A Look Back at the 2011 Penn State Baseball Season
June 3, 2011
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Highlighted by record-setting performances, impressive non-conference victories, and a berth in the Big Ten Tournament, the Penn State baseball team capped off an entertaining 2011 campaign and continued its upward swing with another strong season in the books.
Exciting action filled the calendar from Penn State's season-opening performance in the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge right up through the squad's first berth in the postseason since 2008. Traveling to 10 states ranging from Florida to Illinois, the Nittany Lions took their show on the road and represented themselves splendidly throughout the year with impressive efforts everywhere they went.
Coming off a season in which they won just three road games, the Lions entered 2011 focused on improving their performance away from Happy Valley. PSU did exactly that as the squad won 16 road games, which was tied for the 18th most in all of Division I baseball. The Lions' 13-win jump from last year was also the highest by any team in the nation.
Keeping with its long-standing tradition of playing a challenging schedule, Penn State certainly faced a daunting slate in 2011. Squaring off with the likes of NC State and Wichita State, the Lions tested themselves against perennial powers and always held their own. During the treks to Raleigh and Wichita, PSU took two of three from both the Wolfpack and Shockers.
Of course, Penn State certainly played up to its competition all year long as the squad posted a 5-3 record against teams that eventually earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament. In addition to the two victories against NC State, the Nittany Lions took two of three from Illinois and won their season-opening battle with Seton Hall, who went on to capture the BIG EAST championship.
For their efforts during the year, the Lions received national praise. On April 26, Penn State earned votes in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll for the first time in 2011. Later, on May 16, the squad was named one of the National Teams of the Week as selected by College Baseball Insider after taking two-of-three from Minnesota following non-conference victories against Niagara and Pittsburgh.
After receiving the national honors, Penn State focused its sights on earning a berth in the Big Ten Tournament. The Lions opened conference action with series victories against Illinois and Northwestern, which marked the first time since 2001 that the program captured each of its first two conference series. Later, they capped off the year with victories against Minnesota and Michigan to lock up a tournament bid.
Seeded sixth after wrapping up the year with a 12-12 record in Big Ten action, Penn State faced a difficult road in the postseason and eventually bowed out following setbacks to Purdue and Minnesota. Despite the exit, the Lions proved they could play with anyone in the conference, emphasized by their seven victories against fellow postseason contenders.
Equally as impressive as the team's overall success, several individual accomplishments earned special recognition during the year as well. Junior centerfielder Sean Deegan was one of only two players in the conference to earn unanimous first-team All-Big Ten honors. He led the league with an incredible .622 slugging percentage, which was 25 points higher than the next closest competitor.
Adjusting perfectly to the new aluminum bats, he also led the Big Ten with 12 home runs. That amount was higher than the total clubbed by 20 Division I teams this year. He also finished second in the league with 18 doubles and five triples while leading Penn State with 14 stolen bases in just 16 attempts.
Steven Hill joined Deegan on the All-Conference squad, earning second-team honors for his work as the staff ace. During the year, he posted a league-best 2.57 ERA while notching a 6-5 record. He also fired four complete games, which matched the combined total thrown by every other Penn State pitcher dating back to the beginning of the 2009 campaign.
Of course, Hill was not alone in his work at the top of the rotation. John Walter provided an excellent complement as the Saturday starter, tallying a 6-4 record to go along with a 3.19 ERA. A third-team All-Conference pick, he also limited his opposition to a .234 batting average, which was the lowest mark in the league.
Not to be overlooked, the rest of the staff was solid throughout the year as well. Mike Franklin took over as a weekend starter midway through the season and posted a 4-1 record with a 4.09 ERA. Similarly, Dave Walkling notched a pristine 5-0 record with a 1.71 ERA and earned Big Ten Pitcher of the Week laurels on March 14 before having season-ending surgery just before the start of conference action.
Penn State also benefited from a strong bullpen, anchored in the early part of the season by Ryan Ignas before Heath Johnson took the reins later on. Ignas appeared in 16 games and picked up a team-high five saves while posting a 3.04 ERA before missing the last few weeks of the season. At that point, Johnson took over and shined, picking up three saves during his time in relief.
Effective out of the bullpen as well, freshman southpaws Geoff Boylston and Greg Welsh also looked strong throughout the year. Boylston posted a 1.99 ERA and picked up two wins and a save, while Welsh earned a pair of wins and two saves while leading the team with 25 appearances during the year.
Normally a strong offensive team, the 2011 squad continued that tradition with a well-rounded attack. In addition to Deegan's All-Conference efforts during the year, Joey DeBernardis led the Big Ten with 25 doubles. That total also set a new single-season program record, trumping Michael Campo's previous mark of 24 set in 2000.
Noted slugger Jordan Steranka also had a great junior campaign. During the year, he finished third in the Big Ten with 57 RBI and fifth with eight home runs and a .544 slugging percentage. He also hit .323 and scored 46 runs while legging out five triples.
Seniors Mario Eramo, Bobby Jacobs, and Blake Lynd also were cornerstones during the year. Eramo finished second in the Big Ten with nine home runs, while Lynd swiped 13 bases in 14 attempts. Jacobs also served as a stalwart behind the plate despite playing much of the year with a facial injury suffered against Northwestern.
The Penn State defense also had some bright spots during the year. The Lions were the only team in the Big Ten to flip a triple play after converting an unusual 3-6-5 gem against Illinois on April 2. The squad also turned 70 double plays, which led the Big Ten and ranked fourth in the nation.
Aided by the timely defense, well-rounded offense, and strong pitching staff, PSU finished the year with 32 wins, which marked the program's highest total since 2000 when the squad advanced to the Super Regionals. Certainly, with the talent returning and the experience gained from the team's run to the postseason, Penn State has a bright future.
The Nittany Lions will return an impressive corps of talent next year. Of the 10 position players who started at least 30 games in 2011, six have at least one year of eligibility remaining. Furthermore, of the seven pitchers who appeared in at least 15 games, only Johnson threw his last pitch for the blue and white.
Even with the loss of several upperclassmen, Penn State will have a strong foundation returning next year. With the 2011 season serving as a nice stepping-stone for the future, the Nittany Lions look primed to continue their surge towards the top of the Big Ten standings.