Baseball Opens Season on Friday in BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge
Feb. 17, 2011
ST. PETERSBURG, Fl. - Following a nine-month layoff since the squad's last competitive action, the Penn State baseball team will open up the 2011 season this week as the Nittany Lions travel to Florida for the third 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 10 a.m. before battling West Virginia on Saturday at 1 p.m. and Notre Dame on Sunday at 10 a.m. The Lions will face the Pirates at historic Al Lang Field before moving to Jack Russell Stadium and the Walter Fuller Baseball Complex over the weekend.
Over the past two years, Penn State has been a force in the annual competition. During each of the first two contests, the Lions won two of their three games after topping Cincinnati and Seton Hall last year following victories over Northwestern and Seton Hall in 2009. The Big Ten won the inaugural event in 2009 with a 15-9 record, while the Big East evened the series last year after posting a 17-13 mark.
Real-time webcasts will be available for two of the team's three games this weekend. CollegeBaseball360.com will broadcast Friday's contest against Seton Hall as well as Sunday's bout with Notre Dame. Award-winning sportscaster Sean Stires will be joined by Joel Godett and Ian Dooley in the booth.
Individual day and all-tournament passes are available and can be purchased through the challenge's website at www.BigEastBigTenBaseballChallenge.com. Individual tickets are $10, while all-tournament passes are $25 and admit a spectator to all 24 games during the three-day competition.
During the challenge, the Big Ten will be represented by the Nittany Lions as well as Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Purdue. The BIG EAST will feature Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John's, Seton Hall, and West Virginia.
After finishing last year with a 22-30 record, Penn State is looking to come back strong in 2011. The squad returns nine position players who started at least 20 games last season and looks to rely on a deep and experienced core of players to anchor the always-dangerous Lion lineup.
Headlining the veteran portion of the team are juniors Joey DeBernardis and Jordan Steranka. Together, the two will man the corner infield positions and slide into the heart of the batting order. Selected as Big Ten "Players to Watch" in 2011, the dynamic duo started all 52 games last season and were two of only four players on the team who posted at least a .470 slugging percentage.
Elliot Searer will also be an important part of the team's foundation in 2011. Following a rookie season that saw him earn Big Ten All-Freshman laurels, he will return to the lineup looking to build upon his outstanding first year in Happy Valley. A dynamic and versatile player, he started 41 games and hit .341 with 34 runs scored during the 2010 campaign.
Relying on speed and base-running instincts, Penn State will also look to swipe a few bags this season. Last year, the squad stole 60 bases, including 56 by returning members of the team. Sean Deegan led the way with 24 steals in 2010, while Blake Lynd posted 22 in 2009 before redshirting last season.
Eager to build upon their past successes, veterans Mario Eramo, Bobby Jacobs, Michael Glantz, Heath Johnson, Luis Montesinos, and Steve Snyder will also provide the depth and leadership that a quality contender needs in its lineup and on the bench.
In addition to the veteran members of the team, several freshmen could also make an immediate impact during the 2011 campaign. Recognized by Baseball America as a deep and talented group of young standouts, the first-year class is headlined by two-way talent TJ Jann and catcher Alex Farkes, who was named the fourth-best freshman in the Big Ten by the national publication.
Coming off of a strong junior season, Heath Johnson will anchor the starting rotation this year. A Big Ten "Player to Watch," he returns for his senior campaign after bypassing the opportunity to sign with the New York Yankees after they selected him in last year's Major League Draft. A hard-throwing right-hander, he will take the ball in the season opener on Friday.
One of the keys to the season will be how the rotation progresses from last year. In addition to Johnson, Steven Hill and John Walter will also be called upon to start after both men were key contributors on the mound as freshmen.
Exciting times lie ahead for the Nittany Lions as the squad has a promising outlook for the future. After piecing together a team that is headlined by experienced veterans and gifted young talent, Penn State hopes to compile a storybook season in 2011.