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May 12, 2011
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Building upon its success in a pair of midweek contests, the Penn State baseball team hopes to continue its recent surge as the Nittany Lions host Minnesota during a crucial series this weekend beginning on Friday at 6:35 p.m. at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Extremely important with regards to the Big Ten standings, the series will continue on Saturday at 2:05 p.m. before wrapping up on Sunday at 12:05. Penn State (28-18, 8-10 Big Ten) enters the action tied for sixth place in the league, while Minnesota (19-18, 11-7) comes in sitting comfortably in second.
Sunday's action will be televised live on the Big Ten Network with Penn State's own Loren Crispell joining Tom Hart in the booth. Meanwhile, all three games are available through GameTracker on GoPSUSports.com, and every contest will be broadcast live on PSU All-Access as well as ESPN Radio 1450.
Those who can make it out to the ballpark will be treated to an exciting promotional lineup as well. On Friday, Penn State will hold its weekly dollar dog night with discounted hot dogs costing only $1.
Weekend festivities will continue on Sunday as the team holds its annual Little League Day. Any youngster wearing a Little League hat or jersey will be admitted free to the game. Also, families and groups of four will be treated to a 4-for-$24 promotion on Sunday as folks can purchase four tickets, four hot dogs, and four sodas for just $24.
In addition to those promotions, Sunday will also serve as Senior Day. Prior to the game, Penn State will honor the seven senior members of the team. Jesse Alfreno, Mario Eramo, Michael Glantz, Bobby Jacobs, Heath Johnson, Blake Lynd, and Mike Pierce will be honored for their career achievements and contributions to the program.
Similar to the off-the-field entertainment this weekend, the on-field action should be compelling. Minnesota enters the series having won eight of its previous nine Big Ten games to grab the second spot in the conference standings. Meanwhile, Penn State stumbled a bit during its bouts against Michigan State and Iowa, but the Nittany Lions have shown the ability to play with anybody throughout the year.
Holding a share of the final playoff spot, PSU needs a strong performance this weekend to grab control of its own destiny. Entering the final two weeks of the season, the squad is on the verge of earning its first postseason berth since 2009 and stands ready to make a playoff push.
Especially dangerous at home, the Lions enter the series with a 12-6 record in Happy Valley. The squad also sits above .500 in conference action at home with a 5-4 record, highlighted by series victories against Ohio State and Illinois, who both sit just above Penn State in the current Big Ten standings.
Strong on the road, the Golden Gophers will provide a tough match-up as they have won six straight Big Ten bouts away from Minnesota. Last weekend, the squad swept Michigan in Ann Arbor after rolling through Indiana two weeks earlier. Overall, they sit at 9-7 on the road, including victories over Sacramento State and Cal Poly during their spring break trip.
Minnesota has been especially successful against Penn State, posting a 33-19 record during the all-time series, which dates back to 1992. The Golden Gophers have won six of the previous seven contests, including a three-game sweep last season in Minneapolis. However, Penn State has held its own in Happy Valley, winning seven of 16 contests at home.
Armed with an outstanding rotation, PSU comes into the series ranked first in the league with a 3.47 ERA and a .258 opponent batting average. Similarly, Minnesota has held its opponents to a .274 mark, which ranks third in the conference. The Gophers have also allowed the fewest hits and runs of any Big Ten team this season.
Ready and raring to go on Friday, Steven Hill and TJ Oakes will match-up on the mound in the opener for an excellent duel between two of the league's best pitchers. Hill sits fourth in the conference with a 2.62 ERA, while Oakes is ninth with a 3.15 mark. Hill also leads the league with 82.1 innings of work.
Keeping up with the two aces, John Walter and Phil Isaksson have been just as dominant as the front-line starters and will battle in Saturday's contest. Walter ranks third in the Big Ten with a 2.60 ERA while holding his opposition to a miniscule .228 batting average. Not to be overlooked, Isaksson also sits sixth in the conference with a 2.90 ERA.
Along with the front-of-the-rotation starters, both teams also boast strong bullpens. Minnesota is anchored by Scott Matyas, who ranks second in the conference with nine saves while compiling a 2.10 ERA. On the other side, Heath Johnson has settled in nicely in his new role. The starter-turned-closer has yet to allow an earned run in his nine appearances as a reliever.
Not willing to take a backseat to its pitching staff, the Lion lineup has certainly been a potent force this season. Currently, Penn State leads the Big Ten with 26 home runs while ranking third with a .401 slugging percentage.
Dynamic centerfielder Sean Deegan leads the PSU attack with nine home runs, which is tied for the most in the league. He also sits atop the conference with 118 total bases, ranks second with a .628 slugging percentage, and stands third with 47 runs scored. A threat on the base paths as well, he is tied for the team lead with 13 steals in just 15 attempts.
Greatly effective in the middle of the order, Jordan Steranka also leads the Big Ten with 54 RBI while ranking third with seven home runs. Additionally, Joey DeBernardis leads the way with 21 doubles this season, which stands first in the conference and 10th nationally.
Equally as dangerous on defense, Penn State ranks second nationally with 62 double plays. The squad also flipped a triple play earlier this season and posted a team-high six twin killings on Wednesday against Pittsburgh.
On the other side of the field, Minnesota has hit .258 as a team but has three starters batting above .300. AJ Pettersen leads the team with a .346 average and eight stolen bases. Justin Gominsky also stands at .333, while Nick O'Shea is hitting .311 with a team-best .513 slugging percentage.
From a power standpoint, the Gophers have hit only 12 home runs this season and rank eighth in the league with a .351 slugging percentage. However, the squad has flashed some leather, ranking third in the conference with a .970 fielding percentage while committing just 44 errors, which ranks as the lowest total in the league.
Following a midweek clash with Villanova on Tuesday at 3:35 p.m., Penn State will head back on the road for the squad's final series of the season at Michigan. The Nittany Lions will travel to Ann Arbor and kick off the three-game set with the Wolverines on Thursday at 6:05 p.m.