Penn State Opens Up Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday
May 24, 2011
COLUMBUS, Ohio - In search of postseason glory, the Penn State baseball team will kick off the 2011 Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday at 3:35 p.m. when the Nittany Lions battle Purdue in an opening round match-up at Huntington Park.
After earning a berth to the tournament for the first time since 2008, Penn State (32-20, 12-12 Big Ten) is looking to continue its successful campaign with a strong showing in the playoffs. The Lions earned the No. 6 seed in the postseason and will face some tough competition in the opening round as the squad squares off with Purdue (36-18, 14-10), who earned the No. 3 seed and finished the regular season with the top overall record in the conference.
Making their ninth trip to the Big Ten Tournament in program history, the Lions have posted a 13-16 record during those postseason competitions. The squad captured at least one game during seven of its previous eight trips, including three contests in 2000, 2003, and 2007. During their last appearance in the tournament in 2008, they picked up an opening round victory against Indiana before dropping contests to Purdue and Indiana in an elimination game.
Sixth seeds have fared pretty well in the Big Ten Tournament since the field was expanded in 2000. Only twice has the team seeded sixth failed to win a single game in the playoffs. Squads have also been able to make deep runs in the postseason from the No. 6 spot, highlighted by Ohio State's championship in 2007. Sixth seeds have also finished as the runner-up twice with the 2001 Michigan and 2005 Minnesota squads accomplishing that feat.
Of course, Penn State will have to forge its own path to postseason prominence and count on a roster with very little playoff experience. Bobby Jacobs and Mike Pierce are the only two current members of the Nittany Lions who were on the team during the squad's last postseason berth in 2008. Although both players saw action during the season, neither one competed in the tournament.
Purdue boasts a much more experienced roster as the Boilermakers have appeared in the Big Ten Tournament during each of the last three seasons. However, overall, the 2011 playoff teams are relatively inexperienced with only Purdue and Minnesota returning after appearing in last year's competition. Illinois, Michigan State, and Ohio State all missed out after competing in the 2009 event.
Rolling into the postseason having won each of its last two Big Ten series, Penn State will have to continue counting on its exceptional pitching staff to carry the squad during the playoffs. Claiming one of the top rotations in the conference, the Lions lead the Big Ten with a 3.28 ERA. Furthermore, the squad has also held its opposition to a .256 batting average, which is nearly 20 points lower than any other team in the league.
On top of his game entering the playoffs, sophomore Steven Hill has been exceptional on the mound. The second-year standout leads the Big Ten with a 2.20 ERA and 98.1 innings of work. He has not allowed an earned run during each of his last three starts, including a complete game shutout against Minnesota on May 13.
Ultimately one of the best No. 2 pitchers in the Big Ten, John Walter rounds out Penn State's dynamic duo at the top of the rotation. A fellow sophomore, he has held his opponents to a .234 batting average, which is the lowest mark in the league. He also ranks fifth with a 2.94 ERA and ninth with 57 strikeouts and 79.2 innings of work.
Dangerous offensively as well, Penn State has been led at the plate by junior centerfielder Sean Deegan. Entering the postseason, he sits atop the Big Ten with 12 home runs and a .638 slugging percentage. He also ranks second with 18 doubles, third with 53 runs scored, and 10th with 14 stolen bases. Moreover, he has continually proven to be one of the top defensive outfielders in the Big Ten as well.
One of the league's most feared hitters, Jordan Steranka also ranks second in the Big Ten with 57 RBI and five triples. He also stands fifth in the conference with a .557 slugging percentage, eight home runs, and 117 total bases. Additionally, Mario Eramo sits second in the league with nine bombs, while Joey DeBernardis leads the way with 23 doubles, which is one shy of tying the program's single-season record.
Furthermore, Penn State also has one of the top double-play combinations in the nation. Anchored by DeBernardis, Elliot Searer, Luis Montesinos, and Michael Glantz, the squad has flipped 68 twin killings in 2011, which ranks in the top-five in the nation. Earlier this year, PSU turned six against Pittsburgh, which stands as the top single-game total in the Big Ten this season.
Yet, despite boasting impressive stats in all three phases of the game, Penn State stumbled a bit during the middle of the season after reaching the top of the Big Ten standings following four weeks of conference action. However, the squad has been successful against most of the other playoff teams, taking two-of-three from Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio State during the year.
Overall, Penn State has a 7-8 record against the other five Big Ten Tournament teams and captured at least one game from every squad except Michigan State. However, even against the Spartans, the Nittany Lions were a formidable foe, dropping a pair of close one-run decisions, including a 5-4 contest in 10 innings.
Unable to make it to Columbus, Ohio this weekend, fans can catch all of the action live on the Big Ten Network. Penn State fans can also tune into a live radio broadcast available on PSU All-Access as well as ESPN Radio 1450. GameTracker will also be live for all games during the tournament.
Earlier in the day on Wednesday, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Minnesota will compete in the other opening round contest. The highest seeded team to win a first round game will advance to face No. 2 Michigan State on Thursday. The lowest seeded winner will battle No. 1 Illinois. The two teams who lose in the opening round will face each other in an elimination game on Thursday.
Minnesota is the defending champion after going 3-0 during the 2010 tournament. With the victory, the Golden Gophers became just the fourth No. 1 seed to win the championship in the last 15 years.