Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
Penn State has won 92 Big Ten titles, including 21 in women's soccer (16 regular season).
Penn State clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days during the fall of 2005, including one for the women's volleyball team.
In 2008, Penn State captured its third Big Ten title in football en route to a trip to the Rose Bowl.
The wrestling team began a string of four-straight Big Ten titles in March of 2011.
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Jack Anderson credits his division one baseball scholarship to Penn State and his success in three seasons in Happy Valley to one thing: his delivery.
If you've ever seen head coach Rob Cooper's right-handed closer pitch, you know exactly why.
Anderson's pitching style places him in a unique group of pitchers, a group that in today's game is very small. They call it "submarine" pitching, but Anderson just calls it normal after deciding to make the pitching style his own during high school.
"My dad always told me my arm slot was dropping every year progressing through little league and then it was my freshman summer of high school playing against another team in the summer and an opposing coach came up to me after the game and said he could make me into a great pitcher," Anderson said. "He had me drop down completely and everything came natural after that since I had been throwing sidearm for so long."
Anderson's natural arm slot has always been a low three-quarters, even when he was a young little leaguer.
When he warms up before practices or games, his arm slot is at that three-quarters release point, but when he steps on the mound it's as low as he can get to the ground before he releases the ball.
"I really want to start high and get lower," he said of his delivery. "I don't want to go down then up then down. I want to keep it one fluid motion and follow through and get behind the baseball."
With a delivery so unique, muscle memory and repetition is the key to consistency. Although, he said he doesn't do many drills that are different from pitchers that throw at a more conventional release point, he does put extra focus on where he releases the ball and which release point works best.
During his time in college, he has been able to find that release point and a place of comfort on the mound.
"Consistency is the biggest key to having the success and being able to repeat that delivery," Anderson said. "Sometimes I think about moving it up a little bit to get more spin but there's never a drastic difference. I'm trying to keep the same arm slot to keep deception with the hitter and then I'm snapping it off at the end to get movement across the zone."
He has experienced with challenging himself with how low he can go before releasing the ball, including during a game early in his career when he dropped down a little too far.
"One time during my freshman year against Iowa I actually scraped my hand on the ground on a pitch and it was bloody and it wasn't pretty," the junior said. "It kind of got in my head a little bit and I couldn't go any lower after that."
Now in his junior season, he has reached a stellar point of consistency as Penn State's closer and most reliable option out of the bullpen. With two Big Ten series left, Anderson boasts a 4-3 record with a 2.59 ERA, 25 strikeouts and opponents hitting just .217 when he's on the mound.
He has appeared in a variety of ways this season, whether it's the conventional three-out save or a long appearance of two to four innings. Cooper said Anderson's confidence is a big reason why he appears in any situation for Penn State.
"From the day I got here he has not been afraid to pitch and hasn't been afraid to take the ball," Cooper said. "Every time he has had the ball the game means something, so when he makes a mistake it's magnified."
Mistakes haven't come often for Anderson and Cooper acknowledged the righty's ability to finish off ball games.
"Mariano Rivera said it perfect it's not that it takes a special guy to get three outs, it takes a special guy to get the last three outs and Jack has done a really good job of that," Cooper said.
For Anderson, though, his success all goes back to his delivery. He doesn't think he would be the closer at Penn State, let alone a division one pitcher without the submarine approach.
"Absolutely not," Anderson said of whether or not he would be a division one pitcher if he threw conventionally.
Furthermore, he can't even imagine pitching a baseball any other way.
"I don't even know if I could," Anderson said. "I've just been throwing submarine for so long I don't even know what throwing differently would look like at this point."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was the best Jim Haley had felt at the plate in a long time.
The Nittany Lions shortstop had just finished off a dominant performance, going 4 for 5 with two singles, a double and a triple during Penn State's 12-10 comeback victory over Rutgers on Saturday. Asked how he felt, the sophomore told it like it was.
"Honestly, today was one of those days I was invincible at the plate," Haley said. "Every time I went to the plate, [my mindset was] I know I'm getting a hit here. I was seeing the ball really well and it worked out well for me."
Haley wasn't the only one feeling that way during the weekend series against the Scarlet Knights. In a three game sweep, Penn State piled up 28 total runs, winning by final scores 8-1, 12-10 and 8-5.
Along the way, the Nittany Lions totaled a whopping 37 hits, including an astounding 18 on Saturday as they overcame an early 9-1 deficit to claim an improbable victory that clinched the series.
That win came after a comfortable 8-1 victory Friday night. On Sunday, the Lions saw an early 2-0 lead slip away yet battled back multiple times to clinch the sweep with an 8-5 win.
According to head coach Rob Cooper, the key to the offensive explosion was staying patient and not getting frustrated after last weekend's setbacks to Big Ten leading Illinois.
"Last year we would have had a series like Illinois where we had great at-bats but nothing to show for it and guys would have gone away from their approach," Cooper said. "This year, guys are more mature, and they said we're going to take the same approach and have something to show for it."
While the Lions had multiple standout performers, the star of the weekend really was Haley, who put together the best series of his still young career. The 6-foot-2 shortstop hit .538 over the course of the weekend and raised his season average from .278 to .299.
He also produced while hitting in multiple spots in the lineup. After hitting cleanup like usual during his banner day on Saturday, Cooper moved him up to second on Sunday. The Philadelphia area native responded by going 2 for 4 with an RBI and three runs scored.
"It was weird today, I was a little messed up in the head," Haley said with a smile on Sunday. "But I didn't mind it. I'll hit first, second, third, fourth, wherever."
But Haley wasn't the only Penn State hitter to thrive despite being moved around in the order. Greg Guers also continued his season-long power onslaught while hitting in two different spots.
On Friday, the 6-foot-3 outfielder ripped his seventh home run of the season while batting second as usual. With leadoff hitter James Coates getting a day off on Sunday however, the slugger was moved to the top of order and started the afternoon off with a monster blast to right field in the first inning.
Overall, Guers hit .417 and drove in six RBIs over the weekend. He is now hitting .291 on the season and is leading the Lions in home runs (eight) and RBIs (37).
"I think everybody had a feeling he was going to hit a home run [on Sunday]," senior Aaron Novak said. "It looks pretty effortless for him up there."
Yes, it certainly does look easy for Guers right now. But what impressed his coach the most was not his two home runs, but the bunt he laid down to advance a runner in the eight inning on Sunday.
For Cooper, Guers and Haley are two players that have benefited not only from hard work and coaching, but also their willingness to fill any role.
"I knew we were going to give Coates the day off, so then it's a matter of lets get Guers up as many times as possible," Cooper said. "He's locked in right now. It's really important because he hits a home run, hits line drives throughout the game and then gets a big bunt down, that's a complete offensive player.
"Haley's really stating to stay inside the ball a bit more. It's a testament to him and his approach but also to [hitting coach Ross] coach Oeder and the fact that he continues to work with these guys."
Still, they weren't only players to shine against the Scarlet Knights. Novak raised his season average to .346 with a two-hit day on Sunday while Tyler Kendall also went 2 for 4 with two RBIs in the final game.
It was a team effort, something that the Nittany Lions will look to continue during their final two regular season series. The Blue and White are 16-13 since March 17 and still looking to improve.
"We're just staying consistent with our approach," Novak said. "Nobody's trying to do too much, just trying to stay inside the ball and it's paid off. We're hitting balls hard."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Watching college kids graduate is nothing new to Rob Cooper.
After all, the Nittany Lions' head coach is in his 11th season at the helm of a college program, after working as an assistant for more than a decade. In that time, Cooper, like every college coach, has said goodbye to a different group of young men every spring.
Still, it's a process that never gets any easier for him. With Penn State's final home series of the season this weekend against Rutgers, the old emotions are already coming back for the skipper.
senior days really hard," Cooper said. "I know number one, how tough it is to
do something your whole life and then you're no longer playing baseball,
something every spring you've gotten ready to do. I'm sensitive to that but I'm
also sensitive to the fact that these guys, although they choose to, have given
up a lot of time and energy and it directly impacts me and my family. So I want
to them go out on a good note."
On one hand, this current group of eight Nittany Lion seniors may seem like any other graduating class. At the same time, Cooper will always remember this group fondly for helping him adjust to Penn State.
When Cooper accepted the head coaching job at Penn State two years ago after nine seasons at Wright State, it was clear the Nittany Lions were in a rebuilding phase. Cooper accepted the challenge from day one, yet it was still nice for the coach to have players who embraced his style.
crop of seniors, which consisted of nine guys, went a long way in helping
Cooper implement the culture the coach wanted at Penn State. But this year's
crew has been just as responsive.
"That group was very welcoming to me when I got the job," Cooper said. "Even though maybe on record it doesn't show that we've made progress, it's definitely night and day compared to when I got here and that's a testament to them."
The players feel just as strongly about their coach as he feels about them. When Cooper arrived after their sophomore seasons, many of them were still raw players just scratching the surface of their abilities.
Now, they've come a long way in reaching their potential. While the Nittany Lions are still in the process of becoming contenders in the Big Ten, they've played .500 ball in their last 26 games in part because of the efforts of the senior class.
Two seniors that exemplify the improvements that the team has made the past two seasons are second baseman Taylor Skerpon and right fielder Aaron Novak.
Before Cooper arrived in 2013, Skerpon was a talented shortstop that struggled with consistency and Novak was merely part of a mix of outfielders competing for playing time. Now, Skerpon is arguably the team's best defender at second while Novak has been the club's top hitter, leading the team in average (.331) and on-base percentage (.406) while ranking second in home runs (four) and RBIs (22).
"Coach Cooper has gotten me to consistently play the game the right way all the time, whether it's sprinting on and off the field in between innings or always running down the baseline hard," Skerpon said. "Just being a great guy. He's fun to be around and play for."
This group of seniors, which also includes infielders Ryky Smith and J.J. White, outfielder Ryan Richter, and pitchers Geoff Boylston, Ryan Harper, and Patton Taylor, has also grown closer with their teammates these past two years.
Novak said that although there used to be a bit of a disconnect between the older players and the younger ones, that is no longer the case.
"As a team, during [Cooper's] time here we became much closer," Novak said. "From the freshmen to seniors, we're all amazing friends and we've developed much closer relationships then we had in the past. There used to be this kind of divide between the freshman and the seniors and these past two years it wasn't at all like that so we're a much more cohesive team."
"It's just like having seven other brothers, and truly meaning brothers," Skerpon added. "We know how each other act, what can tweak somebody a little bit just to mess with them. But it's been amazing. I couldn't ask for better guys to have four years with."
Like most college seniors, Skerpon and Novak aren't trying to think too much about their careers winding down. While the inevitable will soon become reality, the pair is trying to take advantage of the time they have left.
"I try not
to dwell on it too much because you know it's coming up," Novak said. "I guess
it's got to end so you've got to deal with it somehow."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It only takes one swing to break out of a slump, something that Ryky Smith can attest to after Wednesday night.
The senior infielder went into a midweek contest against Pittsburgh on the bench after going hitless in his prior 24 at-bats. With the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth however, it was his bat that the Nittany Lions needed.
Smith came to the plate with the score tied 7-7 and runners on the corners with one out. The situation called for a hit-and-run, and Smith executed it perfectly, slapping a grounder that shortstop Ron Sherman wasn't able to make a play on before Jim Haley crossed the plate with the winning run.
Apart from giving Penn State a thrilling 8-7 win, the play also went a long way in getting Smith his confidence back.
"I hadn't had a hit in a while, that's for sure," Smith said. "The thing going through my mind was, it's about time you get it done.
"[Head Coach Rob] Cooper put on a hit-and-run, all I have to right there is hit a ground ball and we win the game. So I made it a point to hit that ball on the ground no mater what."
In the clubhouse afterwards, Smith barely had a chance to finish his statement when Haley snuck up from behind and rubbed a celebratory shaving cream pie in his face. As his teammates looked on and laughed, the 5-foot-10 infielder couldn't help but smile.
"Anyway, now that that's over, jeez," Smith said as he wiped his face. "As soon as I hit the ball I knew they weren't turning a double play and the game was probably over."
While it's far from the hardest ball that the York, Pennsylvania, native, has ever hit, it may wind up as his most memorable. It came at a good time too, with his senior season winding down.
Easily one of Penn State's scrappiest players, Smith started the year on fire, hitting over .300 for most of the first two months of the season. Despite his recent slump, he's remained a versatile defender capable playing second and third base, and Cooper was pleased to see him get a moment in the spotlight.
"He's a good college player, but he's one of those guys you wish was loaded with talent because he would make the most of it," Cooper said. "He wouldn't be a guy who wouldn't work at it or take it serious, because that's not the way he plays, so it was good to see him do that."
Going into the ninth with a 7-5 lead, the Lions didn't appear to need their half of the inning to win. The Panthers battled back however, scoring two runs on three hits to set up the dramatic finish.
Before Smith delivered his game-winning infield hit, Haley and center fielder Ryan Richter started the inning with singles of their own. In a game in which Penn State registered 15 hits, all but one were singles.
Oh, but what a hit that one non-single was. In the bottom of the eighth with the Lions clinging to a 6-5 lead, left fielder Greg Guers ripped his sixth home run of the season on a solo shot that gave the Lions an important insurance run.
"Our guys made adjustments from at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch and
the best example is Guers' home run," Cooper said. "He laid off a breaking ball
down in the dirt and when he didn't swing at that, the pitcher for them
realizes, 'He's not going to chase that, what am I going to do here.' Usually
you have an approach like that, you get a lot of hits."
The win gave Penn State a 2-0 record against Pittsburgh this season,
following a 6-1 win in 12 innings on March 17. While the Lions don't mind extra
innings, they're glad they won this one in a timely fashion.
"When Penn State plays Pitt, people are going to want to beat each other," Cooper said. "Last time it was 40 degrees colder than it was tonight, but I've always said I'll play as many innings as it takes as long as we win."
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
With the No. 8 team in the country visiting Medlar Field at Lubrano Park this weekend and after a 10-1 setback in the series' first game, Penn State battled and nearly came up with an upset victory over the team with the conference's best record.
While head coach Rob Cooper hasn't backed away from the fact that he wants his team to win games, he knows that Saturday's 15-inning 4-2 loss and Sunday's 6-3 loss are games with a few takeaway points to build on moving forward.
"I thought our guys competed and battled," Cooper said. "When you're trying to build a program you look for things like that. Illinois is a team that's probably going to host a regional and be a national seed."
On Saturday Penn State took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning after seven shutout innings from freshman Taylor Lehman. With the Nittany Lions just six outs away from the result, the Illini bats came alive to take a 2-1 lead. Then, just as the upset seemed out of reach, Penn State came right back and tied the game in the ninth on a Taylor Skerpon RBI double.
Then, after six extra innings, the Illini broke through to take the lead in the top of the final inning to get the win. Cooper noted how his team battled in the series' final two-games are what he wants to see.
"For us to have a chance to win Saturday and be in that game all day today like we did it shows that our guys won't quit and we're building toward the right things," he said.
In building toward the right things, freshmen are going to be a big part of that. While the Nittany Lions have a strong group of upperclassmen, younger players are now working into becoming key parts of the Penn State lineup.
One player, freshman catcher Nick Graham, caught the eye of his upperclassmen teammates after going 3-for-6 with two runs scored between the final two games of the series.
"He was great," redshirt junior Greg Guers said. "Their pitching staff is pretty good and he battled all day and had two doubles and did a great job behind the plate too. It was great seeing him have success against one of the top pitching staffs around."
"He's only a freshman too and he's came a long way since the beginning of the year and has been putting some great at bats together," senior Aaron Novak said.
Cooper agreed that the play of Graham and a few other freshmen namely those in the pitching staff or bullpen has been promising, but the team as a whole still has a few areas they need to clean up.
One of which is limiting free bases for opponents.
"We have to clean up some things as far as playing the games," Cooper said. "We walked or hit nine guys and even though none of them scored, after the seventh inning we had thrown 142 pitches and they had thrown 97. You're working almost twice as hard just to stay in the game."
Secondly, even though the team was hitting the ball hard Saturday and Sunday, Cooper still knows his team has the ability to come up with runs with runners on.
"We have to find a way to break through with runners in scoring position," Cooper said. "We hit the ball on the nose but had nothing to show for it. With bases loaded Jimmy Haley hit the ball on the screws, but we have to find a way to push one of those through."
With just three Big Ten series remaining, Cooper said his team could have given up on the season, but it's clear they have not. Novak noted there was never a point in the weekend where he and his teammates thought they were not in the game, even against a stout Illini club.
"We are just trying to keep our heads up," Novak said. "We are just trying to finish as strong as possible and we are confident in our abilities that hasn't changed so we are going to play until the end."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
KENT, Ohio. - There are some nights in baseball when runs are just hard to come by. Tuesday, however, was not one of those games for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions entered a midweek contest at Kent State having averaged just shy of nine runs in their 12 wins this season. Against the Flashes, it took them just one inning to reach that exact total, as they blew open the doors with nine in the first on their way to a convincing 15-5 win.
Not only did the game get the Lions back on track after three loses against Minnesota over the weekend, it also evened their season series with the Flashes, who topped Penn State 9-7 on April 1.
"Obviously Kent State is a good team and they play us hard," head coach Rob Cooper said. "It's good to see our guys get of to a good start after a tough weekend and put it behind us. I'm proud of our guys and we got on them early and it was great to see."
Right from the jump, the key for the Lions was being patient at the plate. After loading the bases with walks from James Coates and Greg Guers and a hit-by-pitch by Aaron Novak to start things off, Penn State got on the board when Jim Haley also worked a walk off pitcher John Birkbeck.
First baseman J.J. White then ripped a double that scored two and ended Birkbeck's evening before the junior recorded an out. While the score was already 3-0, it was just the beginning for the Lions.
Using timely hitting and taking advantage of three Kent State errors, the Lions batted around and tacked on six more runs in the inning. Taylor Skerpon, Coates and Novak all registered RBI hits after Ryan Richter drove in two on a grounder that resulted in a throwing error by second baseman Tim Dalporto.
"You know, it helped out that their pitcher struggled and hit and walked some guys, but as hitters we did a good job of not chasing and when they threw a good pitch not trying to do too much, just putting a good swing on the ball," Cooper said. "And we also created some offense because we ran the bases aggressive which forced them into making some bad throws."
In the first inning alone, the Lions scored more runs than they did in seven of their wins this season. Still, the Flashes didn't go away quietly, battling back with one in the first and three in the third to cut Penn State's lead to 9-4.
That proved to just be a bump in the road for the Lions, as they scored five runs between the fifth and the seventh and tacked on another in the ninth to complete the rout.
Although nine Nittany Lions registered at least one hit, the two players who really stood out were senior second baseman Taylor Skerpon and sophomore outfielder Nick Riotto.
Skerpon, better known for his glove than his bat, was on fire all night and finished 4 for 5 with a double and two RBIs. Riotto on the hand, made the most of his one at-bat as a pinch hitter by slamming his first career home run with a two-run shot in the seventh.
"It's good to see [Taylor] swinging the bat well," Cooper said. "He had some good at-bats against Minnesota, but I felt like he's been putting too much pressure on himself and trying to do too much since it's his last year. He did a great job tonight.
"That's something we feel [Riotto] can do. We've just been trying to have him use his lower half to get barrel on ball. It's not about hitting home runs but to me that wasn't a surprise to see him do that."
As much as offense ruled the day for the Nittany Lions, they did get a great performance out of the bullpen from Dakota Forsyth, who went five innings and gave up just one run and one hit.
The Lions will need more performances like that this weekend, when they face Illinois, the top team in the Big Ten and the No. 8 team in the country.
"[Forsyth's performance] was huge, you don't really realize, that in that game with the wind blowing out you need a pitcher who isn't afraid to start bats," Cooper said. "When the game was 9-4 for him to come in and sure things up, well that was really big for us. "