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March 1, 2012
By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State will be spending Spring Break down south for a marathon of eight away games in nine days. The Nittany Lions (1-5) will face three teams with a combined 17-7 record all in hostile environments. With the odds stacked against them, the players have embraced the underdog role and are excited for the challenge.
"They're all pretty tough teams," said senior outfielder Sean Deegan. "I think that's a positive for us going in as an underdog... I think that's when you sneak in there and you pull out the win."
After being swept in a three-game series at UNC Greensboro, the Nittany Lions knew they needed to step up their game and it started with practice.
"One of the biggest things is just going as hard as we can at every practice, going game speed," said Deegan.
Though the Spartans caught Penn State off guard last weekend, the setback merely fueled the fire, motivating the players to take their games to the next level.
"I think for the rest of the season you're going to see a more gritty, up tempo, cage-fighter-style attitude on a team," said senior first baseman Jordan Steranka. "We're really fired up right now."
Head coach Robbie Wine emphasized the importance of keeping a positive attitude. Despite the slow start to the season, both the coaches and players know that there is a lot of baseball still to play and small setbacks should be viewed as learning experiences, not reasons to doubt each other.
"That's a big thing right there, that positive approach," said coach Wine. "We believe in ourselves. Don't lose faith in your teammates."
"You just can't panic," said Deegan. "That's the biggest thing is you have to stay positive."
The mental aspect of baseball is just as important, if not more important, than the physical. As Deegan notes, it's a team's desire that decides whether they will win or lose when the game is on the line.
"If you want it more and you're willing to grind out at bats and grind out innings on the mound and make the diving play or take the extra base, that's the kind of stuff that wins you baseball games," said Deegan.
With a brutal string of away games looming, Penn State's mental toughness will be crucial. Coach Wine preached to his players the importance of taking it one game at a time and battling until the end.
"You can't look at what's ahead of us," cautioned coach Wine. "You got to worry about today and try to stay on track, stay positive, stay upbeat, stay energetic for nine innings."
It will be an exhausting week for the team as a whole, but especially for the pitching staff. Coach Wine will need every arm in the rotation working hard to give the offense a chance to win every day. He has a lot of confidence in his pitchers and the depth he has this season will be a key advantage.
"That's going to be a strength down the stretch run for the course of the season, having arms healthy," said coach Wine. "I anticipate everybody contributing, especially pitchers on the mound next week with that many games."
Penn State begins its journey on Saturday with a three-game series at Samford (6-3), then immediately travels to Mississippi State (6-2) for a two game series followed by a meager one-day of rest before finishing with a three game series at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (5-2). The Nittany Lions know what their up against and, with the right mindset, they will be ready for the challenge.
"We got to play good baseball," said Steranka. "They're going to be really talented, good pitching staff, good offense and we're playing in a hostile environment each time, so we got to just have a good mind set each game, take it one game at a time."
"They're very good teams," said coach Wine. "They're going to have arms, they're going to have bats, they're going to have speed...but that's not an excuse... it's you against the baseball. That's the way you have to look at it."