By Mike Gilbert, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The baseball team's trip to Cuba produced some great moments for a young team on the field. Coach Rob Cooper's club lost to Cuban powerhouse, Industriales, by a 2-1 score in the first game, which is an impressive feat in itself. Then, the team took home the first victory for a United States team at any level over a Cuban National Series team.
"[This win] is something that [our guys] will be able to talk about for the rest of their lives," said Penn State head coach Rob Cooper.
The first game was played against Industriales, a team considered baseball royalty in Cuba. Cooper called them the "New York Yankees of Cuba," on multiple occasions. Pitchers Taylor Lehman and Nick Distasio tossed four innings each and only allowed five hits combined in that span. The Penn State run came in the seventh inning, when centerfielder Austin Riggins was able to drive in designated hitter Nick Riotto.
"Overall, our guys played hard, they competed, and again, you're playing in a foreign country and to have a game like that, I am really proud of our kids," said Cooper.
After the narrow loss to Industriales, the Blue and White took on defending Cuban National Series champion, Ciego de Avila, and were able to hang tough in that game as well. The game, played in Latin American Stadium, featured Victor Garcia, who pitched for Cuba in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. It ended in a 2-0 defeat for the Nittany Lions, who were able to play a team with professional quality pitching very closely.
Game three of the Baseball Friendship Tournament was where the Lions were able to breakthrough for a victory. Riotto drove in three runs with a triple while Christian Helsel went yard to help defeat Mayabeque 9-3. New Jersey native Justin Hagenman threw three innings for the win. In the top of the second inning, Penn State had 13 batters come to the plate.
After the win, the team spent Thanksgiving learning about the history of Cuban sports. They also scrimmaged Industriales in Latin American Stadium, and pitchers from Industriales threw for the Lions, giving them an opportunity to interact in their own dugout with professional players of Cuba's most successful team.
After the victory over Mayabeque, the Lions fell, 15-2, against Matanzas in front of a raucous crowd, who used horns and sirens in the stands. That game really allowed the players and coaches to experience Cuban baseball up close and personal.
Even though Penn State became the first team to ever beat a Cuban National Series team, and were the first American team to play baseball in Cuba since before the Cold War, Cooper and his team aren't satisfied.
"One of the things I think I tried to express to our guys, is as great as that trip was...it was a memorable thing that you'll have for the rest of your lives... I definitely don't want it to be the highlight of the season so we definitely have to learn some of the things we need to get better on," said Cooper.
The most important thing to Cooper regarding how his team performed on the field was seeing how his players responded to the drastic changes of playing games in a different country.
"If you had to ask me I'd say I learned a lot about our guys baseball wise but just learning more about them as people - you never know what guys are going to do when they're put in that type of position, when they're away form their families when they have zero access to the outside world really, so it was like these guys said, it was just each other. To see some guys open up and some guys handle it was pretty cool and hopefully that could springboard us into being a closer team come springtime."
The experience gained by hanging with professional baseball players for four games will help the young team grow just a little faster. But the way the team competed shows fans that Cooper is building something special in Happy Valley.
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By Mike Gilbert, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
By Mike Gilbert, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Certainly, one would expect that taking a trip to Cuba to face some of the proud baseball nation's top professional clubs would make a team much better on the field.
Head coach Rob Cooper knows the trip made his players better on the field, but he nor the players seemed too concerned with the on-field gains of the once in a lifetime trip.
They knew what a special opportunity it was to share their culture with Cubans and gain knowledge of Cuban culture at the same time, and after the trip the focus was on how that experience helped the team grow as people.
"There was an impact that our guys felt from the people of Cuba and from seeing the things that they saw and I feel like our guys representing Penn State, representing their families and as an extension representing the United States of America really made a positive impact on everybody they came in touch with," said Cooper. "...Some of these guys might go into international business someday. Some of these guys might go into politics someday and sit across from somebody, and all these experiences can really help them down the road."
One of the major takeaways that the players shared was the culture shock of going into a totally new place and seeing all the changes that come with traveling internationally to Cuba. Junior Nick Riotto felt an impalpable change as soon as he landed.
"For me it was really leaving the airplane and seeing just a totally new place. Really, it was just seeing the old cars, no real cell phones, no real TVs in the airport, just a conveyor belt, your suitcases and then the outside world," said Riotto.
By extension, seeing the Cuban children and their way of life was a major change for the young men on the team who were kids not too long ago.
"It makes you appreciate the things you take for granted...They take baseballs for gold down there...To them it's a treasure," said Cooper.
To the players, there was so much more than baseball that the Cuban culture could offer them. They learned a lot about the Cuban culture from the experience of playing baseball.
"Baseball is a way for so many of those players to express themselves as individuals because so much of their lives is dictated by their government, but it's a way for them to express themselves and they can be really demonstrative," said Cooper. "I don't mean that negatively, I mean it more as it's a celebration for them a lot of the time. I told [my players] beforehand that you'll see a pitcher throw a bad pitch you'll see the catcher get up and appear to get in an argument with him and they were."
The Cubans take pride in their baseball culture and use it as a form of expression, and that is something the team took away from the trip as well. It was applicable to coach Cooper when he talked about how Americans were outraged during the Major League Baseball playoffs as they saw Jose Bautista aggressively flip his bat after a big home run, but he explained how in different cultures, that is accepted.
"That's just a part of the culture, it's not considered disrespectful to them and in their culture," said Cooper.
The fans were an incredible part of the entire experience. The Lions played the most regarded team in Cuba, the Industriales on one day, and played Industriales' current top rival the next, defending champion and current league leader Ciego de Avila, but played the rival in the Industriales' stadium. That created an amazing rapport between fan bases, as they were having a little competitive fun with other during the game.
"Both fan bases were talking to each other; it was something you have to experience when you're sitting there as a bystander and are watching, and its about pride and their region and that was cool," said Cooper.
The fans treated the games almost as soccer matches, with loud horns and chants in the stands and a lot of positive energy from the fans and the kids watching the games.
"Seeing the look on a kids face when you give him a ball, a T-shirt, a hat, or even a pair of spikes was probably the best experience," said pitcher Tim Scholly. "Making someone else's life better knowing we have so much and they might not have as much as we do was very special.
"...They'd come up to us and say 'Americans', 'baseball team', stuff like that, and they saw us on the news and everything and that was special."
Of course, walking through Old Havana had its perks as well, between its beauty and the interactions with all of the locals.
"All of us going through there [Havana] and seeing everything Cuba had to offer while we're all trying to figure out what these people are trying to say to us and they're trying to figure out what we're saying to them definitely brought us all closer together trying to overcome that," said Riotto.
"The language barrier was pretty tough but we were playing against some of the top talent across the world, and to be able to talk to them about their experiences and about playing baseball and how they truly love the game down there was certainly a great experience for all of us," added Scholly.
Cooper put it all into perspective when reflecting on the nation.
"At the end of the day they're people who love baseball, they're human beings and they're very proud of who they are and their nation and their way of life," said Cooper
It is refreshing to see the deeper meanings and lessons that the baseball team has come back with that can help them become better people, not just better baseball players, and those types of lessons were the first that they brought up when talking about the trip.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion baseball team will have a unique
opportunity during Thanksgiving week when the team will travel for an
educational and athletic trip to Cuba. GoPSUsports.com recently caught up with seniors
Greg Guers and James Coates for their thoughts on the unique experience.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
The Nittany Lion baseball team will have a unique opportunity during
Thanksgiving week when the team will travel for an educational and athletic
trip to Cuba. GoPSUsports.com recently caught up with head coach Rob Cooper to
learn more about the trip.
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).
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just four months into his tenure as commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, Jim Delany recalls an idea brought to the table by former Illinois President Stan Ikenberry.
It was October of 1989 when Ikenberry, who spent time as a senior administrator at Penn State earlier in his career, broached the thought of adding an institution to the Big Ten for the first time since Michigan State was invited to become a member in 1949.
The Big Ten then began a formal research process of an institution that would bridge a Midwestern league to the East.
The Pennsylvania State University was on the table for discussion as a superb academic institution with a rich tradition in athletic success.
Delany, whose sister attended Penn State as a graduate student, didn't need much convincing. He knew the level of potential a partnership between Penn State and the Big Ten could foster.
"The Big Ten hadn't changed in many, many decades, but I thought if the opportunity to expand presented itself it was a no brainer," Delany said earlier this week. "Excellent academics. Excellent athletics. And pointed towards the East Coast, I thought there was a lot of potential there. That was my recommendation at the time."
The process moved forward with the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten institutions discussing the topic before news broke just before the holidays in December of 1989 that Penn State could be on its way into a new conference. Under the direction of athletic director Jim Tarman at the time, Penn State had been competing as an independent in football for more than a century, and the rest of the department had been a member of the Atlantic 10 since 1976.
When the news initially surfaced, women's volleyball head coach Russ Rose, who along with field hockey coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss are the two current Penn State head coaches who were on staff in 1989, was giving a presentation at the annual women's volleyball coaches convention (AVCA) about the importance of NCAA Tournament at-large bids for teams in smaller conferences.
"I remember talking in front of the group about the importance that not all of the at-large bids go to the bigger conferences and that there were good teams in other conferences even though they didn't have the same notoriety, said Rose. "We have a lunch break. I turn on ESPN at lunch, and I see that Penn State is going to be a member of the Big Ten. I come back. I say to some people that I would like to retract what I said about at-large teams."
The formal process concluded with a vote in Iowa City on June 4, 1990, at which time Penn State was officially accepted as a member of the Big Ten Conference. Twenty-five years have passed in a partnership that allowed both the University and conference to reach unprecedented heights on the field and in the classroom.
"From a broad perspective, at the time, my view was that it was a tremendous fit for both sides. And history has proven that," Delany said. "With all the other expansions around the country, I'm not sure there was one that benefitted both institution and conference as much as this did, largely because of the characteristics of Penn State were so well matched with the characteristics of the Big Ten."
The positive news zipped throughout campus shortly after the vote in Iowa.
"I remember hearing about the announcement from Mary Jo Haverbeck, from the Sports Information office," said Morett-Curtiss. "She told me about us going in and how it was going to have a major impact for women's athletics at Penn State."
It was an announcement that changed the landscape of funding and development for all of Penn State's 28 programs at the time, and it was a day Morett-Curtiss remembers quite well.
"Ironically, I had gone for a run that day on the trails near Sunset Park and as I'm running, I see someone walking in front of me and it was Joe Paterno," Morett-Curtiss said. "And it was that day, so I said to him, 'hey what's going to happen?' He said, 'I think this is going to be a really good thing for Penn State and the exposure all of the programs are going to get.'"
The women's volleyball program captured Penn State's first Big Ten title in 1992, marking volleyball's first of 16 conference crowns.
Penn State's teams felt the impact of the Big Ten conference almost immediately.
"What it did for us when we joined the Big Ten is that it No. 1 it resulted in a reassessment of the levels of commitment we had to the various programs," Rose said. "We became fully funded when we joined the Big Ten. Prior to that, we were not fully funded. And we were not fully staffed. Entering Big Ten, collectively, for all of the sports resulted in us having a new commitment from the University to try and be competitive. From a volleyball perspective, we had been competitive prior to that, but playing in the Big Ten in women's volleyball made us better because the level of competition was better than we were experiencing in the Atlantic 10."
At the time, women's volleyball had just one assistant coach on the staff alongside Rose and nine scholarships to field a roster. Joining the Big Ten boosted the program to full funding and 12 scholarships.
"As I look at it now, we could have had some great teams if we had funding in the early years," said Rose. "That was just the way that it was. When you take a job, that is the job you took. When we joined the Big Ten, a lot of us got a better job without having to move. But it's way more competitive. Recruiting is a lot different than what we had experienced in the Atlantic 10."
The same can be said for what Morett-Curtiss experienced within the field hockey program.
"The financial support from a scholarship standpoint was huge right away," said Morett-Curtiss. "And knowing our field that we were going to build was going to be a first rate facility."
The investment for success around the Big Ten stood out during Penn State's transition. Every institution and athletic program strives to be the best. It's a trait that has not changed during the department's 25 years as a member, and it's something that will be a trademark of the Big Ten for decades to come.
"The level of commitment to being good across the conference, everybody cared," said Rose. "I don't believe every conference across the country has that sort of commitment in all of their sports. I think that is one of the things that makes the Big Ten really unique. If they offer it, they care and they want to be relevant."
Penn State's time in the Big Ten has been marked by excellence in the classroom and on the field of play. In all, Penn State's programs have accounted for 92 Big Ten championships from 15 different programs - 76 regular season and 16 post-season. Additionally, more than 170 student-athletes have accounted for nearly 300 individual Big Ten titles.
Penn State student-athletes have earned more than 5,000 Academic All-Big Ten recognitions since it joined the conference, with its three highest totals during the past three years, led by 296 in 2012-13.
"Penn State's entrance into the Big Ten not only changed the intercollegiate sports landscape, it also changed our academic landscape and our future. Our size, our academic reputation and our athletic tradition matched up well with Big Ten schools," said Penn State President Eric Barron, who also noted that all Big Ten schools are flagship universities for their states. "The academic side of the Big Ten is known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and the institutions together have annual research expenditures topping $10.2 billion -- more than the Ivy League and the University of California System combined -- and they educate a total of nearly 600,000 students. The benefits from being part of such an outstanding and prestigious organization with such an expansive footprint across the nation are immeasurable."
The women's volleyball program earned Penn State's first Big Ten crown during the 1992 season, just one year after the team began competing in the league. The title marked the first of Penn State's superlative 16 Big Ten titles in women's volleyball, in addition to seven NCAA Championships since 1999.
Like women's volleyball, the women's soccer program has been a benchmark of success in conference play. The program became the department's 29th varsity sport in 1994. Since then, Penn State has won an unprecedented 16 conference titles, including a string of 15-straight from 1998-2012.
The football program claimed the Big Ten title in its second season of competition during an undefeated Rose Bowl championship campaign in 1994. Coach Joe Paterno's '94 squad became the first Big Ten team to ever post a 12-0 record. The '94 crown marked the program's first of three Big Ten championships to date (2005 and 2008).
The fall season of 2005 stands out as a monumental period in Penn State's history within the conference. Nittany Lion teams clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days. The list included field hockey, football, men's soccer, women's soccer and women's volleyball. Since the fall of 2005, Penn State teams have won 51 Big Ten championships (5.1 titles per year in a 10-year span).
Penn State clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days during the fall of 2005, including one for the women's volleyball team.
It's impossible to quantify how the partnership between Penn State and the Big Ten altered the recruiting landscape for the teams on campus and how the recruiting gains equated to success on the field of play. But pitching a world-renowned education with an elite conference affiliation cultivated relationships with premier student-athletes.
"The name recognition was big for football, but when you see how many of the Universities and programs have been successful on a national level, I think that has greatly helped," Morett-Curtiss. "Exposure for all of the Universities within the conference has helped us all grow. Combining the academic side of what these Universities have with the athletics, it's a very powerful combination when we go out recruiting student-athletes."
A big piece to the exposure of Penn State teams during the past 25 years was the launch of the Big Ten Network on Aug. 30, 2007. More than 800 Penn State sporting events have aired live on the BTN since it launched. The benefits of the conference's TV network, which is in more than 60 million homes, increased visibility across the country for the department in a way that cannot be measured.
"The Network was a major step for us," Morett-Curtiss. "Just having the opportunity to have games on TV so that little girls can watch and learn about the sport. It's helped, not only exposure for the program, but it's helped the sport grow. It's just a phenomenal avenue for us to showcase our University and the sport."
The BTN's impact goes back to what Rose talked about as one of the immediate impacts his program felt - funding. Not only did the BTN infinitely increase exposure for Penn State teams, it has played a paramount role in increased revenues for each institution.
"Certainly, the Big Ten Network has been instrumental in generating funds for the Universities and the conference and the bowl revenue sharing has resulted in more money for all of the schools and the conference," said Rose.
In 2008, Penn State captured its third Big Ten title in football en route to a trip to the Rose Bowl.
While the competitive atmosphere is intense between teams across all of the conference's sports, each member institution understands that the individual success aids in the growth of the collective conference.
"I think the relationship has been a really positive one," said Rose. "There are a lot of similarities between the various Universities."
"Everybody in the Big Ten shares what they do and why they do it; best practices," said Dave Baker, Associate Athletic Director for Business Operations. "We share lots of ideas, at least from the business manager and ticketing perspective. We learn things from one another. And there aren't secrets. We all work together and try to help each other out...We all don't do things the same way. We all have limitations, but we are all looking to help one another out for the betterment of the conference.
"Some people would find it hard to believe that people in the Big Ten root for other Big Ten teams in the postseason, but we do. We follow what is going on...It is a cooperative spirit and a partnership."
Baker is one of just a handful of Penn State administrators and coaches who have been with Intercollegiate Athletics during the past 25 years. That list includes Jan Bortner, who was head coach of the men's tennis team in 1990 and has since transitioned into a role as an associate athletic director. Among the key changes Baker felt from the business operation centered on travel. Bus trips were the norm for Penn State teams in the Atlantic 10, but the geography of the Big Ten led to more plane travel.
A quarter century has passed since initial discussions of a new relationship took place and bonds were formed. Many things have changed significantly for Penn State, the conference and intercollegiate athletics nationwide, but it's been 25 years marked by growth stemming from a vision in 1989.
"Pennsylvania is a very important state. It served as a bridge to the East for us. It made our football offerings stronger," said Delany. "It has been excellence with national championships in a variety of sports. And I have always felt that the 1994 Penn State team was the best team in the country; no disrespect to Nebraska. When you look at the players that team had (five first team All-Americans on offense) and what that group accomplished. That team was the national runner-up. That was a tremendous football team. I've seen some very good basketball teams both on the men's side and the women's side. And obviously, the wrestling and volleyball programs have been dominant on the national scene."
Penn State has won a total of 27 national championships since joining the Big Ten, including three in 2013-14, and the department's collective success speaks for itself.
By no means was the integration in 1990 an easy one, but the partnership between the University and Big Ten is a match that enabled both sides to mutually prosper in a way neither side could have envisioned when the formal vote concluded 25 years ago today.
The wrestling team began a string of four-straight Big Ten titles in March of 2011.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
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."
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