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April 6, 2011
EVANSTON, Ill. - Drawing upon its success during several early season trips to various parts of the country, the Penn State baseball team will look to continue its strong play on the road when the Nittany Lions visit Northwestern for a Big Ten series beginning on Friday at 4 p.m. ET at Rocky Miller Park.
Riding a recent hot streak and a 12-6 record away from Happy Valley, Penn State enters the series with some momentum on its side. Overall, the squad stands at 17-9, including a 2-1 mark in Big Ten action. On the other side, Northwestern has an 8-17 record and captured one of its first three conference games last weekend against Ohio State.
Shaping up to be an entertaining series, PSU hopes to build upon its strong effort against Illinois when the squad went 2-1 against the Illini to open up Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions are looking to win their first two Big Ten series for the first time since they topped Indiana and Michigan on back-to-back weekends early in the 2001 campaign.
The Lions will have their work cut out for them as Northwestern always proves to be a formidable opponent. In 68 all-time meetings, the two programs have split the series with 34 wins apiece. The Wildcats walked away with a pair of victories last season after taking two-of-three from PSU during an April series at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Evanston, Illinois has proven to be an especially difficult place for Penn State to play as Northwestern holds a 21-10 record against the Lions at Miller Park. PSU has not captured a series at NU since taking three games from the Wildcats in 2005. Since first battling back in 1992, that still stands as the only series Penn State has ever won at Northwestern.
PSU will look to buck that trend and write a different script this weekend as the squad makes its first trip to Evanston since 2006. Although the program has struggled on the road against the Wildcats, no current member of the Nittany Lions has ever played at Northwestern.
Helping out those fans unable to make the trip, a live radio broadcast of all three games will be available on PSU All-Access as well as ESPN Radio 1450 AM. Fans can also follow along with GameTracker on GoPSUSports.com.
Entering the series, both teams boast lethal double play combinations as each squad has accounted for 33 twin killings. Northwestern also ranks third in the conference with 304 assists, while Penn State flipped the conference's lone triple play this year after completing a unique 3-6-5 gem against Illinois.
Not to be overlooked, both teams also have productive offenses capable of lighting up the scoreboard. Penn State ranks second in the league with a .429 slugging percentage and 16 home runs, while Northwestern has scored at least 10 runs on three occasions, including a 14-run outburst on Sunday at Ohio State. During that contest, the Wildcats set Big Ten single-game highs this season with 21 hits and 31 total bases.
The Nittany Lions also boast an outstanding pitching staff to round out a well-balanced squad. Penn State has held its opposition to a .239 batting average, which is easily the lowest in the league. The squad also ranks second with a 3.16 ERA and third with 162 strikeouts.
Coming into their own on the mound, sophomore standouts John Walter and Steven Hill have anchored the starting rotation. In the Big Ten, both men rank in the top-10 in ERA, opponent batting average, and strikeouts. Hill also leads the way with 48.1 innings pitched, while junior reliever Ryan Ignas is tied for third in the conference with three saves.
Offensively, Jordan Steranka and Joey DeBernardis have been at the heart of the lineup all season long. Steranka enters the series leading the Big Ten with six home runs and 33 RBI while hitting .345. DeBernardis also sits atop the conference with 15 doubles while hitting a robust .330 with 21 runs scored.
Leadoff man Sean Deegan has also been exceptional in 2011, leading the Big Ten with a .636 slugging percentage after posting 11 doubles, four triples, and four home runs. He has also stolen eight bases and scored 24 runs.
Back at home for just the third time this year, Northwestern is looking to pick up its first victory at Miller Park in 2011 after the Wildcats dropped decisions to Valparaiso and Milwaukee to open their home slate. A relatively experienced squad, NU welcomed back seven starters from last season's team that finished tied for third in the Big Ten standings.
Ethan Bramschreiber leads Northwestern with a team-best 2.25 ERA in eight relief appearances, while Luke Farrell, Francis Brooke, and Dan Tyson have anchored the starting rotation. Meanwhile, Paul Snieder has a team-high two saves while pulling double-duty as the Wildcats' leading hitter.
Ripping home runs in back-to-back games entering this weekend's series, Snieder has been on a tear at the plate while also shutting down the opposition on the mound. He currently leads the team with three home runs, 23 RBI, and a .345 batting average. Chris Lashmet and Trevor Stevens are also hitting well above .300, while Chris Kontos has 15 RBI and 10 runs scored.
The Nittany Lions will return to action next week when the squad kicks off an 11-game homestand beginning on Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. against Mount St. Mary's. The following evening, Penn State will battle Pittsburgh before opening a three-game series with Purdue over the weekend.