season, the Nittany Lions relied heavily on starting pitcher Sal Biasi, who went 5-5 with a 3.48 ERA. After Biasi was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 11th round of the 2017 MLB Draft, the Nittany Lions are looking to junior starter Justin Hagenman to lead the pitching staff.

"I've been through it a lot," Hagenman said. "I've started every game since I've been here, luckily. It helps that the routine is there. I know exactly what I'm going to do on home and away games, like what time I have to get ready. So, some of that stuff I can tell to the other guys."

Hagenman pitched a team-high 80 1/3 innings in 2017 recording 75 strikeouts, but his 1-11 record and 5.49 ERA did not reflect the hard work he put in on the mound. After being named the team's opening day starter against Elon last Friday, Hagenman recorded his first win of the season, allowing just four hits through five innings with seven strikeouts. 

"I felt good," Hagenman said. "It was the first start of the year so adrenaline is pretty high to start. You get a little tired quicker. It was definitely good to get back out there."

"[Getting Hagenman a win] was very nice," Penn State outfielder Braxton Giavedoni said. "I mean last year he worked very hard. His numbers just didn't really show for it, but we couldn't really put runs up when he was pitching. I'm glad he got the win."

Prior to the weekend series at Elon, Cooper named his opening weekend starters as Hagenman, Taylor Lehman and Dante Biasi. Lehman followed the tone Hagenman set the night before, allowing just one run on three hits through five innings.

That was before it was time to turn to Sal's younger brother, Dante, for his first career start Sunday.

Dante missed the entire 2017 season due to injury, but started the 2018 season hot, carrying a no hitter into the fifth inning of his collegiate debut. The sophomore ended his afternoon after allowing two runs through 4 1/3 innings. 

"You hope for the best with their first start back just because you never want them to baby anything but it's big to get the first one out of the way because your confidence is just boosted up from there," Hagenman said. "It didn't look like he missed a beat. It was definitely the preparation that he put in throughout the past couple months or year that helped him for sure. He was definitely prepared."

Although Hagenman was expected to return as the team's top pitcher, the rest of the starting positions were up for grabs. Redshirt sophomore Eric Mock was battling for a starting position, but about a week before the season started he was told he would be working out of the bullpen. Although it wasn't his first choice, he proved last weekend he has improved greatly since last year.

In 2017, Mock went 0-6 with a 7.75 ERA in eight starts and 15 total appearances. Mock worked hard over the offseason to not just improve physically, but mentally too, in order to find success in 2018. 

"First and foremost, I focused on the physical side," Mock said. "I wanted to get stronger, I wanted to put on some weight to have more fuel for the entire season. Mentally, last year I hit some mental blocks at times, whether it be you have a bad game and your confidence gets down a little bit or whatever it may be. It was my first year last year. There was a big learning curve. I knew different things mentally that I needed to work on to have more success this year and hopefully they're paying off." 

Mock made two appearances against Elon recording one-inning and three-inning saves. Although he already has two saves under his belt, Cooper said he does not want to use the term "closer" when referring to his reliever. 

"We brought him in the seventh inning because the question we had as a staff was, 'If this was the ninth inning right now, who would we use?' Eric Mock," Cooper said. "I don't want to save a guy like Eric Mock for the ninth inning and a lead if we don't ever get to the ninth inning with a lead. He and everybody else on the mound did a great job this weekend." 

Even with a great start to the 2018 season on the mound, Cooper thinks there's still much more in store for his pitching staff than what fans saw in the first three games.

"From a pitching standpoint we were great this weekend for sure, but there are some guys that didn't get in this weekend that are going to be impact guys for us whether it's Myles Gayman or Kyle Virbitsky or Bailey Dees and many others like Tucker Triebold. These are guys that I know can help us. It's nice to have some depth." 

Preseason Five: Penn State Opens 2018 on the Road

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State baseball gets underway in 2018 Friday afternoon. The Nittany Lions travel to Elon, North Carolina for a three-game series as part of a 12-game stretch away from Happy Valley.

 

Opening a new season with a fresh slate, Penn State will have to find a few replacements due to graduation. Among the departures, the Nittany Lions will look to fill roles held by starters Nick Riotto and Christian Helsel. Penn State's top starting pitcher, Sal Biasi, will also need replaced as he signed with the Kansas City Royals after being drafted in the 11th round of the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

 

Junior pitcher Justin Hagenman is poised to take Biasi's spot as the ace on this year's staff. Hagenman has been in the team's top three starters in his first two years and has the skills and experience to lead the rotation this year.

 

Penn State does return its top five hitters from last year in terms of batting average. Sophomore Mason Nadeau and junior Jordan Bowersox return as above-.300 hitters, figuring to be an effective duo at the top of the lineup this year.

 

Earlier this week, head coach Rob Cooper, Hagenman and junior catcher Ryan Sloniger took the podium for spring media day. Here are five takeaways from the session headed into opening weekend.

 

Forgetting the Past

Cooper made it clear from the beginning of his press conference that he and the team were not happy with last year's performance, noting things will be different this season.

 

"As a team we did not have a year that we feel is acceptable for Penn State baseball," Cooper said. "Over the course of the last 10 months we've done a lot of thinking about it and looking back on it, the truth is as a coaching staff we didn't do a good enough job for these guys."

 

Cooper said he doesn't want to dwell on past mistakes but focus on what the team can do better this year. With a team more committed than ever, Cooper's excited to see how the closeness translates to wins.

 

"I'm really excited for what these guys have put forth this fall," Cooper said. "I'm excited about our coaching staff. I'm excited about the effort that we've all put in together and I think everybody's going to be real excited to see what kind of team we can put out there this year."

 

Manual of Excellence

Last year, the Nittany Lions decided to seek out a way to change the team's culture for the better.

 

A group of Nittany Lions led by Hagenman and Sloniger soon decided to put together what Cooper called a "manual of excellence." The manual examines what it means to be a Penn State student athlete and what the team can expects from each individual.

 

The manual also focuses on four pillars: leadership, toughness, competing and selflessness. Together, Hagenman, Sloniger and the rest of the team leaders presented the manual to the entire team.

 

"We realized that we needed a change in everything that we do and we thought of four things that could really change how we do things," Hagenmen said. "From that, we put those in the manual and introduced them to the rest of the team." 

 

Throughout spring practices, the team has also substituted one practice a week for a culture workshop to talk about the four pillars and bring a strong, centralized culture back to the locker room. For Cooper, building a strong team culture can turn a team around quicker than any drill.

 

"The culture and the competitiveness I think is so much more important than [drills], so we just decided we're going to make this a priority," Cooper said.

 

Starting Rotation Announced

Cooper also revealed the weekend's starting rotation this week. Hagenman, as expected, will start Friday's season opener, senior lefty Taylor Lehman will start Saturday and sophomore Dante Biasi, Sal's younger brother, will get the nod Sunday.

 

Hagenman led the team in innings pitched last season with 80.1. He started 14 games for the Nittany Lions and finished with a 5.49 ERA.

 

Lehman worked primarily out of the bullpen last season. He started just three games on the mound but led the team in total appearances with 26.

 

Lehman struck out 35 in just 32 innings and also tallied one save during the 2017 season. With Biasi gone, Penn State will rely on Lehman for more starts and more innings this season.

 

The younger of the Biasi's, Dante, will be making his first career start Sunday, having sat out last year with an injury.

 

In 2016, Biasi was drafted in the 22nd round of the MLB Entry Draft by the Chicago Cubs but chose to pursue an education and a collegiate career at Penn State.

 

The starting rotation could certainly change from week to week but this lineup gives fans an idea of what to expect early in the year.  Both Cooper and Hagenman also raved about how deep the pitching staff is this year, with Cooper adding it's the deepest h has been a part of.

 

For Hagenman, it's the freshmen who are impressing him so far, with the potential to contribute early.

 

"[The freshmen pitchers] are right on the same level as anyone else," Hagenman said. "They're pushing us as much as we're pushing them. Every spot is open and they're going after them and I think all the pitchers are going to contribute right away as freshmen."

 

Multi-Sport Studs

Penn State also has a pair of multi-sport student-athletes on the roster in Mac Hippenhammer and Matt McCutcheon. Hippenhammer is listed as both an infielder and outfielder while McCutcheon will be part of the catcher's rotation.

 

McCutcheon could potentially be part of the rotation behind the plate with Sloniger and junior college transfer, Shea Sbranti. Although Hippenhammer wasn't involved in fall workouts, he has made an impression on the veterans in his short time with the team.

 

"He brings a fun energy to our team and I think that's made an impact on us," Sloniger said. "We didn't have him all fall for any practices, so for him to come in, he's jumped in like he hasn't missed a beat."

 

For Cooper, Hippenhammer has been a positive influence in the clubhouse so far, while also exceeding expectations.

 

"The thing about Mac is he has a real love to compete, whether it's on the football field or on the baseball field," Cooper said. "He's really worked hard to make an impact in a short period of time. I'm kind of blown away with his progress."

 

The Wait is Over

After eight long months away from the diamond, both the Nittany Lions and coaches are beaming with excitement to get back on the field and compete against someone other than themselves.

 

"As awesome as it is to compete against your team it definitely is something to get that first weekend started and compete against somebody else," Hagenman said. "Pushing each other in inter-squads, it really gets you ready for the season."

 

While the offseason was extremely beneficial in terms of changing the culture and refocusing on how the team can improve, Sloniger is itching for Friday.

 

"I can't wait. I'm ready to get going," Sloniger said. "We go against each other a lot starting in the fall. I'm ready to see someone in a new jersey and a new face. We've put last year behind us, but it's also something for us returning guys that it's a motivating thing for us to come back and have a good year this year."

Multi-Sport Teammates Bringing Unique Value

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK - Being a student-athlete isn't easy. Often days begin before the sun rises for early-morning lifts followed by a few hours of classes. Once class is over, student-athletes head straight to practice before finishing the evening doing schoolwork during their study hall time.

If that isn't difficult enough, imagine using whatever free time that's left over to practice and condition for a second sport at Penn State. For freshman wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer and senior wrestler Matt McCutcheon, this is a reality.

"Especially for being a division I athlete, I think it's extremely tough [to balance multiple sports]," outfielder Jordan Bowersox said. "They're missing a lot of what we do because their main focus is football or wrestling, whatever it is. It's extremely tough. I can't imagine any free time they have, which they probably don't. For me, I'm busy all the time and I only play one sport. I can't even imagine what it's like for them."

Hippenhammer joined the Penn State baseball roster at the beginning of the spring semester after the conclusion of the 2017 football season.

McCutcheon, the 197-pound wrestler from Apollo, Pennsylvania played baseball and wrestled while growing up, but stopped playing baseball after his sophomore year of high school to solely focus on wrestling. Now as a senior in college, McCutcheon is returning to the diamond as a catcher. With returning starter Ryan Sloniger and transfer Shea Sbranti listed as the only other catchers on the roster, McCutcheon could easily see some time behind the plate.

Being a dual athlete means having to work equally as hard at two separate sports. With McCutcheon also in the middle of wrestling season, his schedules are slightly overlapping. After he completes a day of wrestling practice, workouts and classes, McCutcheon texts Sloniger, who seems to be taking the newly-acquired catcher under his wing, to meet to go through baseball workouts and drills to better prepare him for the upcoming baseball season.

"That obviously makes for long days for him because we have study hours and everything that we have to go to after practice," Sloniger said. "We'll come in [to practice] for a couple hours after everything else, after he's done with his wrestling practice and I'm done with my lifting and baseball practice. I could not imagine juggling two sports."

"[Mc]Cutch[eon]'s first responsibility here is wrestling. Mac's first responsibility is football, but both of them are valued members of our program," Cooper said. "Being a student-athlete is hard if you play one sport, but playing two sports and balancing that and then also being really good students like both Mac and Matt are, then you know you're talking about some people who are really going to have to balance their time and have to sacrifice a lot."

Sacrificing time is not the only challenge these multi-sport athletes will have to face. The team has already completed an entire fall season where all of the returning Nittany Lions met and got to know all of the newcomers.

At this time of the year, the team is starting to build a chemistry with all its new members. For both Hippenhammer and McCutcheon, it's not as simple. With their other sports causing them to be dedicated to another team throughout the fall season, they have to work harder at getting to know and establish relationships with their new teammates in their spare time.

"I haven't really seen him [Hippenhammer] much, he's not in my individual group or anything so I haven't gotten to know him too well," Bowersox said. "Matt, he's a good guy. He's always bringing stories over from wrestling that helps us out with the mental game. He's an awesome guy. They are both awesome guys. I am excited to get to know them better."

It may be difficult to balance both sports, but both Hippenhammer and McCutcheon seem to be up for the challenge. The athleticism that will be brought to the team in these two student-athletes can only be an advantage for the Nittany Lions.

Plus, Cooper has stressed that this year the team is focusing on building a better mindset, values and culture for this program and he thinks having athletes from two other very successful programs can only help his team this season.

"They both come from really great cultures on our campus," Cooper said. "The culture that coach Franklin's building there in football, the way they handle things, the way they compete on a day in and day out basis and obviously the culture that Cael Sanderson and the wrestling program has. Having those two guys who can really add to [the culture of this program] and can really talk from an experience of having to be successful at the highest level, that really brings a lot of value to our team."

Baseball's Andre Butler Talks Black History Month

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Throughout the entire month of February, Penn State Athletics is proudly sharing the stories of its student-athletes and coaches who have helped shape Nittany Lion history.

Promoted to assistant coach after serving as volunteer assistant for two years, baseball's Andre Bulter is in his third season with the Nittany Lions. Giving back to his Philadelphia roots, Butler started a tee ball league in West Philadelphia called the "Jackie Robinson West Philly League" for boys and girls ages eight and under. 

In the first of a multi-part video series, Butler talks everything from t-ball to Black History Month and what it means to him. View more here.

Burger, Nadeau Highlight Minnesota Series

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK - Despite a sweep by Big Ten foe Minnesota, Penn State's Mason Nadeau and Willie Burger highlighted the Nittany Lion offense throughout the weekend. 

On Friday, Nadeau was the only Nittany Lion with a multi-hit game going 2-for-5 with a run scored. Penn State entered the bottom of the ninth inning with a 6-2 deficit, but was not willing to go down easily. After an Alex Malinsky single to start off the inning, Nadeau followed with a single through the right side to keep the inning alive. The Nittany Lions managed to cut the deficit to 6-5, but could not score enough runs to come back.

However, Nadeau was only getting started.

On Saturday, the Nittany Lions found themselves in a quick 5-0 hole after the top of the first inning. Despite a Nadeau leadoff single up the middle, the Nittany Lions were never able to catch the Golden Gophers. Penn State was able to put one run on the board coming off of the bat of Nadeau.

In his third at bat, Nadeau was due up first in the bottom of the sixth inning. As the Golden Gophers were warming up prior to the start of the inning, Nadeau prepared for his at bat the same way he always does -putting his left batting glove on first, followed by his right. The freshman then has to strap his right batting glove before he straps his left before he's ready to go.

Despite falling behind 1-2 in the count, Nadeau drove the next pitch he saw deep into right field for his second career home run.

"I never hit home runs in high school," Nadeau said. "I hit one home run in a fall-league game and that was it. Before that, it was eighth grade travel ball. It's a pretty great feeling. Everyone loves the long ball, me included. But, I know that's not what I am here to do so if it happens it happens. I'm just trying to get on base and help my team win whenever I can."

Nadeau ended the evening going 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.

"I think the biggest thing right now is even though Mason [Nadeau] is a freshman, he has an unbelievable competitive spirit," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "He doesn't take pitches off. We have some other guys like that, but there's a reason he's swinging the bat well. He'll get down two strikes and he doesn't let it bother him. Everyone once in a while he takes a bad swing, but he gets rid of it and comes right back. To be able to flush everything and move on to the next pitch is what we need to be doing as a group." 

After falling to the Golden Gophers 17-1 the night prior, the Nittany Lions found themselves in another quick 9-0 hole after just three innings on Sunday. This time, Penn State got on the board an inning earlier when Burger stepped up to the plate.

With runners on first and second, Burger singled to right-center field bringing home Braxton Giavidoni from second. Burger then picked up his second RBI of the evening in the bottom of the ninth inning with runners again on first and second. The sophomore sent a line shot up the middle to bring home the fourth run of the game. 

"I thought he made a great adjustment in the middle of the game," Cooper said. "He really tried to stay within himself more. One of Willie's greatest strengths is he has a deep reservoir of confidence. He believes he can do just about anything on a baseball field. He just kind of simplified stuff at the plate tonight rather than trying to add more to it."

On top of his 4-for-5, two-RBI night, the typical first baseman made his fifth consecutive start at third base.

"I played [third base] for the first half of my freshman year," Burger said. "Then, I broke my rib and missed a substantial amount of time. When I came back, based on necessity, I moved to first and never really went back to third. So it was a pretty easy transition for me. It's a little bit different because I spent so much time away from that corner, but the two corners are pretty similar. If you're an infielder, you're an infielder."

Of the team's 22 hits throughout the series, Nadeau and Burger were responsible for 11 of them. Combined, the two went 11-for-26 (.423) with two walks, three RBIs and three runs scored. 

Despite standout performances from Burger and Nadeau, the Nittany Lions are looking to put a full team effort into the two-game series against West Virginia on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"The big thing is we want to try to continue to improve our collective toughness as a group," Cooper said. "We also want to eliminate negative thoughts. It doesn't' matter who puts it in your head. We need to control what we can control and then we will go from there."

The Nittany Lions will travel to Morgantown on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. to take on West Virginia.

Balance Propels Penn State to Victory

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Eight different Nittany Lions recorded hits with seven scoring at least one run in Penn State's 9-2 victory against Lafayette Wednesday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.


The win was a sheer clinic in balance from top to bottom of the roster, as four Lions recorded multi-hit games with four pitchers combining to allow just two runs.


Penn State tallied 12 hits in the game with its nine runs marking the most for the Blue and White since scoring 10 runs in a win over Columbia March 25.


"We came into the game ready to go from the get go," Nick Riotto said. "Once we got a few, we weren't going to be satisfied. We just kept putting together quality at-bats and kept it going one through nine."


Freshman Mason Nadeau slugged his first career home run in the sixth inning on a two-run shot to right field. 


"It was pretty awesome," Nadeau said. "I actually wasn't entirely sure if it was going to go out at first, but I knew I barreled it up pretty well, so seeing it hit the bleachers was a really good feeling."


Nadeau went 2-4 in the game, scoring two runs and tallying two RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also anchored the defense with a few running catches in the gaps to save extra base hits from centerfield. Head coach Rob Cooper said a few days ago he would like to see Nadeau improve as a fielder, but he looked extremely comfortable in center Wednesday night.


"[Defense] is the one thing that I always try to keep constant and at a high level because it's something I can kind of rely on when the bat's not going as well," Nadeau said.


Nadeau has been on an absolute tear since returning from an injury April 18 against Pittsburgh. In five games, Nadeau is 8-15 (.533) with four runs scored and five walks since his return to the lineup.


Nadeau owns the highest batting average (.365) on the team this season. He has missed 21 games in 2017, but his presence back in the lineup has helped Penn State snap a six-game skid and win two straight.


"He's a workhorse," pitching coach Brian Anderson said. "He's super energetic. He's a little pack of dynamite. He can swing the bat pretty darn aggressively and he can used the whole field. When he barrels up the baseball odds are it's going to be hit somewhere pretty good."


Riotto, Conlin Hughes and Alex Malinsky joined Nadeau with multi-hit games in the contest. Riotto led Penn State in the game with three RBIs. 


The only Penn State starter who failed to record a hit was second baseman Christian Helsel, but even he scored a run in the game after he was hit by a pitch in the first inning. The Lions broke the game open early with four runs in the first.


Hughes started the scoring with an RBI single to score Nadeau. Riotto then hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield to score Helsel.


With two outs, Hughes and Willie Burger displayed incredible hustle by both scoring on a dropped pop fly by the pitcher with two outs in the inning.


Schuyler Bates started on the mound for the fifth time this season and recorded his second win. The junior tossed five innings and allowed two runs on five hits against the Leopards. 


The win was Bates' first since March 29 against Cornell in which he posted five innings without allowing a run. Bates owns a 4.15 ERA in 13 appearances this season. He only pitched in five total games in his first two seasons combined.


"He's taking every advantage to be a Tuesday or Wednesday guy for us and he's running with it," Anderson said. "He actually helps and assists us for our bullpen for our Friday, Saturday series and that's huge."


Three pitchers relieved Bates and didn't surrender a run in the final four innings. Dakota Forsyth replaced Bates in the sixth inning and tossed two scoreless innings while allowing just two hits. 


Taylor Lehman then took over in the eighth inning and was relieved in the middle of the ninth by Nick Distasio, who closed the game out.

@GOPSUSPORTS

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