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Cooper Says Comfort Key for 2015 Lions

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The warning track of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park was covered in snow and flurries blew about outside the window of head coach Rob Cooper's third floor office. Though temperatures reached just above freezing on Monday, you could tell in Cooper's mind it was 80 degrees and sunny.

After a whirlwind first season that saw him accept his post at Penn State in August, quickly relocate and assemble his coaching staff just weeks before beginning his first official fall workouts in Happy Valley, Cooper is ready to get away from the chaos. He is ready for his team to find their comfort zone, as well, but knows that they better be content being in a state of unrest.

"We talk to our team all the time about being comfortable being uncomfortable," said Cooper. "With 56 games and the postseason there are a lot of times that you are going to be out of your element. Not everything is going to go our way and I am excited to see how this team responds when we hit a little adversity this season."

We sat down and talked to Cooper about the progress he has seen with his team, the challenging 2015 schedule and where he is at now personally as he enters his second season in the dugout.

With a new season right around the corner the Nittany Lions need every moment they have to prepare for the rigors of a 56-game schedule. Cooper spoke about the work his players have put in during the summer and winter breaks, and things that will give his players an advantage heading into preseason workouts.

"The message to our players [entering practice] is to continue to build, continue to get better and move the program forward," said Cooper. "Our players understand that we need to maximize each day and they used the [winter] break to get stronger; not only in the weight room but mentally, as well."

Official team practice starts on Friday and Cooper knows that because of the veteran leadership and the dedication his group has shown during the offseason they will be well ahead of where they started last season.  For this team it is all about making progress throughout the year, even if the numbers might not show it. Cooper things his group made major improvements from the end of 2014 until now.

"I am happy when what our hitters have done. I am happy with what our pitching staff has done," said Cooper. "I think what Ross [Oeder] has done an unbelievable job with our hitters and I think Brian [Anderson] is doing a tremendous job with our pitching staff."

The numbers from 2013 to 2014 showed the growth of the pitching staff: lower ERA, fewer walks and less runs allowed, however it was not as easy to see the growth in statistics offensively. That doesn't worry Cooper as his team enters 2015 because he feels they have laid the foundation for more growth in 2015.

"[Our players] having a full year under our staff and knowing what we expect and what our philosophy is will help this season," Cooper said. "We want to be a great offensive team, not a great hitting team. Usually if you are a sound offensive team that leads to being a great hitting team. It is about understanding your strengths and weaknesses and using those to complement the players around you. [Our players] recognize that we are trying to lay the foundation for success now and in the future."

Starting a new job can be difficult for anyone and it was no different for Cooper when who rolled down I-99 and into Happy Valley to start his tenure at Penn State. He knew upon arrival he would have nearly 10 months without his wife and two sons, but what he didn't know is that he was inheriting an extended family that ranged from sea to shining sea.

Upon accepting the dugout post with the Nittany Lions, Cooper knew he was joining a university with a passionate and expansive alumni base, but what he didn't expect was the airport chats with former Penn Staters and the welcoming attitude of everyone he encountered while wearing the blue and white.

"I thought I had an idea about what it meant to be a part of Penn State and this community, but until you are here and you meet the people and you see their passion you don't truly understand it," said Cooper. "There is always a buzz and energy on this campus and you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself and to really understand that is a neat thing."

Cooper hopes that he can add to that tradition during his time on campus, but he is thankful that his family has finally joined him. Whether it is his sons, Tyson and Jake, hanging around the field or the fact he is able to bounce ideas off of his wife, he is more at peace with his family by his side.

"My family being here now absolutely helps me," said Cooper. "Being able to go home and have them there and to be able to see them, in person and not over the phone, has been huge. I love what I do, but part of the reason I love it so much is because I have a family that loves it just as much as I do."

The NCAA Tournament is the goal for Cooper and his team and to do that he knows they must get used to playing in the chaotic environment that comes along with postseason baseball. That's why when putting together a schedule it is about challenging his team, while also wanting to put some tallies in the win column.

"Any time that you can be put into a place of chaos it makes you evaluate what you need to do to play at that level," Cooper said. "We may play great [in our early season games], but I guarantee that we will also see things that we need to work on. These games will be a test to see if we are ready to play in a Big Ten Championship or NCAA Regional-type atmosphere."

Cooper likes to use his non-conference games as a test. He wants to see how his team will respond when they are introduced to some of college baseball's most passionate fan bases. His players will have the chance to experience them early and often with 33 of their 56 games away from home this season.

The 2015 schedule includes 56 games against 25 different opponents. Of those games, 29 of them will come against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament at least once since 2012.

"Our goal is to make this program into one that is competing for a spot in the NCAA Tournament each year," said Cooper. "The only way to do that is by playing [tournament] teams. When you look at our schedule you see a handful of teams that advanced to the postseason last year, but what most people don't see are the games vs. programs that are contending for at-large berths on a yearly basis."

Those teams include Binghamton, Elon, Kent State, Liberty, North Carolina State and Texas A&M, to name a few. Then you add in the Big Ten schedule: looking at the rise of programs like Indiana and Purdue in recent years and the addition of Maryland that will help boosts the conference's profile, and you have the makings of a championship caliber test for the Nittany Lions.

"The Big Ten is a really good baseball conference," said Cooper, "it has been ever since Michigan, Minnesota and Penn State were making the College World Series in the 1970's. Now, you look at Indiana going to the College World Series, Nebraska is always a threat to make it to Omaha and on down the line. This is one of the toughest conferences to play in week-in and week-out."


Barbour Eager to Lead Penn State Athletics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 18th of August cannot come soon enough for Sandy Barbour.

Introduced as Penn State Director of Athletics on Saturday afternoon, Barbour is thrilled to begin her tenure as the leader of an athletic program that aspires to continue its long history of excellence on and off the field of play.

"When you spend a professional lifetime serving institutions and most importantly students, you dream about coming to a place like Penn State," Barbour said. "You dream about the opportunity to lead a program like Penn State athletics. Why? Because it represents the opportunity to have it all: Athletic excellence, academic achievement, community engagement and fiscal responsibility. So thank you, Eric [Barron]. I am absolutely thrilled, over the top excited about this opportunity and about being the athletic director at Penn State."

A graduate of Wake Forest where she was field hockey team captain, Barbour grew up on the East Coast and has always had a deep passion for Penn State University and its athletic department. That's what drew her to the position when she originally spoke with President Barron about the opportunity.

Immediately, Barbour felt a connection with the people, pride and remarkable accomplishments of Penn State University and its athletic department.

"I love the 'We Are Penn State.' I particularly love what it stands for. It stands for family," Barbour said.

Barbour desires to see national titles in all 31 sports on campus. But first and foremost, she will strive to lead a department with student-athletes who are elite performers in the classroom.

"We are athletic programs again that are all part of a university," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes will be students first, Penn State is incredibly proud of the academic performance of their students and we will continue to be."

Eager to hit the ground running when she begins her duties as athletic director in 23 days, Barbour wants to learn from everyone in the department, especially the head coaches leading Penn State's 31 athletic teams.

"Unity doesn't mean one opinion, and I actually embrace that, embrace the diversity of opinion, diversity in a variety of different ways, and I actually think that will make us stronger in our ability to move forward," Barbour said. "As I said before, I have something to learn from everybody, and I'll be doing a lot of listening."

Numerous head coaches were in attendance at Saturday's introductory press conference. The coaches and athletic department staff then had a chance to mingle with Barbour at a private reception before she boarded a flight to Chicago for Big Ten meetings. The head coaches in attendance exuded great confidence in the future direction of the athletic department.

"There is a culture, history and tradition of tremendous academic achievement at Penn State and that will continue," said head football coach James Franklin. "I know it's important to our president, athletic director and all of our coaches. That will continue. I know we'll spend as much time as we need to so we can start building."

"I am truly thrilled that Sandy Barbour will serve as the next athletic director for Penn State," Lady Lions head coach Coquese Washington said. "Sandy is a strong, dynamic and passionate leader. She is also an incredibly smart visionary and strategic thinker. It is exciting to imagine all the ways Penn State University, and Penn State athletics in particular, will be positively impacted by her leadership."

"I loved everything I heard today," head women's hockey coach Josh Brandwene said. "She has passion, vision and just a great understanding of the Penn State community. Both as a head coach and as an alumnus, I am really excited to start working with her."

Barbour will return to California in the coming days to prepare for her full-time return to Happy Valley on Aug. 18, and the new leader of Penn State Athletics is fired up to get started.

"We are Penn State. I'm all in. I'm ready to get going," said Barbour.


Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

2014 Coaches Caravan Day IX - Erie

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VIDEO: Williamsport & Wilkes-Barre | VIDEO: East Stroudsburg & Lehigh Valley

Erie Photo Gallery

ERIE, Pa. - After more than 2,000 miles on the road, the 2014 Coaches Caravan drew to a close on Thursday night on Penn State's Behrend campus during a sold out evening event.

Nearly 6,300 fans attended the 17 stops, which spanned across 13 locations in Pennsylvania, in addition to Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and New York City.  In all, 11 different Penn State head coaches joined head football coach James Franklin during at least one stop since the Caravan began on May 1 in Pegula Ice Arena.

Thursday's finale featured a new lineup of coaches, which included Franklin, baseball's Rob Cooper and softball's Amanda Lehotak.  Director of Athletics Dave Joyner joined the group, as well, addressing the crowd prior to hearing from the three head coaches. Take a look through some highlights from the final stop of the 2014 Caravan.

Stop No. 17 - Erie (Penn State Behrend)

20140522_155416[1].jpgA sold out crowd inside the McGravey Commons heard from three of the newest coaches on the Nittany Lion roster in Franklin, Cooper and Lehotak. Cooper and Lehotak each finished their first seasons at the helm of their respective programs, while Franklin will lead the Blue and White onto the field for his first game on Aug. 30 in Dublin, Ireland against UCF in the Croke Park Classic.

"The reason we are able to do the things we do and have the success in the classroom and on the competition front is because of the support and encouragement we get from our alumni and fans," said Joyner.

It may have been the last stop, but the three coaches were received with great energy and shared the visions they had for their programs. They spoke about competition, academics and representing an incredible university as a whole.

"It is an honor to represent Penn State and we all want to do what is best for this university," said Lehotak. "Coach Franklin has an incredible vision and we need to help him achieve that by packing Beaver Stadium this fall."


Thank you to the nearly 6,500 loyal Penn State fans and alums that made the Coaches Caravan a resounding success for the third-straight year.  And a big tip of the cap goes out to Fullington Trailways ace driver Gottfried Fodor, who did a superb job behind the wheel of the Caravan bus for the third-straight year.  We look forward to seeing the fans on the road again in 2015.

"This caravan has been outstanding," said Franklin. "These three weeks have really helped me build some great relationships with other coaches, our support staff, members of the media, and most importantly, our alumni and fans."

Miles Traveled:

Day I - 165 miles

Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles
Day IV - 175 miles
Day V - 245 miles

Day VI - 267 miles
Day VII - 130 miles
Day VIII - 261 miles
Day IX - 426 miles

Total - 2,186 miles


2014 Coaches Caravan Day VIII - East Stroudsburg & Lehigh Valley

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VIDEO: Highlights from Williamsport & Wilkes-Barre

East Stroudsburg Photo Gallery | Lehigh Valley Photo Gallery | Coaches Caravan Registration

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The 2014 Coaches Caravan rolled through East Stroudsburg and the Lehigh Valley on the penultimate day of the 17-stop tour through the region.

Wednesday's lunch stop was a special one for head football coach James Franklin, who returned to his alma mater, East Stroudsburg University.  Head coaches Rob Cooper (baseball), Guy Gadowsky (men's hockey) and Mark Pavlik (men's volleyball) joined Franklin in East Stroudsburg.  Nittany Lion basketball coach Patrick Chambers paid a visit to the Lehigh Valley event on Wednesday evening.  Take a look through highlights of the eighth day on the road.

Stop No. 15 - East Stroudsburg (East Stroudsburg University)

Coach Franklin returned to his old stomping grounds for the first stop on Wednesday.  When the Fullington tour bus exited Interstate 80 it moved past the Budget Motel, which is owned by Barth Rubin.  Rubin is the man who provided the financial backing for Franklin's scholarship to play football at East Stroudsburg.

Franklin recognized Rubin as the man who provided the opportunity to kick-start his playing and coaching careers.  A 1995 graduate from ESU (psychology), Franklin was a four-year letterman at quarterback and a two-time All-PSAC selection at East Stroudsburg. He set seven school records as a senior to earn team MVP honors and was a Harlon Hill Trophy nominee as the NCAA Division II Player of the Year. Among the records he set were for total offense (3,128 yards), passing yards (2,586) and touchdown passes (19).

"It's awesome to be home.  Since we got the job, it's been great to be able to get back here on a couple of occasions," Franklin said.  "I just felt like this made a lot of sense for the Coaches Caravan to visit.  And I thought it would be great for one of our state institutions and a place I am really proud of.  I'm glad that we were able to be here."

caravan_esu_1.jpgFranklin played under legendary head coach Denny Douds, who spent some time with Franklin on Wednesday during the Caravan stop.  Douds has been at ESU for 37 years.

"Denny has been a father figure to me for a very long time," Franklin said.  "Denny has been a mentor as a father and a mentor professionally."

"The thing that makes James special is his passion for what he does," Douds said.  "He cares so much about everything he does."

In the shadows of Eiler-Martin Stadium, more than 100 Penn State and East Stroudsburg alums filled Mattioli Recreation Center to hear from Franklin and the other Penn State head coaches on Wednesday.

"To think 20 years ago that I would be sitting here in this position right now, I would have had no idea," Franklin said.  "I think what we did do is wake up every single morning and try to be the best we could possibly be, learn and ask a lot of questions.  I've always been a passionate, driven, motivated guy."

caravan_esu_2.jpgCooper, Gadowsky and Pavlik each took time during their speeches to honor Franklin during his visit to his alma mater.   

"It's really cool to see the imprint Coach Franklin is going to leave on Pennsylvania football," Cooper said.

At the conclusion of the event, East Stroudsburg president Marcia Welsh presented Coach Franklin with a resolution of recognition for his career accomplishments.  The recognition was voted on by the board of governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

The Coaches Caravan bus paid a visit to Rudy's Tavern in East Stroudsburg before the group left town.  Franklin treated the group to the infamous pork roll and cheese sandwiches at Rudy's, one of his college favorites.


Stop No. 16 - Bethlehem (Sands Bethlehem Event Center)

Nearly 600 fans were treated to a show inside the Sands Bethlehem Event Center on Wednesday night.  For the first time in the Caravan's three-year history, five head coaches were on stage for the festivities at stop No. 16.  After the introductions, Coach Chambers was the leadoff man to get the crowd fired up.

"I'm saying this right now.  This is going to be the best night of the Caravan," Chambers yelled.

As the crowd rose to its feet, the tunes of Pharrell Williams's "Happy" began playing.  From there, Chambers moved away from the podium and began dancing to the beat across the stage.  The other coaches on stage and the fans in the crowd erupted.

caravan_lv_1.jpgChambers is made for the Coaches Caravan setting.  He loves interacting with the crowd, and he has a knack for filling the room with energy every time he steps to the microphone.  The leader of Nittany Lion basketball spoke about the progress the program made during the 2013-'14 season, including a sweep of Ohio State for the first time since 1998.

Additionally, Chambers said that he lived in Allentown 20 years ago when he started in the workforce.  He was a medical salesman with his home region being in the Lehigh Valley.  Chambers also hinted at a possible Penn State hoops game in December at the PPL Center in Allentown, which is slated to open in the fall.

The first speech closed with Chambers urging the crowd to show unrivaled support for Coach Franklin and the Nittany Lions inside Beaver Stadium.

"Let's make sure Beaver Stadium is packed every single time his team takes the field in the fall," Chambers said.

With the sports season rapidly coming to a close, the 2014-'15 campaign is just around the corner.  Fan support in Beaver Stadium provides an atmosphere unlike anything else on campus.  The same is true for each venue in Happy Valley.  Success on the field of play is a byproduct of a number of factors, and the fan atmosphere is a big piece.

"You guys create more passion and more pride than any other University in the world," Gadowsky said.

caravan_lv_2.jpgIn true hockey player form, Gadowsky closed out the speech at his final stop in the Caravan by ripping out his front tooth and screaming into the microphone.

"Get to Beaver Stadium and rock that joint!" Gadowsky said.

Coach Franklin walked to the podium to a standing ovation.

"Now that is a hockey coach!" Franklin said.

It's rare to get the head coaches of football, men's basketball, men's hockey, baseball and men's volleyball in the same room.  The fans inside Sands enjoyed an evening of entertaining speeches.  The coaches feed off of a great crowd, and the Lehigh Valley fans were superb.

"The pride and passion within the Penn State fan base in unbelievable," Franklin said.  "All the success we are having is a credit to you."

The 17th and final stop of the 2014 Coaches Caravan will take place on Thursday evening at Penn State Behrend in Erie.  

Miles Traveled:
Day I - 165 miles

Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles
Day IV - 175 miles
Day V - 245 miles

Day VI - 267 miles
Day VII - 130 miles
Day VIII - 261 miles

Total - 1,760 miles


Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Triple Plays, Senior Day and a Challenge

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Ell-Zach (2).jpeg

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State baseball team celebrated Senior Day on Saturday (May 17) after a 7-6 loss to Michigan State, but from the looks on the players faces they knew the outcome could have been different. Five unearned runs ended up being the difference, but head coach Rob Cooper knows the program made progress during his first season at the helm.

"I was happy with our progress and some of the things we were able to do this season," said Cooper. "The guys that are returning know there are things they need to work on and our coaching staff knows there are things we need to do better, as well. The biggest thing in changing a culture and a mindset is to get the players to play hard and compete each day and I feel like this team did that."

All weekend, Penn State had their opportunities to take down the Spartans, falling by scores of 4-2 and 4-1 in a doubleheader on Friday. However, in each of those games the Nittany Lions brought the game tying run to the plate in the ninth inning. On Saturday, they entered the ninth trailing by just a run and three seniors coming to the plate.

The trio of Sam August, Alex Farkes and Steve Snyder were unable to get anything started against MSU closer Jeff Kinley and Penn State's season came to a close. Cooper honored each senior after the game, but before the contest he let each of them know just how much they meant to him and to the program.

"I just told them that I love each one of them [the seniors]," said Cooper. "I told them that moving forward I want to be able to help them in any way I can. If that is a letter of recommendation, a phone call or anything else, they deserve it for what they've given to this program."

Special Tribute on Senior Day
Head coach Rob Cooper had said a few times leading up to the Nittany Lions' final home weekend that Senior Day is a special day to him. It is a chance for him to show his appreciation for those who gave four years of hard work to help build a program.

With just one year at the help of the Penn State program, this group of seniors was a little different for Cooper.

"It's an emotional day," said head coach Rob Cooper. "For some of these guys it will be the last time they put on the uniform...they put a lot of time and energy into making this program better. I don't like Senior Days because it means you're saying good bye in a way and this group has brought tremendous energy and effort all year. I wish I had more time with this group."

All eight seniors on the roster played over the weekend with seven penciled into the starting lineup at some point. Tim Dunn and Ian Parvin started on the mound on Friday and Sunday, respectively, while Greg Welsh collected the final out in Saturday's season finale. Sam August, Alex Farkes, Zach Ell, Colin Keefe and Steve Snyder each started at least two games on the weekend.

"Those eight seniors are guys that everyone in the locker room looks up to," said Taylor Skerpon. "We all went through the same changes this season, but for them to show so much maturity and leadership through the coaching change is something that everyone can keep with them. They showed us how quickly and easily it is to buy in to a system and make it successful."

Accepting the Challenge
Prior to Senior Day, each departing player was presented with a challenge coin; a medallion usually issued by military unit commanders in recognition of special achievement by a member of that unit. The coin is a symbol that they can carry with them showing their standing, and this group was the first honored with the token under Cooper.

Cooper also addressed the seniors in the locker room and lauded them for their attitude and effort while going through something that not many players have to go through. He praised them for accepting change and, in some ways, being "freshmen" again and having to learn a new system.

"The challenge coin was a way to show our guys that they are all connected through this special journey," said Cooper. "The challenge coin is a way to distinguish them as Penn State baseball alums and the only way to attain it [the coin] is to play baseball and graduate from Penn State. It shows them they are a part of something special."

The coin represented more than just admittance into the Penn State baseball alumni family, but it confirmed what many of those seniors already knew about coach Cooper: he cared.

"I grew so much as a baseball player and a person this season," said senior Zach Ell, "I can't thank the coaching staff enough. To see the coin, with the Penn State logo on one side and the baseball alumni on the other, is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. It's a token to show all the hard work we all put in the last four years and that really means a lot. I love [Cooper] to death and I appreciate all he has done for us."

Pair of Triple Plays Land Lions Atop #SCTop10
Penn State has fielded a baseball team for 127 seasons and never before have the Nittany Lions turned two triple plays in a single game. In fact, only once in Division I baseball history - 2006 when Gonzaga did so at Washington State - has it happened.

The plays helped the Blue and White nail down the top spot on SportsCenter's Top 10, appeared on ESPN's Baseball Tonight and was highlighted on the MLB Network in their evening coverage.  The YouTube video had over 232,000 views as of May 21.

On Friday, May 16th in the first game of a doubleheader, Penn State equaled that feat with a pair of triple plays vs. Michigan State. In the fourth inning, the Spartans had runners on first and second with no out when Tim Dunn got MSU's Blaise Salter to line out Jim Haley at shortstop. With both runners breaking on the play, Haley stepped on second base and threw across to J.J. White at first base to complete the triple play.

In the eighth inning, Haley was again part of the three-out play when a single and an error put two runners for the Spartans Jimmy Pickens. Penn State's Ryan Harper watched Pickens line a ball towards center field that Taylor Skerpon made a leaping catch on, tossed to Haley who then threw to White to write Penn State into the NCAA record books.

Penn State ended the season with three triple plays, also turning one at Santa Clara on March 15.

"It's pretty surreal to be a part of something like that," said junior Taylor Skerpon. "Waking up today I had about 100 notifications about being on SportsCenter. You sometimes don't believe it happened. I joked around a little with Jim (Haley) about not flipping the first ball to me, but to see it happen twice in one game and to be a part of it is a lot of fun."

Applying Pressure
First year head coach Rob Cooper will admit that he wasn't exactly a baseball prodigy during his time as a college player, but in his 21years the dugouts his teams have produce a lot offensively. The reasons for the turnaround at Penn State can be attributed to sound offensive players, but Cooper approach and coaching philosophy also plays a role in that.

In his nine seasons at Wright State, Cooper's teams set five of the school's top 10 team batting averages, while also accounting for five or more seasons in the top-10 of season doubles, sacrifice hit, sacrifice flies and hit by pitch.

This season, Cooper took a nearly identical lineup and watched them improve in nearly every statistical category. They ended the year just shy of last season's batting average and slugging percentage, while topping their 2013 totals in on-base percentage (.338), walks (184), hit-by-pitch (40), stolen bases (50) and sacrifice files (22). They also cut down on their strikeouts in 2014.

"What we try to do is be a smart offensive team and take advantage of what the other team is giving us," said head coach Rob Cooper. "Today we did a good job hitting with two outs, we took advantage of some things like delayed steals and we used our short game well. It's about taking what the other team is giving us that day and making it work."

Working Within the Zone
Pitching coach Brian Anderson said early in the season that his pitching staff would attack the strike zone and look to start bats. His pitchers reiterated that point throughout the season, saying they had "trust in the defense behind them" and that trust equated into a lower ERA, less runs allowed and over 100 free passes fewer than they had in 50 games in 2013.

As a staff, Penn State improved their ERA from a season ago. The Lions staff ended the year with a 4.77 earned run average, allowing fewer runs (304), earned runs (226) and walks (141) in 50 games. The staff also hit fewer batters and threw fewer wild pitches during the season.

From 2013 to 2014, Penn State pitches walked 97 fewer hitters and hit nine fewer batters for a total of 106 fewer free bases. The defense also did a better job of taking care of the baseball, committing 12 less errors on the year, limiting the extra outs supplied to the opposition and building a trust with their mound workers.

"Our pitching staff made a large commitment in the offseason to be strike throwers," said assistant coach Brian Anderson. "We made a lot of strides during that time and throughout the season and I am proud of them for buying into our philosophy of attacking hitters." 



2014 Coaches Caravan Day VII - Williamsport & Wilkes-Barre

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Williamsport Photo Gallery | Wilkes-Barre Photo Gallery | Coaches Caravan Registration

WILKES-BARRE - The final leg of the 2014 Penn State Coaches Caravan kicked off with a sold out lunch stop in Williamsport and a dinner event in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday.

Week three will feature a new lineup of Penn State head coaches joining James Franklin on the road.  Baseball's Rob Cooper, men's hockey's Guy Gadowsky and men's volleyball's Mark Pavlik boarded the modified Fullington bus on Tuesday morning when it rolled out of the Bryce Jordan Center parking lot shortly after 9:30 a.m.  Take a look through highlights of day seven on the Penn State Coaches Caravan.

Stop No. 13 - Williamsport (Pennsylvania College of Technology)

A sold out crowd of 270 Penn State fans filled the Field House on the Pennsylvania College of Technology campus for the first of five stops during week three.  What makes the Caravan so unique is the variety of head coaches who entertain the crowds.  With the addition of Cooper, Gadowsky and Pavlik to kick off this week, nine head coaches have now been a part of the 13 total stops.

Fresh off leading the Nittany Lion men's volleyball team to a 25-7 overall mark and a spot in the NCAA semifinals, Pavlik is on the Caravan for the third-straight year.  The men's volleyball squad battled eventual national champion Loyola to a 3-2 setback on Loyola's home floor during the semifinals.  That being said, Pavlik has firsthand experience of what a home crowd advantage can do for a team.  He can relate to Franklin's vision of a sold out stadium during every home game.

"I know what a great home crowd can do for a team.  We experienced it," Pavlik said.  "A sold out venue makes it so much more of a challenge for an away team."

williamsport_1.jpg Cooper, who finished up his first full season as head coach of the Nittany Lion baseball team on Saturday, addressed the sold out crowd following Pavlik.  The Lions made significant progress from 2013 to 2014, and Cooper is excited for what is ahead.

"Being a part of the Penn State family is unbelievable," Cooper said.  "This coaching fraternity is an amazing thing to be a part of."

It was fitting for Cooper's first stop to be in the home of the Little League World Series.  Cooper joked with the crowd that his two young sons both asked him immediately after being hired at Penn State if they could attend a game at the Little League World Series in August.

"Here we are in the epicenter of youth baseball," Cooper said.  "You know what it is like to be a part of a championship event...There are good things ahead (at Penn State)."

Gadowsky stepped to the microphone following Cooper.  Still fired up after his first season of leading the Nittany Lions inside Pegula Ice Arena, Gadowsky could not be more appreciative of what the fan base does for the men's hockey program.

"The atmosphere you created in Pegula made me a cool dad again (with my kids)," Gadowsky joked.

"The best part about Pegula is that it takes a little piece of Beaver Stadium and puts a roof over it," Gadowsky said.  "It's awesome.  I love being in there...The reason it is so addictive is because of Nittany Nation."

williamsport_2.jpgCoach Franklin headlined the 13th stop with the final speech of the afternoon.  The fan response to his message has been superb during all three weeks, and Tuesday's lunch was no exception.

"This has been great getting out here on the road and connecting with as many people as possible," Franklin said.

The bus moved east across the state to Wilkes-Barre for the first evening stop of the final leg.

Stop No. 14 - Wilkes-Barre (Genetti Hotel & Conference Center)

The second stop of the day took place inside Genetti Hotel & Conference Center downtown Wilkes-Barre.  Nearly 400 enthusiastic fans filled the Grand Ballroom on Tuesday night.  Luzerne County is home to more than 8,500 passionate Penn State alums.

Wilkes-Barre will forever have a place in Penn State hockey history.  Coach Gadowsky led the Nittany Lions to their first victory as a Division I program on Oct. 13, 2012 against American International.  David Glen's goal 38 seconds into overtime sealed the first win.  That game took place inside Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre.

"Forever, this place will have a soft place in my heart," Gadowsky said.

wilkesbarre_2.jpgIn 2013-'14, Gadowsky led the Nittany Lions to three victories over Michigan and one over Ohio State during the inaugural season of Big Ten hockey.  The fans inside the room on Tuesday are excited about Penn State hockey's future, and Gadowsky's peers are tremendously impressed with the progress the program has made in such a short period of time.

"These coaches are ordinary people who do extraordinary things with their programs," Pavlik said.

"To compete in this conference, we need all of your support," Gadowsky said.

The fan base plays a paramount role in supporting all of Penn State's teams.  Pavlik, Cooper and Gadowsky each reminded the fans in attendance of what a full Beaver Stadium every Saturday in the fall does for their programs.  The atmosphere inside Beaver Stadium during a game before a sold out crowd speaks for itself.  The same is true for Pegula Ice Arena, Rec Hall and Medlar Field, in the case of the other coaches on the Caravan Tuesday night.

That being said, the Coaches Caravan is an opportunity for the coaches to not only talk about their programs, it is a way to say thank you to the fans for their support.  Like Coach Franklin has said throughout the Caravan, the people make Penn State special.

"Penn State is like a community...It gives us an opportunity to interact with you," Franklin said.

wilkesbarre_1.jpgFranklin took time to recognize offensive coordinator and tight ends coach John Donovan and passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne, who were in the Wilkes-Barre area recruiting on Tuesday and stopped by the event to say hello to the fans.

The Caravan rolls into Coach Franklin's alma mater, East Stroudsburg, on Wednesday for lunch before an evening reception at the Sands in Bethlehem.

Miles Traveled:
Day I - 165 miles

Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles
Day IV - 175 miles
Day V - 245 miles

Day VI - 267 miles
Day VII - 130 miles

Total - 1,499 miles

caravan bus_williamsport.jpg

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Baseball Drops Pair to Michigan State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State baseball team dropped tough 7-6 decision to Michigan State on Saturday, 7-6, at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. It was Senior Day and we caught up with head coach Rob Cooper and senior Zach Ell.



VIDEO: Baseball vs. Michigan State Postgame

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State baseball team dropped a pair of games to Michigan State on Friday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. We caught up with head coach Rob Cooper and junior infielder J.J. White to talk about the doubleheader vs. the Spartans and what the focus is heading into senior day.



Freshman Haley Brings Energy to Veteran Lions

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By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As his freshman year comes to a close, Penn State shortstop Jim Haley thought about his first season of college baseball and admits that much of it has taken him by surprise.

For starters, he never thought the school he grew up rooting for would end up recruiting him, and he certainly never thought he'd become a starting college shortstop so quickly into his career either.

However, that's exactly how the year has played out for Haley, as the Upper Darby native has started 38 of the Nittany Lions 46 games, including each of the last 32.

"My friends in high school would always joke around about how cool it would be if Penn State recruited me and it was a shock to me when they did," Haley said. "I didn't expect to be starting. I wanted to come in and put the work in and it's paid off for me."

On a veteran heavy team, Haley has been one of three freshmen along with pitcher Dakota Forsyth and outfielder Nick Riotto to receive significant playing time and the only one to start consistently, not an easy feat considering he plays the most challenging position defensively on the field.

Despite his success, the transition from high school to Division I baseball has certainly had its share of adjustments for the shortstop, who went just 2-for-14 at the plate in his first four starts. He admitted that he quickly learned how much tougher pitching at the next level is.

"At the beginning of the year (adjusting) was a huge process," Haley said. "The pitching is really good in college because most guys can throw any pitch they want in any count, so that was a major adjustment."

It may not have been easy, but the freshman has steadily improved as a hitter as the year has gone along. Among players on the team with at least 100 at-bats, Haley ranks in the top five in batting average (.256), on-base percentage (.359), total bases (39), doubles (five), and runs scored (15). He also paces the team with eight hit-by-pitch.

He has also seen time at virtually every spot in the batting order, starting as the No. 9 hitter, spending time in the cleanup spot, and now currently anchoring the top of the order and hitting either second or third.

"Batting down in the order you get to see more fastballs so as I have moved up the lineup I had to adjust to seeing more breaking balls and I'm still working on that," Haley said. "I like hitting either second or third the most."

At the same time, how Haley hits is really the last thing on the mind of his teammates and head coach Rob Cooper, who look to him to be the team's defensive anchor out in the field.

After some early inconsistencies, Haley has come a long way defensively, thanks in part to the chemistry he has developed with second baseman Taylor Skerpon, which has helped the Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in double plays (26) in conference play.  

Hailing from right outside of Philadelphia, Haley grew up idolizing the Philadelphia Phillies long-time double play duo of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, and he likes to look at them as a model for himself and Skerpon.

"The main thing up the middle is chemistry and we mesh really well together," Haley said. "(Skerpon) is a guy that leads by example and playing with him is awesome."

Skerpon, who switched to second base after spending last season as the team's shortstop, has taken his freshman teammate under his wing, rooming with him on the road and not grumbling for a second about changing positions.

It didn't take long for the junior infielder to realize that the team had someone special on its hands in their freshman shortstop, and he knows that much of the team's future success relies on Haley's development.

"It's a lot of fun looking over and seeing him make diving play after diving play and giving me great feeds at second," Skerpon said. "I definitely made him earn that spot but it's working for us and he's definitely going to be a guy that you can build a program around."

Although Cooper said that the beginning of the season included plenty of growing pains for Haley, there was never a doubt in his mind that the freshman would end up as the team's starting shortstop.

If there is one thing that has impressed Cooper about the 19-year old, it has been the way he has embraced the pressure and competition that comes with competing in the Big Ten.

"Making the jump from high school to college is always an adjustment for [freshman] but he's not scared and he's not afraid to play the game," Cooper said. "He's starting to realize what a Division I shortstop has to do to be good and I don't think he's anywhere close to being the type of player he can be."

Haley knows he is just scratching the surface of his potential, and while this season hasn't gone exactly the way he or his teammates would have liked, he is still grateful for the opportunities he has gotten this year and all the guidance he has received from both the coaching staff and the Penn State veterans.

"I can't say I'm satisfied because I know I can push myself to do better and help the team in other ways," Haley said, "but coach Cooper has been great bringing in his process and it's been a fun time with this group."



Nittany Lions Learn Lessons from Indiana Series

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Skerpon-Taylor (3).jpeg

By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- All season long, win or lose, Penn State baseball head coach Rob Cooper has approached every day the same way: with a clean slate.

That is because no matter how well or poorly his team may be playing, there is always room for improvement and dwelling on what happened the day before won't get you anywhere.

Going up against one of the premiere programs in the country in Indiana, the Nittany Lions were unable to come away with a victory during the weekend series, falling by scores of 10-0, 8-1, and 9-2, yet they never put their heads down.

"When we were playing well we didn't get too far ahead of it and it's the same thing now," Cooper said. "Come tomorrow we're 0-0 and the energy in the dugout (this weekend) was up and our guys were in the game the whole time."

The Nittany Lions have faced a number of formidable opponents this season, but this Hoosiers squad was easily their toughest task. A College World Series participant in 2013, Indiana (35-12, 19-2 Big 10) boasts a lineup featuring six position players batting over .300 and threw three pitchers at the Nittany Lions - Joey DeNato, Christian Morris, and Brian Korte - with ERAs under 2.30.

Facing an uphill battle from the start, the Blue and White never backed down and gave Cooper reasons to believe that his players have bought into his process. After challenging his team defensively when they made four errors on Friday, the Nittany Lions responded with a perfect fielding day on Saturday, highlighted by third baseman Ryky Smith making a diving stop on a grounder in the ninth inning despite being down seven runs.

"We played the game clean (on Saturday) and did a great job picking the ball up," Cooper said. "If you're looking for tangible (progress), look at Ryky Smith. He hasn't played much lately and he made an effort play in the ninth on Friday night and that shows you they haven't quit."

Offensively, the Nittany Lions weekend was highlighted by first baseman J.J. White, who went 6-for-11 over the three game series, including a 3-for-4 performance on Friday.

It was a much needed breakthrough for the junior, who had gone just 2-for-8 in the team's previous series against Nebraska, as he raised his batting average from .247 to .267 in just three games.

"He's a guy that has struggled for the past few weeks so it was good to see him have some success," Cooper said. "I give him credit because the easy thing to do would be to just say 'things aren't going the way I hoped' but he's continuing to work and get better."

On Sunday, Cooper decided to give Nick Hedge, a sophomore who hadn't started since taking the mound at Ohio State on April 13, another shot on the mound.

Looking to redeem himself, Hedge held his own against the best team in the Big Ten, going five innings and allowing four earned runs while only walking one batter.

"Nick's big thing is having confidence in himself and I see a guy who's giving himself to the process instead of worrying about being perfect," Cooper said. "He pitched the way we know he can pitch today."

As frustrating as the season has been at times for Cooper as his team has struggled against their Big Ten opponents, this is not the first time he has been faced with a situation like this.

In his first season as the head coach of Wright State in 2005, Cooper's Raiders finished the season seven games under .500 before ripping off seven straight 30 win seasons.

What that experience taught Cooper is that winning truly is a process that takes time, and that good things come to those who stick by their values even when things get tough.

"Losing is not okay but having had that experience is reassuring to me that we need to stay with it and I can't say I would have said that 10 years ago," Cooper said. "This is part of it and you have to learn how to win and win consistently."

Still, the Nittany Lions don't want to have to wait until next year to be winners again and with four games remaining on their schedule, they don't have to.

With a trip to Villanova on Tuesday followed by a final conference series against Michigan State next weekend, the Lions can still end the 2014 season on a positive note.

"You can't hold on to the past because it's over," Cooper said. "We have a four game season and we're going to figure out a way to get better, strap it on against Villanova and go from there."




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