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Guers Goes Deep Twice for Lions in Loss to Kent State

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10957345.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's not everyday you see a ball clear the fence at Medlar Field.

Dating back to last year season, only one Nittany Lion had managed to pull the feat off. On Wednesday night against Kent State, however, that same player made hitting a home run there look as easy as poking a single.

In a game that the Lions would eventually drop, 9-7, junior slugger Greg Guers put on a show, knocking two pitches for home runs over the right field wall.

It was the second game in his Penn State career that Guers had homered at the team's home stadium. Still, the 6-foot-3 slugger kept things in perspective afterwards.

"It feels good but we lost so it doesn't feel that good," Guers said. "It's alright. I was just looking for pitches I can handle, luckily got two good swings off of them."

Guers may not have talked about himself much, but he really didn't need to. His teammates and head coaches were happy to take care of that for him.

While home runs may not be a typical part of the Nittany Lions' offensive arsenal (they entered Wednesday with four on the season), nobody in Penn State's dugout was surprised when either of Guers' shots cleared the fence. After all, the junior outfielder hit two home runs last year, including one at Medlar on May 16 against Michigan State.

"It's definitely exciting," senior third baseman Ryky Smith said. "A game like today, you're treading water, trying to stay into the game, and when somebody comes up with a huge hit like that it's definitely uplifting in the dugout.

"We all know he has the potential to do it. Tonight he was putting good swings on balls and it clicked for him. It's a ticking time bomb I think. You see the swing, you see it day in and day out on the batting cages so it's not all that much a surprise to me when he goes out and hits two home runs in a game."

Guers' first blast came in the bottom of the fifth inning, with Smith and Alex Malinsky on base and the Blue and White trailing the Flashes 4-1. With the Lions needing to stage a comeback, the right fielder ripped a curveball on a 1-2 pitch from Jared Skolnicki into the middle of the right field bleachers that tied the game and seemed to inject life into his teammates.

Later, with Kent State having taken a four-run lead into the bottom of the ninth, the Langhorne, Pennsylvania, native once again boosted Penn State's morale, taking Josh Pierce deep on the first pitch to the same spot in right field to cut the Flashes' lead to two.

Ultimately, the Lions would come up short. But the game was still marked continued progress for the junior, who raised his average from .242 to .253 with those two hits and is now tied for second on the team in RBIs with 16.

More importantly, it continued Guers' recent stretch of clutch play. A week ago against Villanova, he hit a bases-clearing double in the bottom of the eighth that led to a 5-2 win.

"The guy's been having unbelievable at-bats," head coach Rob Cooper said. "He's been having grinding, competitive at-bats, hitting balls hard at people. And it was nice to see him get rewarded for those approaches. The ball he hit, hanging breaking ball, to tie the game up was an absolute bomb. He's come a long way. Just the threat of him being able to do that, if you give him pitches to hit, that's all we need."

Although it was not the desired outcome, the Nittany Lions still finish their recent eight game homestand with a 6-2 record. With an important series coming up this weekend on the road against Ohio State, Penn State will look to get back to the fundamentals that helped them succeed at home.

"We've got to have a great practice tomorrow but we would have had to have had a great practice regardless," Cooper said. "We've got to make sue we address why this game came out the way it did." 

Lions Complete Strong Week With Weekend Sweep

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By Mike Esse, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Rob Cooper knows his team's season won't be defined by one game, one series or one week. But, he also knows that his team's season can be moved in the right direction after one game, one series or one week.

Penn State had a weekend just like that as they swept Central Connecticut State, marking the program's first home series sweep since May of 2012 against Illinois.

"I'm just really proud of our guys this weekend," Cooper said. "It was something we challenged them with was that since I've been here we haven't had a true sweep. Our guys really wanted to go and get that and we did a heck of a job."

The Nittany Lions outscored the Blue Devils 22-6 on the weekend and received three promising starts from starting pitchers Nick Hedge, Taylor Lehman and Nick Distasio. Two of those players, Lehman and Distasio are a part of a cluster of freshman that have contributed all season, including in big ways this weekend. 

Lehman gave up one hit in seven innings in game one of the Sunday double header striking out eight and walking just two. Biasi came in relief for the final two innings allowing just one hit and striking out three. Distasio followed their performance allowing four hits in six innings while striking out five. Both starters received their first career wins, as well. 

"One thing that's been cool, whether it's been both of those guys or Nick Graham, Marko Boricich or Sal Biasi, you have some true freshman that are making an impact and doing some neat things," Cooper said. "Mixing them in with the veterans is a neat deal."

Penn State's veterans certainly matched the performance of its younger players over the weekend, especially offensively. Seniors Ryky Smith and Aaron Novak combined for 14 hits and seven RBI on the weekend leading Penn State's offensive attack, much to the liking of their starting pitchers. 

"It was a great feeling having these guys behind me getting a lot of runs on the board because it's a lot easier to pitch when you are up that big," Distasio said.

Novak, now hitting .390 on the season with four doubles, three home runs and 18 RBI, is perhaps a microcosm of this Nittany Lion team. He's a player that saw regular playing time in his first two seasons at Penn State, then was mainly a defensive replacement his junior season and wasn't a starter to begin his senior season. But, those roadblocks didn't stop him from beginning 2015 with a monster campaign.

"It's awesome," Cooper said of Novak's hitting. "That's self-made because at the beginning of the year he wasn't in the starting lineup and we told him what we needed to do to get in there.

A guy can make one of two choices and say 'this is coach's fault that I'm not playing' or he can say 'this is what I need to do to get in the lineup every day' and he did. His approaches and his swings and the way he's slowing the game down offensively is pretty fun to watch."

Novak currently is top-five in the Big Ten in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage through 22 games.

Just like Novak, Penn State as a whole has recently taken a rather undesirable start to the season and begun to turn it back in the right direction. Now winners of seven of their last eight, wins are coming more consistently, but Cooper stressed that they still have a lot of work to do.

"There are so many things that we need to clean up still," he said. "We're not perfect, we've just been winning some games."

With that said though, Cooper won't deny that there has been a difference in the way his team has been playing over the past few weeks. 

"It's been making that choice to play hard and compete every day," Cooper said. "I want to stress how hard we are playing and our competitive spirit. Our play has been something really fun to be around."

Penn State will be back at Meldar Field at Lubrano Park for two home games this week against Binghamton and Kent State with both games set for a 6:30 first pitch on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

Baseball Ready for First True Weekend Home Series

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By Mike Esse, Student Staff Writer

After a dramatic 5-2 win over Villanova Wednesday, Penn State continues its 10-game home stand Friday night with a three-game set against Central Connecticut State. 

This will be the first true three-game home series of the season after last weekend's Big Ten clash with Indiana was shortened to a Sunday double header due to weather. Penn State head coach Rob Cooper and his squad are looking forward to (hopefully) having a full weekend series at home.

"I love playing at home and I love playing at Medlar Field and just want to get after it Friday," Cooper said.

Penn State, winners of four of its last five, has begun to string together wins since returning from road trips down south in the late winter and early spring.

It's been late game comebacks in the past few wins for Penn State, something that Cooper is proud of his team for.

"Being able to not think it's the end of the world when another team gets ahead and know that you have the ability to come back and bring the next guy up.," he said. "It's something as a program you have to learn how to do if you want to be really good."

Another big reason why wins have started to turn in favor of Penn State, is the Nittany Lion bullpen, which had another big night on Wednesday. Led by junior Jack Anderson, the bullpen has turned in 28 2/3 innings with an ERA of 1.26 and collecting 27 strikeouts to 16 hits in their last five games.

Especially as the weather still doesn't favor pitcher's ability to have longer outings, having multiple reliable relievers has been a luxury for the Nittany Lions. Freshman Sal Biasi has hit the ground running in his first season at Penn State. Biasi has posted a 2.35 ERA in 15 1/3 innings with 16 strikeouts.

Biasi is a perfect example of what Cooper wants from freshman when they first enter the program. 

"We tell guys when we recruit them, 'I don't want you guys waiting around until you're a sophomore or just try to make the travel roster, I want you to come in and be the guy,'" Cooper said. "A guy like Sal, Marco, Lehman and those guy shave tried to come in and make an impact. It allows us to say 'yeah this is who we need to use here.' (Biasi) has earned that right." 

Looking ahead to Central Connecticut this weekend, Cooper said upon looking at CCSU the Nittany Lions have a tough task ahead against a strong program out of the Northeastern Conference.

"They're a very well coached team," Cooper said. "Coach (Charlie) Hickey does an unbelievable job. They're usually a team that fights for a conference championship and has played in a regional before. It will be a heck of a test." 

The series begins Friday at 5:30, with Saturday's game at 1:00 and Sunday's slated for noon. 

Guers' Double Sparks Nittany Lions Win Over Villanova

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9913558.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Even on a tough night at the plate, Greg Guers couldn't help but feel he was due for a hit.

It was the eighth inning of the Penn State baseball team's contest against Villanova, and the junior was 0-3 on the evening. Still, he found himself in a situation every batter dreams of; tie game, bases loaded, two outs.

"I was trying to get a pitch I could handle," Guers said. "We do a lot of mental game preparation, with confidence and staying with things. Even though I was 0-3, I thought, 'I'm in the biggest spot of the game right now I've got to contribute to the team.'"

After fouling off pitch after pitch, Guers finally saw a ball he liked on a 1-2 count and drove a shot to the right center gap for a double that cleared the bases and gave the Lions an eventual 5-2 win and their third victory in the past four games.

On a night in which Penn State's pitchers shined throughout, Guers gave the offense a much needed boost as the Lions threatened multiple times earlier in the game but stranded 10 runners on base.

In a way, it was fitting that Guers delivered the winning hit. Dating back to last season, the Langhorne, Pennsylvania native, has been counted on as a lynchpin in the lineup, hitting third or fourth last year and currently batting second.

While Cooper has always felt Guers is one of the most talented hitters the Nittany Lions have, he believes the designated hitter and outfielder has turned a corner since last season by improving his mental approach.

"Unbelievable, and what's really awesome about it is last year at this time he wouldn't have been able to do that," Cooper said. "He'll be the first one to tell you, he's really made a choice mentally to battle and fight and compete. I had just gotten done writing down, 'that's an unbelievable at-bat,' and he smokes a ball. Big time at-bat."

It was the second-straight game that Nittany Lions broke out offensively towards the end of the game, as they used a two huge innings in the seventh and eighth to beat Indiana 13-7 on Sunday. This time around, James Coates walked, Ryan Richter poked a single up the middle and Alex Malinsky blooped a fly ball that the right fielder couldn't catch to set up Guers at-bat.

According to Guers, the Lions were calm entering their half of the eight, yet still determined to get a run across after watching pitchers Geoff Boylston and Jack Anderson battle all night.

"We had a lot of situations to score guys today and we didn't do that but I think everyone has confidence in whoever comes to the plate in that situation," Guers said. "I was just lucky to be that guy. The dugout's fine and the dugout's pumped up for anyone in that situation.

"They've been pitching well the past week or two, so today it was great to get them a win again. We're confident in them and they're confident in us."

The Nittany Lions pitchers certainly have been on form since the team returned home last Wednesday against Canisius. Similar to that game, it was Boylston who held down the fort, even if things weren't as smooth this time.

A week after he struck out a career high eight batters in an 11-1 win over the Golden Griffins, the senior put down just three batters against the Wildcats. Regardless, he battled for 5 1/3 innings and gave up just two runs, one of them unearned.

From there, Anderson entered and looked dominant, giving up just one hit in 2 2/3 scoreless innings before freshman Sal Biasi picked up the save in the ninth.

"When you have those two guys, they're great pitchers," Boylston said of Anderson and Biasi. "Jack you see time and time again gets it done. I never had a doubt in my mind and Sal's a great arm too. There's never worry when those guys are in."

It may not have been the prettiest win, but it was a win regardless. The Lions are now 3-1 since retuning home, and Cooper said he is impressed with the fight his team has shown recently.

"We could have played better defense, could have pitched better could have hit better," Cooper said. "But to their credit, they made the choice and battled back into it and fought." 

Lions on the Diamond: Biasi Impressing Early On

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10891093.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On a pitching staff loaded with young arms, it hasn't taken long for reliever Sal Biasi to stand out for the Penn State baseball team.

The freshman reliever has appeared seven times in the Nittany Lion's first 18 games, putting up a 2.51 ERA and registering 15 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings so far in his first season of college ball.

On Sunday against No. 21 Indiana, the right-hander gave the best performance of his young career, striking out six batters and giving up just one hit while throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings in a 5-4 extra inning loss to the Hoosiers.

While Penn State came up short, Biasi's ability to throw multiple innings (he entered in the eighth and finished off the 11th) helped the Lions save their bullpen for the second game of a double header, a thrilling 13-7 victory.

"Our first game Sunday, because of how well [the staff] pitched, we were able to keep our bullpen intact," head coach Rob Cooper said. "I think [Sal] understands the college game a little bit and understanding he doesn't have to change. We recruited him for a reason. Understanding that he doesn't have to change how he goes about things it's just continuing to get better at it. He's not afraid to go after guys and compete."

The Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Biasi said that the biggest adjustment he had make when coming to college was learning how to pitch. A star pitcher and batter at Hazleton High School in Barre, Pennsylvania, Biasi got by mostly on talent until he started working with Penn State pitching coach Brian Anderson.

So far, Anderson has stressed to Biasi the importance of placement, as well as knowing what situations work best for specific pitches.

"Learning more about pitching and location and throwing different pitches," Biasi said. "How to get guys off balance and what they're looking for in counts and how to attack them."

Although he's always been familiar with Penn State having grown up less than two hours away, Biasi said what enticed him the most about the Nittany Lions was being able to play for Cooper and having the chance to make an impact right away.

A natural competitor, the freshman relishes getting the ball in big spots, and he's glad he's on a team not afraid to put him on the mound in those situations.

"I love being a competitor and going out and facing the best guys," Biasi said. "I wanted to have an opportunity to pitch right away, so I came here and got after it as much as I could."

Nittany Lions Shock No. 21 Indiana With Late-Game Rally

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10925017.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Entering Sunday's doubleheader against Indiana, the members of the Penn State baseball team were as anxious to get on the field as they'd been in a long time.

Not just because their scheduled games on Friday and Saturday had been postponed because of snow. A year after being swept by the Hoosiers at home by scores of 10-0, 8-1 and 9-2, the Nittany Lions were determined to prove they could compete with the Big Ten's elite.

They knew they still wouldn't be expected to win. They knew Indiana was the No. 21 team in the country and arguably the best team in the conference.

None of that mattered to them. After battling Indiana for 12 innings in a 5-4 loss, the Nittany Lions used back-to-back thrilling innings in the seventh and eight to come back from down seven and beat the Hoosiers 13-7 in the afternoon's second game.

"I think last year at this time, our guys didn't think they were at the same level," head coach Rob Cooper said. "I think today, our guys feel like they're at the same level. I think that's the difference. They still have a lot of guys who've been to Omaha (the College World Series) so that's a good club."

After a draining first game, things started off rough for the Lions in the second contest. The Hoosiers scored twice in the first inning and tacked on five more runs to take a 7-0 lead in the fourth.

Still, the Lions never checked out of the game mentally. They scored once in the fourth and again in the sixth to cut the lead to 7-2 and set up the ensuing madness of the next two innings.

As if a switch had been flipped, the seventh inning started and the Lions couldn't make an out. Five batters would reach base on two hits and three errors as Penn State scored four runs to cut the lead to 7-6.

That was just the beginning of the excitement however. In the eighth, the Blue and White would load the bases on singles by Taylor Skerpon and Greg Guers and an intentional walk to Aaron Novak before sophomore shortstop Jim Haley cleared them with a blast to the left field fence for a triple despite having an 0-2 count against him.

"My mindset? Hit a ball like I did," Haley said with a smile. "I wasn't trying to do too much I was just trying to push a run across and he left a fastball over the pate and I took advantage of it."

By the time the dust had cleared, the Lions were entering the ninth inning with a six run lead. On an afternoon in which the Lions' bullpen was terrific in both games, Tom Mullin tossed his third scoreless inning to finish off the game and give Penn State their third win in four games.

Asked what he believed the turning point off the game was, Cooper said it was when the Lions answered a four-run Indiana fourth inning with a run of their own. While, it only made the score 7-1, the second year coach said it proved his club was still invested in winning.

"Man if I knew where that switch was I'd flip it a lot earlier," Cooper said. "It was 7-1 and our guys understood, we have to keep playing and they did. The game of baseball, man, it's a crazy game.

Penn State's first conference win of the year was played right after the first game, in which the Lions came up just short despite a terrific overall game from their pitching staff.

Starter Nick Hedge weathered a storm during a second inning in which two of the four runs he allowed were unearned, and still managed to go a total of 5 2/3 innings without giving up any more damage. Then, junior Jack Anderson and freshman Sal Biasi combined to throw 5 1/3 scoreless innings to keep the score knotted into extra innings.

Although the Hoosiers ended up tacking on a run in the 12th off of Nick Distastio, it was a very encouraging performance from a young pitching staff. In particular, Biaisi looked dominant in his seventh career appearance, striking out six batters (including five in a row) in 3 1/3 innings of work.

"Unbelievable," Cooper said. "Our guys in the first game pitched their tails off and gave us a chance to win. But if they don't pitch like that, we have no chance to win the second game because we blow our bullpen."

Now in his second year at Penn State, Cooper had already gotten the players to by into his program, but he was still looking for a signature win before Sunday. With the Lions beating a ranked opponent for the first time since April of 2012 however, he knows that his team is improving.

"I rank today up there, if not at the top because of their choice to compete," Cooper said. "I said after the first game, I said, 'guys, that's the first time since I've been here that I felt like you guys felt you were as good as anybody.' I could feel it. So that's why it ranks up." 

Baseball Looks to Continue Wednesday's Early Scoring

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By Mike Esse, Student Staff Writer

Heading into Wednesday's midweek clash with Canisius, Penn State baseball was focused on producing runs and producing them early. Why? Well, one reason was to avoid another 12-inning game like they had the night prior with Pittsburgh. Another reason, prior to Wednesday Penn State had scored just two runs in the first inning all season long.

Those numbers drastically changed against the Golden Griffins in the Nittany Lions' home opener. After Canisius got on the board first with one run in the top of the inning, Penn State piled home four base runners to get out to a strong 4-1 lead.

"It was nice to get some runs in the first inning but it was even better because they scored and our guys responded. I thought our guys did a good job and put good at bats together," head coach Rob Cooper said. "Even when their lefty came in, he was doing a good job, we kept battling and didn't waste some at bats there and it was a good job by our guys." 

Senior infielder Ryky Smith had a strong day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs, including a first inning two-RBI single that gave Penn State its third and fourth runs of the inning.

Smith said coming into Wednesday producing with runners in scoring position was a point of emphasis for the Penn State bats, and the team had confidence in the first inning that they would reverse that trend.

"It's no secret we've been struggling with guys in scoring position over the last couple weeks, but today we had guys step up with clutch hits," Smith said. "I think the main thing we were doing was keeping the ball out of the air. We stayed down through the ball and hit some hard line drives. other than that we just had confidence today that we were going to get the job done with guys in scoring position."

Cooper echoed Smith, stating he was pleased with the team's ability to come through with runners on and with two outs.

"Our philosophy is if we get a runner on second base with nobody out we should score them every time," Cooper said. "If we get a runner on third with less than two outs we should score them every time. Today we did that early, then we did a great job with two outs, too."

Scoring with two outs was huge for the Nittany Lions in building their 11 run lead. In the seventh inning Penn State seemed to be going down 1-2-3, but with two outs the bats came alive. A Jim Haley walk and Tyler Kendall single began what led to a two run seventh inning that sealed the convincing win.

Now, with one of the Big Ten's best in Indiana heads into Medlar Field at Lubrano Park this weekend, Penn State's hitting wouldn't mind a similar effort. The Nittany Lions had a slightly difficult time adjusting to Canisius lefty Zachary Sloan who entered in the first inning and then was forced out by Penn State bats in the fifth. 

Smith said the Nittany Lion lineup took time to adjust, which they cannot do against the strong Hoosier staff.

"It was a lefty that came in and we didn't make the adjustment too soon (Wednesday)," Smith said. "Going into this weekend we need to make the adjustment quick. Figure out what the pitcher is trying to do to us early and try to make the adjustment quick. Indiana usually does have a pretty good pitching staff and if you don't make the adjustments they're going to make you pay for it."

Weather postponed the first game of the three-game set with Indiana, game times are still to be determined. Stay tuned to for updates.

By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- In his Penn State career, Geoff Boylston has always had a knack for seizing the opportunites that come to him.

Last year, the junior pitcher didn't get a chance to start until the 31st game of the season and responded by giving up just two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings in a victory over West Virginia. This season, he received just one start in the team's first 15 games, yet gave an even stronger outing (6 innings, two earned runs, seven strikeouts) against South Carolina on March 10.

Handed the ball again during the Nittany Lions home opener against Canisius on Wednesday, Boylston made a strong case to start getting it more frequently. The senior tossed six innings, gave up just one run and struck out a career-high eight batters as Penn State cruised to an 11-1 win. 

"I was just going right at guys," Boylston said. "I wasn't messing around, wasn't feeling for anything, just going at them from the first pitch and the next thing I knew, I was in the six inning. When you attack guys and get ahead, life's a little bit easier."

Similar to his start against West Virginia last year, Boylston had his only struggles of the day early on. After striking out his first two batters to start the game, the lefthander gave up back-to-back doubles that led to an early 1-0 deficit for the Nittany Lions.

It may have only been two batters, but the Nittany Lion hurler was admittedly not pleased with himself. Feeling as though he was too careful with a curveball on the second double to Jesse Puscheck, Boylston vowed to start attacking hitters moving forward. 

"I was livid," Boylston said. "Because I hung a breaking ball, I had two strikes on him. When you have a guy on the ropes, to let him square it up like that, it drives me nuts. I just figured I'm going to out there, and if I get a breaking ball called again, I'm going to go right at him with it, and I'm not going to dump it over, I'm going to throw the daylights out of it."

Returning to the mound to start the second, Boylston did just that, quickly retiring the side with a groundout and two strikeouts against Tyler Smith and Nick Capitano. From that point on, the West Chester, Pennsylvania native gave up just three more hits and no runs as the Nittany Lions turned the game into a rout.

Asked what was working for him, the fifth year pitcher said he just kept things simple. Once he realized that his curveball wasn't breaking for him, he decided to stick to his fastball. 

While fastballs may seem easier to hit, the key for Boylston was putting them exactly where he wanted to. A perfect example was the end of the fifth inning, when he chucked a ball on the outside corner that Golden Griffins leadoff man Jake Lumley helplessly flailed at, giving the pitcher his seventh strikeout on the evening.

"I really didn't think I had my best stuff," Boylston said. "My breaking ball was terrible. I was just able to locate my fastball. I think the best pitch in baseball is a located fastball. When you do that consistently, you're going to be successful." 

As impressive as the strikeouts were, even more important was the control Boylston exhibited. On a night in which he threw 98 pitches, the senior didn't walk a single batter. 

That aspect of the performance was what head coach Rob Cooper was most pleased by. While he'd always known that Boylston possessed plenty of talent, the coach and his staff had stressed control to the hurler in the past.

"He's always had that ability, the biggest thing for him is getting ahead and not walking guys," Cooper said. "Today, and his last outing against South Carolina was the exact same way. I'm just proud of him, he's attacking, he's not second-guessing himself. He's worked really hard physically, but more importantly, he's worked really hard mentally to just trust it and go out and pitch." 

Having now seen him strikeout 15 batters, give up just three earned runs and throw 12 innings over his two starts this season, Cooper said he plans to give Boylston the ball a lot more in the future. The Nittany Lions have an exceptionally young pitching staff, and they can certainly benefit from Boylston's experience and savvy.

"I don't know how you can keep him on the bench when he's giving you quality starts like that," Cooper said. "He's earned the right to continue to get the ball." 

Nittany Lions Offense Already Showing Potential

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10812826.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Heading into the 2015 season, Penn State head baseball coach Rob Cooper knew it was going to be a process for his young team to develop into a contending club.

Now six games in, the Nittany Lions have yet to get into the win column. Still, that doesn't mean they haven't been making progress, especially offensively.

So far, Penn State is third in the Big Ten in batting with a .260 avg. and has five players with double-digit at-bats hitting better than .300. While he is pleased with the performance of his hitters, Cooper knows there is room for improvement.

"Our offense has done a good job but we can improve," Cooper said. "We can have more consistent at-bats. You're playing a team like Texas A&M, you've got to find a way to win against those guys offensively. But I've been happy with some of our at-bats so far."

With six returning position players that started at least 30 games last season, Penn State has benefited from the experience of their hitters. Leading the charge has been a pair of sophomores in shortstop Jim Haley and outfielder/designated hitter Nick Riotto, two players that Cooper believes made big strides in the offseason.

Haley, a starter for the second straight season, is leading the Lions in hits (eights) and RBIs (seven), to go along with a .320 avg. Riotto, who started just 15 games and hit .164 as a freshman, has been in the lineup every day so far and is hitting .304.

The Lions have also gotten strong games from junior outfielder Greg Guers (.273 AVG, .429 OBP) and junior infielder Tyler Kendall (.400 AVG, .438 OBP). With a pitching staff that has already gotten multiple starts from two freshmen, Cooper is glad the offense has been carrying its weight.

"Are we farther ahead offensively than we are pitching, sure," Cooper said. "One thing you have to look at, we threw four true freshman this weekend. They're learning on the fly. Then you look at us on offense, [James] Coates has played a lot for us in his career, [Ryan] Richter, Guers, J.J. [White], [Taylor] Skerpon. These guys have experience. I expect them to be a little bit farther ahead because they know the speed of the game. We've just got to keep moving forward."

Two players who have really made an impact, however, are ones that weren't mainstays in Penn State's lineup last season, third baseman Christian Helsel and outfielder Aaron Novak.

Although Novak isn't new to the Penn State program, he is in the middle of arguably the hottest stretch of his career. Having registered 12 at-bats in five games this season, the senior is hitting a ridiculous .583, the second highest average in the Big Ten among qualifying hitters.

A career .241 hitter entering 2015, Novak says he hasn't changed his swing much, but that he was motivated during the offseason to make a big impact in his final year after starting just 13 games as a junior.

"I think I'm just trying to be aggressive up there, I'm not trying to take too many pitches," Novak said. "I think I can help the team out so I definitely want to be the starter. It was only [five games] and I did well. I'm looking to play more and make more of a case to be an everyday starter."

Helsel, on the other hand, is the new guy in Penn State's lineup, having sat out last season after transferring from Mississippi. In his first six games with the Lions, the third baseman is hitting .300 and has two multi-hit games.

Apart from his production, the Altoona native has injected plenty of energy into the Lions' lineup with his determination and positive attitude. After missing last season, Helsel came into 2015 stoked to represent Penn State.

"He played a year of Division I baseball and he bleeds blue and white," Cooper said. "This is where he wanted to be. He's really driven and he a good player and has experience, it doesn't surprise me that he's doing that. More importantly, he's playing good defense for us."

"I'm seeing the ball well and my swing feels good I just need to do a little more to help us win," Helsel added. "I grew up 40 minutes down the road so I grew up loving Penn State. There was a little pressure but we've got a great group of guys here so they take a lot of pressure off the individual."

Although their hitting has been strong, the Lions are still just six games into a long season. With another test on Friday against North Carolina State. Penn State will look to continue its process of improvement, while hopefully getting into the win column.

"I'd like to improve and win at the same time, that'd be the best thing," Cooper said. "I hate losing and our guys hate losing. We can't fall victim to short term satisfaction. We've got to make sure we're building this thing right." 

Leaders in Place For Nittany Lions in Year Two of Cooper Era

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10773357.jpegBy Mike Esse, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Leadership is key to any business, team, organization or program. Especially when a new direction is introduced. While Penn State head baseball coach Rob Cooper is in his second year as the Nittany Lions' skipper, he and his staff haven't been able to put their imprint on the baseball program by themselves.

In year one, they had leaders like Zach Ell, Alex Farkes and Steve Snyder to head the locker room and the diamond. Now, in year two, those three are gone and new leaders have come out of all directions for Cooper, much to his delight.

"Both Taylor Skerpon and Jack Anderson do a great job both from a position player and a pitching standpoint," Cooper said. "Christian Helsel has been a new addition that has done a good job just by how he goes about his business. James Coates obviously has done a good job. Nick Hedge has done a good job."

Not only is it important to have visible leaders for the freshman to recognize as approachable sources of knowledge, but also the whole team has welcomed their new teammates right away.

"The thing I have been happy about is the way that everybody's kind of accepted the new guys, too," Cooper said. "And you see some new guys that are kind of evolving into leadership roles from a standpoint of this is the way we do it and this is what's expected."

Cooper's freshman class is his first full recruiting class since arriving in Happy Valley. It features seven true freshmen, with five being from the state of Pennsylvania. Pair them with two redshirt freshman and Helsel, an Ole Miss transfer, nine players on the roster have yet to play see a game as a Nittany Lion.

To Cooper though, being newcomers shouldn't matter, as everyone on the roster should have the mindset of winning the job at their respective position.

"My big thing is I want them to put themselves in the best possible position to be successful," Cooper said of his freshman. "One of the things we try to tell them is to not make the mistake of just trying to fit in or trying to make the team. You need to come in and have the mindset that you are going to win a job, and that you can help.

My expectation is for them to not let age or their class determine whether or not they have a significant role on the team. It should be their efforts and their abilities."

Penn State is perhaps at its youngest with the pitching staff. Geoff Boylston and Nick Hedge are the lone lefties to return to the staff that had appearances in 2014. The righties do feature a little more experience, especially out of the bullpen with Anderson, Ryan Harper and Dakota Forsyth.

Freshman Mark Boricich, Taylor Lehman, Reid Frazier, Nick Distasio, Austin McMonagle and Sal Biasi are new pieces to the puzzle for Cooper and his staff.

Anderson, a junior reliever, said he has liked what he's seen from the new Nittany Lion arms.

"We've had a few people step up into leadership roles, and I think it has been important with a younger staff," Anderson said. "It's been exciting to see them grow, and learn as we go, as well. Helping them through that process has been exciting."

His help and guidance hasn't gone unnoticed from his head coach.

"Jack has done a phenomenal job educating these guys on how we do things," Cooper said. "Even though these guys are upperclassmen, last year they were freshmen in regards to they did not know what to expect from myself and our coaching staff. This year, they are able to explain to the new guys `this is how we do things,' so they've done a great job."

Penn State's first test is the season opener on Friday against Elon at 4 p.m.


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