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Baseball Battles Eastern Kentucky This Weekend

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Feb. 25, 2011

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RICHMOND, Ky. - Making the program's first-ever trip to the Bluegrass State, the Penn State baseball team will open up a three-game series against Eastern Kentucky with a doubleheader against the Colonels beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Turkey Hughes Field.

Yet another road trip highlights the early part of Penn State's 2011 slate. Just days after returning from a trip through Florida, the Lions are back on the road with their inaugural trek to Kentucky.

Off to a strong start this year, Penn State looks to build upon its performance during the annual BIG EAST / Big Ten Challenge in St. Petersburg, Fla. Last weekend, the Nittany Lions posted a 2-1 record during the tournament before tacking on an 8-7 victory over the Nexen Heroes of Korea during an exhibition contest on Monday.

Looking to build upon that performance, PSU will battle Eastern Kentucky for the first time in program history. EKU, who hails from the Ohio Valley Conference, enters the weekend action with an 0-3 record after facing perennial power Pepperdine to open the season in Malibu.

During all three contests this weekend, Gametracker will be available through Coverage will begin following the first pitch.

Keeping the momentum from its strong first weekend will be the top priority for Penn State. After victories over BIG EAST foes Seton Hall and West Virginia during the first two games of the year, the Nittany Lions hope to continue their success in the early part of the season while preparing for conference action in the coming months.

Entering this weekend's action, Ryan Clark has been the team's most consistent hitter. During his first three games, he led PSU with a .444 batting average while collecting two doubles, a triple, and three runs scored. A first-team All-Tournament selection for his efforts last week, he was at the forefront of the game-winning rallies against the Pirates and Mountaineers.

Not to be overlooked, first baseman Joey DeBernardis also got off to a strong start after posting a team-high five hits during the Challenge. Overall, he hit .385 with two doubles and a pair of RBI. A wizard with the glove, he also made several outstanding picks at first base throughout the series.

The Lions also benefited from Sean Deegan and Jordan Steranka, who both hit over .300 during the first week of action. Deegan added a team-high three RBI, while Steranka scored twice and knocked in two.

Ultimately, the key to success last weekend was the strong performance of the team's pitching staff. Starters Heath Johnson, Steven Hill, and John Walter combined to post a 2.35 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 15.1 innings of work. Hill was especially dominant, tossing a career-high 7.2 innings against West Virginia while earning honorable mention All-Tournament nods.

Continuing the Lions' masterful work on the mound, the bullpen was equally as stingy during the tournament. Former All-Big Ten selection Ryan Ignas picked up a victory after striking out three over 3.2 innings of work on Friday. Fellow reliever Dave Walkling also earned a win with 1.1 scoreless innings against the Mountaineers.

Keeping up the strong relief effort, freshmen TJ Jann and Scott Dixon both fired scoreless frames over the weekend during their collegiate debuts. Mike Pierce also got the job done, striking out the only batter he faced during a crucial eighth-inning situation against Notre Dame.

Youthful pitching and a talented lineup will greet Penn State when the squad arrives in Richmond, Ky. as Eastern Kentucky boasts a young staff and deep offensive attack. Although the squad was swept last week by Pepperdine, the Colonels hit .270 as a team and received a few strong pitching performances as well.

Handling the mound work for EKU will be freshman Kyle McGrath, sophomore Anthony Bazzani, and staff veteran Stephen Hefler. Against Pepperdine, Hefler had the most success as he held the Waves to just one hit over six innings of work.

On the offensive end, the Colonels are anchored by Richie Rodriguez. An artist with the bat, he went 9-for-13 with two doubles, a triple, and two runs scored against Pepperdine last week. Bryan Soloman also had success in the team's opening series as he hit .357 with a pair of doubles.

Michael Garcia, Sean Hagen, and Jacob Daniel also provide an offensive spark for the Colonels. Daniel clubbed the team's long home run last week, while Garcia and Hagen combined for seven hits and three runs scored.

Even more travels lay ahead for Penn State as the squad hits the road again next week for a 10-day tour through North Carolina and Virginia. The Lions will open that stretch with a three-game series at NC State beginning on March 4 at 3 p.m.




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