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Feb. 15, 2012
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State baseball team, under the direction of eighth year head coach Robbie Wine, is set to begin the program's 124th season, as the Nittany Lions travel to Clearwater, Fla. for the fourth annual BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge beginning this Friday.
Looking to start off the season with another strong performance in the competition, Penn State will open with Seton Hall on Friday at 4 p.m. before battling West Virginia on Saturday at 4 p.m. and Cincinnati on Sunday at 10 a.m. All games can be followed via a Gametracker link on GoPSUSports.com.
Over the past three years, Penn State has been a force in the annual competition. During each of the first three contests, the Lions won two of their three games, including topping West Virginia and Seton Hall last year. The Big Ten won the inaugural event in 2009 with a 15-9 record, while the Big East has won the last two outings.
The Nittany Lions return an impressive corps of talent from the 2011 team. Of the 10 position players who started at least 30 games in 2011, six will be returning, including seniors Joey DeBernardis (Lake Zurich, Ill.), Jordan Steranka (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and Sean Deegan (Readington, N.J.).
Furthermore, of the seven pitchers who appeared in at least 15 games, six will be returning. Junior pitcher Steven Hill (Colleyville, Texas), who joined Deegan on the All-Conference squad last year, will return after earning second-team honors for his work as the staff ace last season. During 2011, he posted a league-best 2.57 ERA while notching a 6-5 record. He also fired four complete games. Hill is expected to make the start for Penn State on Sunday against Cincinnati.
In addition, Wine will hand the ball to junior Cody Lewis (Laguna Niguel, Calif.) in the season opener on Friday and junior John Walter (Haddonfield, N.J.) on Saturday. Lewis will be appearing in his first game as a Nittany Lion after transferring from Saddleback Junior College. Walter will look to build off a stellar 2011 campaign, where he earned Third Team All-Big Ten Honors, going 6-4 with an ERA of 3.19.
The Pirates of Seton Hall had a stellar year last season, winning nine of their last 11 games, sweeping through the BIG EAST Tournament to capture the conference title. In addition, Seton Hall won its first game at the NCAA Regional in College Station, Texas. Most of the Pirate depth comes from the outfield, returning all three starting outfielders in Dale Anderson, Zach Granite and Will Walsh.
The Mountaineers completed 2011 with a 28-27 overall record, including a 14-13 mark in BIG EAST action to qualify WVU for its fourth consecutive BIG EAST Tournament appearance. Five starting position players return for 2012 with a total of 14 letterwinners returning, including five pitchers.
The Bearcats are coming off a solid campaign, going 30-27 with a 14-13 mark in BIG EAST action. Sophomore DH Justin Glass, senior OF/C Braden Kline and junior OF Jake Proctor are Cincinnati's top returning starters. Last season, Glass batted .326 with four home runs and 45 RBI in 57 games. Kline hit .326 with five home runs and 31 RBI. Proctor ended last season with a .286 batting average with a team-best 51 runs scored, 30 RBI and three home runs. He also stole 21 bases.
Following action at the Challenge this weekend, the Nittany Lions will travel to UNC-Greensboro next weekend for a three-game series, beginning on Friday.
Penn State Baseball is on Twitter via www.twitter.com/psubaseball.
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