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Penn State Prepares for Spring Break in California

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK - After picking up their first two wins of the season last weekend, the Nittany Lions are preparing for a stretch of seven games in The Golden State. 

With baseball season opening in February, Penn State typically begins each season on the road traveling to warmer climates. After traveling to Texas and North Carolina the past two weekends, the Nittany Lions have battled the common downfalls of being away from home.

"It sure is a lot to travel so much," sophomore Conlin Hughes said. "We just have to make sure we take care of our bodies. Get ourselves some fuel during the short weeks that we have so during the long weekends won't be so bad."

"Traveling so much is something I am going to have to get used to," freshman Joe Weisenseel said. "It's also really fun to be able to travel and go around the country. I am looking forward to it, but it is a little bit hard to kind of just adjust to having to do school work on the road and then coming back and only having a few days of class."

Although the constant travel and living out of a suitcase may not seem appealing to some, the Nittany Lions have expressed that traveling is one of the highlights of the season, especially a week-long trip over spring break. 

"First of all, if they aren't excited to go play, there's something wrong," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "When you spend all fall and early January and February indoor practicing, you get tired of practicing and playing the game against each other. That right there is motivation alone. Second, if you look at spring break, that's a week like the rest of the students. They don't have to worry about class. They can just be baseball players for a week."

The players agree that traveling is what brings everyone together. On the bus and plane trips, the team likes to talk, sleep and download movies to watch together. Also, sharing rooms at hotels and eating together before and after games allows the team to spend all of their time together and get closer than what they would being at home. 

"The thing I found a lot is that a lot growth happens within our program," Cooper said. "The guys are together for a week and when guys are together for an entire week, they bond and get closer. I am excited about that part of it."

Last year, the Nittany Lions traveled to North Carolina for spring break to play three games at UNC-Wilmington and one game at Duke. In the team's spare time, Hughes remembers having a few hours at the beach with his teammates as the highlight of his trip off the field. 

This year, Penn State will be playing seven games in eight days in both Stockton, Davis and Sacramento, California, meeting Pacific, UC Davis and Sacramento State.

"I've never been this far across the country so we will see what happens," Hughes said. "It'll be busy, but hopefully we do something fun like last year. We are hoping the weather will be nice. That is what I am most looking forward to about California."

With 11 freshmen on the team, the upperclassmen have had to mentally prepare the young class as to what to expect when traveling on the road. 

"I think senior Nick Riotto and fifth-year senior Christian Helsel have really shown me the ropes and taught me how we work as a program," Weisenseel said. "They have also told me things I have to look forward to on road trips like spring break and they also tell me what I need to work on as well. They have been a big help to me."

After spring break, the Nittany Lions will have kicked off the 2017 season with 14-straight games on the road. Penn State returning to Happy Valley for the home-opener just five days after arriving from California. Although the away games can build chemistry between the team, there is nothing like playing at home. 

"The excitement to play in front of the 'Cooperstown Kids' in Medlar Park and play at home in front of our fans, that is something that is exciting all the time. It really is," Cooper said. "I think any time you get a chance to play at home, you know the weather is just a little bit closer to breaking. It's fun to play here. We have a true home field advantage and our guys look forward to it."

The Nittany Lions will travel to California Saturday to start a week-long stretch beginning with a three-game series against Pacific.

Breaking Down Nittany Lion Hitting

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State will have to rely on some fresh faces in 2017 to pick up for the bats lost from last season. Tyler Kendall, Jim Haley and Greg Guers were the top three hitters for the Nittany Lions in 2016, and none of them return this year.

 

The only other Nittany Lion batting higher .300 last season was left fielder Nick Riotto. Riotto, a senior, will be expected to take over the leadership role in a lineup that features very few upperclassmen.

 

Riotto, an extremely patient hitter, has already been setting a solid example for the younger Nittany Lions, and a few have already said he's taking them under his wing.

 

Last season, he led the team in walks (24) and led the main starters in on-base percentage (.405). He gets on base often and rarely strikes out, too. He was fanned only 14 times last year, meaning he struck out about once every 13 trips to the plate.

 

Riotto could potentially be the leadoff man in head coach Rob Cooper's lineup all season. He was out of the final two games in the opening series against TCU, but Cooper said the injury isn't serious enough to keep him out long.

 

Aside from Riotto, five freshmen, seven sophomores and three seniors comprise the Penn State offensive roster in 2017.

 

One of the most consistent returning sophomores, Conlin Hughes, played in all but three games last season and figures to be a main cog at the top of the lineup.

 

Hughes leads the team early with a .300 batting average through three games. He smacked three hits and scored two runs on opening weekend against a stellar pitching staff from TCU.

 

"It's a real confidence booster, especially for our young lineup, so being able to face those arms during the year is definitely a plus moving on into conference play," Hughes said.

 

He was moved around in the lineup a bit in the first three games, but he says he feels comfortable anywhere. Cooper noted Hughes' potential to have an integral role in the top portion of the lineup moving forward.

 

"I think he can do a lot of damage up there," Cooper said. "He's a guy that gives us quality at bats and I want those kind of guys to get more at bats throughout the year. The first three guys in the order are going to get up a lot during the year."

 

Another sophomore already doing major damage to opposing pitchers is Willie Burger. Burger hit two homeruns in the third game of the opening series. He hit just one last year in 39 games played.

 

Burger also cracked a double in the second game of the series and led the team with five RBIs over the weekend.

 

"Willie's always been a kid that's just never been afraid. He loves to play he loves competition he has a lot of pride," Cooper said. "He wants to win so bad that he wants to hit a six-run homer. When he slows his internal clock down and just plays, he's a really good player, so that's the challenge for him this year."

 

Several freshman already got their first game jitters out of the way, and some will be expected to take on important roles this season up and down the lineup.

 

Joe Weisenseel started all three games at shortstop and was one of two freshmen to notch their first hits of their careers last weekend. Braxton Giavedoni was the other.

 

Weisenseel was even thrown in the lead-off spot with Riotto out of the lineup, and he fared just fine. He said that the biggest difference jumping from high school to college competition is the quality of the pitching.

 

"They're coming a lot harder, coming with a lot better stuff than high school and summer ball," Weisenseel said. "That's something to adjust to. I know I have to get my confidence at the plate, and that's just something that's going to be big for me moving forward."

 

Cooper said the freshmen's play overall was encouraging, but he did mention he'd like to see the strikeout numbers improve over the next few weeks.

 

Penn State struck out 26 times in the opening series. Freshmen were responsible for 10.

 

"We got to find a way to cut down on our strikeouts and put the ball in play a lot more, and then when we do have runners in scoring position we got to figure out a way to get them in," Cooper said.

 

Another freshman who turned the coaching staff's collective head was Mason Nadeau. Nadeau wasn't able to get his first collegiate hit, but he did catch Cooper's attention with a nine-pitch walk.

 

Cooper said he was impressed with Nadeau's confidence and patience in such a tough atmosphere. He said that's exactly why he recruited Nadeau.

Nittany Lions Take the Mound in 2017

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com Student Feature Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK - With the majority of the team's pitchers returning for the 2017 season, the Nittany Lions look to improve on last year's 28-17 record and 3.71 combined ERA. 

Last season, Penn State relied heavily on its bullpen to come in early in games and pitch a lot of innings. This past weekend, the Nittany Lions kicked off the 2017 season against the No. 1 team in the country making it challenging for the starters to last deeper into games than what they did last season. However, as the team gets later into its season, the Nittany Lions hope to have their starters pitch more innings.  

"They need to be more consistent," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "This is something we have talked about. We have to be more consistent. We've got to win early counts. We've got to get ahead and get outs and be more efficient with it. The longer our guys can pitch into the game efficiently, the stronger our bullpen. That is something we really do need. If we can take that jump, then I think you will see us really have success on the mound." 

Having a strong bullpen is something the Nittany Lions were used to last season with senior closer Jack Anderson's 55 innings pitched, 43 strikeouts, 13 saves and a 2.14 ERA. Although the team lost its go-to reliever, Cooper thinks the different options of relief pitchers this year will be able to fill Anderson's role.

"I don't know if we have a guy that we can rely on as heavily as we did Jack," Cooper said. "Part of the reason we could do that with Jack was because he was a sidearm pitcher and he was able to bounce back quickly. We have Dakota Forsyth, Nick Distasio or Tommy Mullin, you know I like the different options we have. Yeah, we are sad to lose Jack, but it's an opportunity for someone else to go in there and get that role." 

As far as the starting rotation, the Nittany Lions have all of their main starter pitchers returning from last season. Entering the series against TCU last weekend, Cooper named Sal Biasi, Taylor Lehman and Justin Hagenman the top three starters. Cooper said the pitching rotation could change at any point in the year. He just wants who is pitching best at the time to be on the mound. 

Biasi, who pitched Friday evening, is coming off of a 66 strike out season in just 67 innings pitched. Although he only pitched three and two-thirds innings on Friday, Biasi struck out seven batters in his first outing of the 2017 season. 

Hagenman, who pitched on Sunday, is coming off of his 6-3 freshman season pitching 82 innings which was the most on the team. Hagenman struck out four batters through three innings on Sunday.

"I expect to build on what I did last year," Hagenman said. "I went out there and started every game and that was good, but this year I want to be more consistent and get stronger throughout the year. I hope to be one of the go-to starting pitchers. We have a lot of guys we can go to, but I think getting the balls on Sundays is a good spot. It's a good place for me to be able to make some noise." 

Now a sophomore, Hagenman is able to approach this season with a lot more comfort and confidence than a year ago as a freshman.

"It's a lot different as a sophomore," Hagenman said. "You know what you're expecting from day one, from the fall until now. You can kind of lead more. You can help the guys that need it like I needed last year. It's a little different with having experience." 

In the past few seasons, the Nittany Lions have put a lot of freshmen on the mound to help make a difference for their team. Biasi, Lehman and Hagenman all pitched as true freshmen. After looking at this year's freshmen, Cooper is open to pitching anyone who is willing to make an impact for his team. 

"One thing that we try to do is open up every job every year," Cooper said. "I don't care if you are a freshman or a senior or a walk on or on high scholarship, if you are going to help us win, we are going to put you out there. If you look at last year, we had a lot of freshmen pitch. We have freshmen that will pitch this year and get some time." 

This weekend redshirt freshmen Blake Hodgens and Eric Mock, along with true freshmen Cole Bartels and Myles Gayman all got time on the mound against the top team in the country. 

Cooper is also really focused on keeping his team healthy. The head coach said that everyone always feels great to start the season, but around two weeks in the players start feeling some aches and pains. To keep his pitchers healthy, Cooper will be monitoring their pitch count carefully to make sure their arms will last the entire season. 

"Their arms are ready to go for this point of the season," Cooper said. "Their pitch count today is going to be different than what it will be later on in the year. For some guys, it may even be lower as the year goes on just depending on how we use them. Right now they are at about 75-80 pitches. We are going to make sure we take care of our guys. When you are able to use more than one guy, you give more guys opportunities and more experience." 

Although the team has the majority of its pitchers returning, this year's mindset is slightly different. The team wants to keep the pitcher's pitch counts low and allow the starters to run deep into games. In order to do this, the pitchers must attack.

 "We have really made it a point to be on the attack," Hagenman said. "Just to go right at the hitters and make them hit the ball, eliminate walks and have good intent with every pitch. Just make it your game."

Intersquad Scrimmages Boost Preseason Prep

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9342635.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The start of the 2017 baseball season is inching closer and closer for the Nittany Lions, and the anticipation surrounding the team is growing with each passing day.

 

The anticipation, however, will need to soon be channeled into focus. Penn State faces a daunting challenge in its first action back on the diamond since last season, as the Blue and White will be traveling to Fort Worth, Texas this weekend for a three-game series against No. 1 ranked TCU.

 

"To me there's no better opportunity than opening weekend going and playing the consensus number one-ranked team in the country in all the polls because you're going to find out right away what you need to work on, what you need to get better at and that's what I think we're going to be able to do," head coach Rob Cooper said.

 

TCU was voted as the consensus No. 1 team in the NCAA by all six major college baseball polls, so there's little doubt around the country that the Horned Frogs are the team to beat this season. The Horned Frogs have reached the College World Series three straight years and have the talent to win it all in 2017.

 

"We can't really worry about any of that," Cooper said. "For us, it's about playing a faceless opponent and about trying to get better every single day. If we do that, it doesn't really matter who we play."

 

The Lions did get a taste of TCU last season, but they were swept in a home three-game series at Medlar Field. The series was much closer than a sweep usually expresses, though. Penn State was able to score on TCU all weekend and lost the second game by just one run.

 

The Lions are confident a second chance will produce more favorable results.

 

"We're going to expect a pretty good series," senior outfielder Nick Riotto said. "I think that everybody here will tell you we expect to win no matter what they're ranked or who they are really."

 

Confidence is exuding from the Nittany Lions even before the season has begun. Riotto sure shows it, and so does sophomore pitcher Justin Hagenman.

 

Hagenman will toe the rubber to start the finale of the series on Sunday. He said the Horned Frogs offense must be respected, but it doesn't scare him.

 

"They do a lot of little things right," Hagenman said. "They're really good at running the bases and stuff like that. They really don't give away at-bats, but I think if we pitch our game and we all play our game I think they're just another team. That's the way we have to look at it."

 

Barring any changes, Hagenman looks to be the regular Sunday starter for Penn State like he was last year. For this weekend, Sal Biasi will start Friday's game and Taylor Lehman will get the ball on Saturday, Cooper said.

 

Everything the Lions have said leading up to opening weekend gives the impression that they're fully prepared and excited for the test. Maybe the biggest reason for this is the emphasis coaches place on intersquad scrimmages during recent practices.

 

Penn State tried to implement live action in at least a few practices each week during the preseason. Getting players used to seeing hard fastballs and adjusting to off-speed pitches as opposed to just soft toss is crucial to full preparedness when there's a real opponent in the other dugout.

 

"It's a huge deal," Cooper said. "Honestly it's one of the reasons why I really wanted to take the job here at Penn State because I knew in January and February we can actually play intersquads and get our guys to face hitters, to have to hold guys on, to cover first. So our guys have actually played baseball games rather than just hit in a cage or throw bullpens."

 

Riotto echoed Cooper, noting that he thinks it's one of the most crucial aspects of preseason practices. He said the team started off a little slow, but now the energy is better and he thinks they're right where they need to be.

 

Riotto said Hagenman is a tough pitcher to face during inter-squads because of his changeup, but he thinks Biasi is the hardest to hit off of.

 

The Lions are getting used to their own teammates' tendencies, so facing other pitchers and hitters should be a refreshing challenge. Cooper hopes the focus on intersquad play for the past few weeks will have the team ready to jump right in and compete with the best team in the country.

 

First pitch of the 2017 season is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday. Saturday's game will start at 3 p.m. and Sunday's at 1 p.m.

Baseball Spring Sports Media Day: Five Things to Know

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By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com Student Feature Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State baseball head coach Rob Cooper, senior outfielder Nick Riotto and senior pitcher Dakota Forsyth all participated in Spring Sports Media Day Monday afternoon. Check out the five things to know from the the Q&A session heading into the 2017 season.

Big Opening Weekend
The Nittany Lions open their season on the road Friday, Feb. 17 in Fort Worth, Texas against No. 1 TCU. Although some may be intimidated by a tough first opponent, Penn State is excited for an opportunity to challenge itself.

"The thing I love about it is that they are the number one ranked team in the country," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "That's the direction that we want to take this program and the very first weekend we are going to be in that type of environment. We are going to find out very quickly what we are doing well, what we need to improve on and we can go from there."

Last year, Penn State took on the Horned Frogs at the end of the season losing all three games of the series 6-2, 5-4 and 9-5. Some may be satisfied with keeping the game close against one of the best programs in the country, but Cooper said his team was disappointed and knew they could compete at that level. 

Consistency in Pitching
When Cooper first started coaching the Nittany Lions, the six 2017 seniors were freshman. Cooper said he is very excited to watch all of his returning pitchers grow and learn from past mistakes and be better this season.

One thing that has plagued the Penn State pitching staff over the past few seasons has been consistency. Jack Anderson, Penn State's most reliable pitcher out of the bullpen last season, graduated last spring leaving the Nittany Lions searching for a consistent leader for the 2017 season. 

"We have to make sure we give quality starts and innings," Cooper said. "That's where I feel like we are deeper throughout our pitching staff, we just need a couple guys to step up and I definitely think we have those guys."

Sloniger Developing Behind the Plate
Last season, the Nittany Lions rotated their three catchers behind the plate to try to find the best fit for the most successful team. This season, Cooper is pleased with the depth at the position, noting that sophomore Ryan Sloniger, freshman Brett Davis and Willie Burger all provide options behind the dish.  

Cooper noted that he is particularly excited to see Sloniger's development take off this year. 

"You were asking a true freshman to play arguably the toughest position on the field at a Division I level," Cooper said. "We are seeing him, right now, be a lot more relaxed and comfortable with what's going on. Because of it, he's playing more free and more athletic."

Cooper also noted that an injury to Alex Malinsky will sideline the Nittany Lion senior. 

"We are going to miss Alex and his everyday leadership and the senior moxie that he brings to the table," Cooper said. "But the next guy has to step up."

It's a Process
A theme of almost all of Penn State's spring sports teams this season is focusing on the process of getting better. The Nittany Lions are focusing on creating smaller goals this season, the most important being to win each series against each team they face. Although the team avoided being swept in a conference series last season, picking up at least one win out of three against a team, is not enough for this year's team.

Not only are the Nittany Lions focusing on the improvements on the field, but the chemistry off the field is stronger than senior Dakota Forsyth has ever seen it.

"I know coming in my freshman year the locker room was kind of separated," Forsyth said. "Over the years, we have learned to accept each other and have gotten comfortable with holding each other accountable. We are getting freshmen acclimated to what we are doing here and having them come in and being able to compete right away. We are trying to get them as ready for the season as possible."

With these mindsets, the Nittany Lions are looking to achieve much more success than last year's 28-27 season.

"The difference between being an average team and a great team is razor thin," Cooper said. "It's making the choice to compete every day. It's making the choice to be present emotionally and mentally instead of just physically. It's getting them to understand that that's what great teams do. It's being consistent with that approach rather than just when things are good."

Cooper's Town Returns
Everyone knows about the "S Zone" of the football student section or the "Roar Zone" at the ice hockey games, but at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, there's Cooper's Town. 

Last season, the Cooper's Town student section became an energetic attraction as fans would fill the stands to listen to the rowdy group of students behind the visitor's dugout. 

"Those guys are awesome," Cooper said. "They care, they are into it and they are passionate about it. It's a microcosm of what Penn State is all about. For them to take it over the way they did, there's no question they make an impact on our team and our season. They are bringing excitement and people to the stadium."

The group brings a lot of excitement to the fans, but the energy also carries over to the field.

"When it's the beginning of the year and only 40 or 50 degrees, you might be thinking about how cold it is," Forsyth said. "But then you look over and see all those students there and it fires you up a little bit and makes you go a little bit harder."

Jim Haley Opens Professional Career With a Bang

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the process of making his college decision, Penn State alumnus Jim Haley was torn between two paths.

 

Haley was a star quarterback and free safety for Bonner and Prendergast Catholic High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. He fielded offers to play for Temple, Delaware, Villanova and others.

 

When he wasn't slinging passes and hammering unsuspecting receivers, Haley was on the diamond. Haley batted .459 with two homeruns and 26 RBIs in his senior season. He visited Maryland, Virginia, Elon, Richmond and Penn State for baseball.

 

Most high school athletes begin to focus on one sport as college recruiting gets closer. It's extremely rare to see athletes compete in more than one sport past high school, especially in two sports as time-consuming as football and baseball.

 

But Haley was an anomaly.

 

Haley was named MVP of the Philadelphia Catholic League in both sports in two separate years. He was also named the Philadelphia Inquirer Player of the Year in 2013 for baseball.

 

He had his choice: baseball, football, or both. Villanova offered Haley a spot on both the football and baseball team, which would be an accomplishment very few could mark on their resume.

 

After a grueling decision making process, Haley decided to follow his lifelong dream of becoming a professional baseball player by signing with Penn State.

 

Four years later, that dream has finally come to fruition.

 

"I went to college knowing that I wanted to get out of there in three years and get drafted," Haley said.

 

Haley accomplished just that. Following his junior season, the Tampa Bay Rays called Haley's name in the 19th round of the 2016 MLB draft. He was the first Nittany Lion since 2012 to be drafted.

 

"That phone call, all of that work that I put in from college back to high school and everything, all of those emotions just flooded me in that minute and a half," Haley said. "It was kind of surreal."

 

Haley was surrounded by his family and his girlfriend when he received the call of a lifetime. He said it will always be considered one of the best moments of his life.

 

Luckily for Haley, Tampa Bay sent him to their A-league affiliate in New York, the Hudson Valley Renegades. It wasn't too far of a trip from his home in Upper Darby, and his family was able to see a few games in his rookie season.

 

Haley even returned to his own stomping grounds at Medlar Field on a few occasions to play the State College Spikes. He recorded his first professional hit there on a triple to the wall in centerfield just like he was in Blue and White again.

 

"It was just one of those things you can't write up any better," Haley said. "Going back to your home field to get used to pro ball definitely made it a lot easier and made the transition a lot more comfortable."

 

That transition seemed effortless for Haley, who stayed on the Renegades all year without getting dropped down to rookie ball.

 

Haley batted .285 in his rookie year, which was the third highest mark on the team. He smacked 70 hits in 65 games, tallied 19 RBIs, and scored 27 runs.

 

Usually it takes players some time to get used to professional pitching, but Haley jumped right in with seemingly no issues. He was even named a starter for the NYPL league all-star game.

 

"Jimmy's a competitor," said Penn State head coach Rob Cooper, Haley's former skipper. "Moving into pro ball, that kind of challenge isn't something that scares him. He enjoys that. His swing can play with wood or aluminum, and he's got an advanced approach at the plate which allows him to have success."

 

Cooper said it didn't surprise him at all how much Haley was able to accomplish in year one.

 

Haley, on the other hand, was a bit more shocked.

 

Right after arriving in New York, Haley was asked by a reporter what it would mean to make the all-star team if he was able to do so. Haley laughed it off and said there's no way he'll make it, but it would be pretty awesome.

 

Self-confidence aside, Haley produced a promising rookie season. So promising, in fact, that the Rays sent him to Florida after the season for instructional league training.

9257392.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Most young baseball players hoping to hear their names called during the MLB draft are glued to their televisions and smartphones, trembling with anticipation. It's the moment all of their hard work leads up to and a day never to be forgotten for a handful of aspiring players.

 

That moment came for Penn State alumna Jack Anderson on the third and final day of the 2016 draft, but he didn't even know it at the time.

 

Anderson was actually swimming while on vacation with a few teammates in Palm Beach, Florida when the Seattle Mariners selected him in the 23rd round with the 687th pick. He found out from his old coach Rob Cooper.

 

Cooper called Anderson after hearing the news to congratulate his former closer. He had no idea he would be breaking the news to Anderson for the first time.

 

Anderson then realized he missed a call from a Mariners scout and quickly called back in excitement. He and the rest of the crew celebrated that night as Anderson returned home the next day to a surprise party at his house.

 

Anderson spent his first professional year bouncing from A-ball in Seattle, Washington to the rookie league in Peoria, Arizona He spent most of the year in the rookie level before getting called up for the Everett AquaSox playoff run.

 

In 21 innings pitched, Anderson surrendered just four earned runs in his rookie season for a 1.71 ERA between both teams. He was a key contributor to the Mariners' rookie team winning the Arizona League championship.

 

As is typical for minor leaguers, Anderson finds himself far away from his home in Chicago, Illinois. His living arrangements have varied from host families to hotels.

 

While in Seattle, Anderson stayed with a host family who lived right next to a lake. They even had a jet ski for his amusement. In Peoria, however, Anderson lived in a small Hampton Inn with one roommate. You never know what you're going to get as a minor league ballplayer.

 

"Life has been a whirlwind ever since I got drafted, moving place to place, but it's all been good stuff. It's been fun," Anderson said.

 

On the field, Anderson is working on adding a changeup to his repertoire to compliment his sidearm, frisbee-like slider. He also wants to become more of a multi-inning pitcher next season.

 

Anderson continues to improve each year by adding new wrinkles to his game and flat-out working harder than anyone. He did just that in his four years in Happy Valley, and he hasn't slowed down.

 

At Penn State Anderson improved his ERA and increased his total appearances each year. He closed out his career with the most appearances in Nittany Lion history with 98. His 25 saves is also a school record.

 

Anderson isn't just reliable, though. He was a shut-down closer virtually his entire Penn State career. He didn't allow one home run in college and did the same in his first professional season.

 

"I just think that Jack has really worked hard and understands who he is as a pitcher, and he really relishes that role of pitching to contact and getting ground balls," Cooper said. "If you understand who you are and you don't try to do too much you can have a lot of success."

 

A lot of Anderson's steady improvement over the last few years is a credit to Cooper and pitching coach Brian Anderson. He gives both coaches plenty of praise for his accomplishments in college.

"[Cooper] really pushed the mental game on us," Anderson said. "That was a big time adjustment for me, and I think that the mental game is always going to push baseball players over the edge. He really pushed that on me."

 

With the guidance of Cooper and a strong work ethic, Anderson has a realistic opportunity to climb the ranks in the minor leagues and make a splash for the Mariners.

 

He may not have that special moment of hearing his name called on draft day, but Anderson is living out his lifelong dream of playing professional baseball.

Penn State Alumnus Climbing Minor League Ranks

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Major League Baseball draft is unlike any other in the realm of sports.

 

Roger Goodell calls the names of more than 250 lucky football prospects throughout seven rounds. The NBA draft features just two rounds and 60 total players. There's effectively no margin for error.

 

For the MLB, it's wildly different. Thousands of players every year get the call they've been dreaming of since they could barely fit a glove on their tiny hands.

 

One of those players is Penn State alumnus Johnny Walter, who got that call in 2012. The Kansas City Royals were on the line.

 

Walter was drafted in the 29th round and decided to forgo his senior season in Happy Valley to fulfill his lifelong dream. It was a moment he'll cherish forever, but he knows his journey is only beginning.

 

The minor league system can be a cruel process, knocking you down right when you thought you had a shot to surpass the next hurdle. The multitude of levels and constant traveling can be as taxing on someone as a regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job.

 

It takes years to climb from one level to the next. Just ask Walter.

 

He has played for various teams in four different levels of minor league ball and was released twice in his four years in the system. But he kept fighting.

 

Walter was picked up by the St. Louis Cardinals a full year after being released from the Cincinnati Reds in 2015 and has finally found a home, he says.

 

Walter reached Double-A for the Springfield Cardinals this past summer. He bounced around from Single-A to Double-A and back, but he's currently still with Springfield.

 

"I learned basically my first outing in Double A that they just don't miss fastballs," Walter said. "They're a lot more discipline hitters. It's the biggest jump I've experienced so far from high A to double A."

 

For Walter, the nonstop jumping around from team to team and city to city isn't all that bad. He has relished the opportunity to play in historic places like Lexington, Kentucky for the Royals and Springfield, Missouri for the Cardinals.

 

Throughout his minor league career, Walter has posted a 13-14 record to the tune of a 3.86 ERA. He has struck out 166 batters in 200.2 innings on the hill.

 

Although Walter has made strides to climb the ranks in the minors, he's still working toward achieving his goals off the field. Walter is currently back on campus working toward finishing his degree in supply chain with a minor in MIS.

 

Walter is in the midst of his final semester. It has taken some time because the baseball season eats up a chunk of the school schedule, but Walter is determined to finish what he started six years ago.

 

"I definitely just value my education and I think that's something my parents instilled in me when I was younger, so just to work hard and finish what you start anyway."

 

Failure is not something anyone wants to have in their mind when working toward their dreams, but the harsh reality of the minor leagues puts players in the position to take into account life after baseball.

 

Walter doesn't know when that'll come, but when it does he'll be prepared to lift himself back up and conquer the world from a different perspective.

 

"I definitely know I need a backup plan because even if I'm in the big leagues next year and have a 10-year career, that's just 10 years of your life," Walter said. "And that's a very long career, too, so it's always good to have a backup plan."

 

Walter has been working out with the Penn State team while in town. He can be found in the weight room or studying, sometimes right in the locker room.

 

Head coach Rob Cooper arrived in State College a year after Walter departed for the minors, so he was never able to coach him. Cooper has only been accustomed to Walter through his workouts at Medlar Field and his presence in the locker room in the offseason, but that presence is extremely valued by him and the team.

 

"He does a really good job of talking to [the current players] about what pro ball is like and he's a very determined guy," Cooper said. "I wish I would've gotten to coach him."

 

Cooper has never seen Walter in game action, but simply watching him throw a few bullpens has Cooper optimistic about Walter's future.

 

"He has got a chance," Cooper said. "He has just got to keep going out there when he gets his opportunities and getting it done. If he does that he's got a chance to continue to play."    

Anderson Breaks All-Time Saves Record in Maryland Series

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State (25-20) dropped two of three to Big Ten foe Maryland (24-19) and now rests in seventh place in the conference over the weekend.

In the second game of the series, senior closer Jack Anderson completed a four-out save to place himself among Penn State's all-time elite relief pitchers. The save marked the 23rd of his career, breaking the record for most saves in school history.

"It's an honor to have my name in there," Anderson said. "But I think saves are really more of a team stat and a team record because I wouldn't be put in that position if I didn't have great guys around me. It's kind of a record that I hope is broken fairly shortly because then it would mean we're winning a lot of games and staying really competitive in the near future."

"This is the oldest sport on campus, and he's the all-time saves leader. That's a pretty cool thing," said head coach Rob Cooper.

Anderson has registered a 0.63 ERA this season, which would rank as the lowest in the country if he were qualified. He has pitched 42.2 innings in Penn State's 45 games, but Anderson would need to match his innings total with the team's games played to be qualified for lowest ERA.

In the opening game of the series, Penn State's bats were quieted by Maryland's starting pitcher Mike Shawaryn in a 7-1 loss. Shawaryn pitched a complete game and held PSU to four hits while striking out six.

"It was a well-pitched game by him," Cooper said. "But I thought our guys continued to stay in the game, continued to battle, and we competed. We got to have a short-term memory and turn around tomorrow."

Seemingly the only Nittany Lion to find success against the hard throwing right hander was second baseman Connor Klemann. He ripped a double and a single in his first two at-bats, but PSU couldn't capitalize on either opportunity.

"You got to hit early in the count because when you get late in the count [Shawaryn] mixes it up real good," said Klemann. "The key for that guy was just jumping on stuff early."

Klemann has started only 16 games and has appeared in 21 this season, but he has been productive when he's on the field. The freshman owns a .315 batting average and has totaled 17 hits in his first year.

Nick Riotto and Ryan Sloniger were the only other Nittany Lions to notch hits in the game, and Tyler Kendal provided the team's lone RBI. Riotto, in his first game back from a hand injury that kept him out a few games, also made a full-stretch diving catch in the first inning to save a run.

Taylor Lehman started on the hill for the Blue and White and pitched four innings, giving up three earned runs and five total. Tom Mullin added four innings of relief and held the Terrapins scoreless until an eighth inning homerun.

"I'm so proud of [Mullin]. He pitched his tail off," Cooper said. "He went a big chunk of the season without seeing the mound, and he kept working and kept fighting. He kept us in that game."

Penn State came out with a sense of urgency in game two. It wasn't until the 22nd batter of game one that PSU was able to get a run across. In game two, it only took one batter and one swing.

On the sixth pitch Riotto saw, the junior belted an inside fastball over the right field wall to waste no time getting Penn State on the board. It was his second homerun of the season.

Riotto and Jim Haley led the charge with two hits apiece in game two. They have the highest batting averages among PSU starters in 2016.

It wasn't until the eighth inning when PSU was able to tack on an insurance run, but that was enough to pull out the 2-0 shutout.

Starter Sal Biasi turned in a solid performance to improve his record to 5-4 on the season. Biasi pitched five and two-thirds innings, surrendering four walks but holding the Terps scoreless.

In relief, Dakota Forsyth tallied two innings behind Biasi and Anderson closed the door for the save. It marked Anderson's Big Ten leading 11th save of the season.

Maryland threw the first punch in game three of the weekend series. The Terrapins tallied four runs in the first four innings off PSU starter Justin Hagenman and cruised to an 8-3 victory.

Hagenman suffered only his second loss of the season. He pitched an effective six innings giving up just two earned runs, but a few errors in the early innings and another silent offensive game doomed the Nittany Lions.

Throughout the game, Penn State totaled four errors that led to four unearned runs, but Hagenman still kept PSU in the game. Hagenman has gotten used to dealing with errors all season. Out of the 40 runs he has allowed this year, 18 of them are unearned.

"It doesn't faze him," Cooper said. "He does it the way you want most of your pitchers to do it, like 'Hey you know what, now I got a chance to pick up my infielder.' He's very mature and he understands that's not in his control."

The offense struggled yet again as Maryland starter Brian Shaffer recorded the win, surrendering only four hits and two runs in seven innings of work. Maryland needed just five pitchers the entire series.

The Nittany Lion bats managed just four hits total in game three and five runs in the series. Greg Guers led Penn State with two hits in game three, while James Coates and Willie Burger recorded RBIs.

Burger's two RBIs over the weekend pushed total to 32 on the year. He leads the team in that category even though the freshman missed 15 games due to injury.

The Nittany Lions have five days off to prepare for perennial powerhouse TCU's visit to Happy Valley next weekend. The Horned Frogs stand at 29-11 and are ranked ninth in the country.


Strong Pitching Holds Nittany Lions from a Win

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11904436.jpegBy Michele Jaroszewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State baseball was back at Medlar Field on Wednesday facing Kent State for the second time this season.

The two teams played against each other exactly one week ago at Schoonover Stadium, with the Golden Flashes coming out on top in both games. With a late scoring by the Nittany Lions in the bottom of the eighth, the home team came up short falling 6-2.


The visiting team was first on the board in the top of the third inning, with a RBI single by Mason Mamarella. The centerfielder made the last pitch on a full count matter, cranking the ball into right field. Runner on base Luke Burch made it home after advancing to second on a ball and third on a wild pitch.

Mamarella got the next tally two batters later on a sacrifice fly by third baseman Dylan Rosa.


With four innings down and two runs on the board, Penn State's Eli Nabholz stepped up to the pitcher's mound to relieve starter Nick Hedge. In the top of the fifth, Rosa swung on the second pitch for a two run RBI single passing a diving Jim Haley at shortstop. Teammates Reilly Hawkins and Burch got the tallies making the score 4-0 Kent. 

Pete Schuler was up next, hitting the same spot getting on first base after an infield error by Haley. Zalewski came off of second, picking up speed to make it home for the fifth run of the game. 

Mamarella got his second RBI with a single that resulted in a triple. The batter singled a line driver into right field, later advancing to second then third on a fielding error by James Coates.  Making this the final run for the Golden Flashes in the top of the sixth.

A change in the lineup was in favor of the home team, as relief pitcher Eli Martin started the top of the eighth inning. Haley was first on base finding the sweet spot in centerfield for a single. Tyler Kendall followed shortly after with another hit to left center, advancing Haley to third.

It wasn't until two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week Willie Burger stepped up to the plate to get a pair of runs for the Nittany Lions. The idea of a comeback shook Kent State, bringing in new pitcher Tim Faix for the last batter of the inning.

The Flashes saw three Nittany Lion pitchers in the span of three innings during the latter stages of the game. Nick Distasio came in for relief in the sixth, while Tom Mullin followed shortly after in the seventh, staying until the eighth. The game finished with Tim Scholly stepping in as the fifth and final pitcher for Penn State, holding the opponents until the end.

"We didn't do well getting on base to begin. Got to have opportunities to score runners," said Head Coach Rob Cooper about the teams' performance. "Their guy [Joey Murray] did a good job keeping us off balance."

Coach Cooper said that it was Murray's late life in his curve balls that threw off batters at the plate. Making the players chase for the balls. The winning pitcher had nine strikeouts and allowed four hits. Keeping the Lions of the boards for a sold seven innings.

"It was good, he had two different arm angles," said Tyler Kendall. "I think as a group we kind of let fast balls early and some breaking balls left. We were taking and put us in some holes. We're going to learn from it. Come back tomorrow, practice it, and be ready for the weekend."

As for the many faces at the pitcher's mound for Penn State, Cooper said that it was an initial plan to take Hedge out early in the game and have pitchers like Mullin and Scholly get more playing time.

"We wanted Hedge to get another start. Eli we knew we wanted him to touch the ball..." Cooper said. "We said all along that we got a deep bench and a lot of young guys that haven't as much playing time as they would like. Just trying to get some guys off their feet."

Both Cooper and players noted that Wednesday's game was not their best performance. With four fielding errors, the Nittany Lions are looking to reduce this number when playing Maryland in the next series.

"As a whole it was kind of a sloppy game. They're a good hitting team and they're a great pitching team, spotting them a couple of walks, errors, and some base running errors was not part of our game plan," Kendall said. "But it happens, its baseball. Everybody that made errors tonight is a good player and will come back tomorrow with confidence."

"At the end of the days it comes down to us. Come down to us taking care of ourselves, and it comes down to making sure that we do the things that we need to do," Cooper said. "Pitch well, get ahead of guys, and find a way to score. If we do that, it'll take us up against anything."

The first game of the Maryland series will start Friday at 6:30 p.m. 

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