Saturday Roundup, March 9

Saturday was a busy day around the Big Ten, with 15 games spanning the country, from the foothills of the Appalachians all the way to Los Angeles. There wasn’t the drama that Friday possessed, but there were series clinched by Illinois and Nebraska, while Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers saw their weekend get underway after weather disrupted their planned weekend.

Here’s a rundown of how Saturday unfolded in the Big Ten.

Scores

Illinois (9-3) @ Grand Canyon (6-8), W, 5-2

Indiana (7-6) vs. #7 Oregon State (12-1), L, 8-3

Iowa (7-4) vs. Evansville (5-6), W, 18-7

Maryland (8-5) @ Stetson (6-8), L, 12-7

Michigan (9-3) @ USC (5-8), L, 4-1

Michigan State vs. Western Carolina (7-5), L, 6-4 (10)

Michigan State (3-10) 7 vs. Ohio State (7-6) 1

Minnesota (2-10) vs. San Diego (11-4), L, 6-5 (8)

Nebraska (6-6) @ #25 Baylor (9-4), W, 2-0

Northwestern (4-8) @ Missouri (8-5), L, 17-11

Penn State (8-3) @ Central Florida (10-4), L, 5-3

Purdue (2-10) vs. NJIT (6-3-1), L/W, 9-3 (10), 9-8

Rutgers (3-8) @ USC Upstate (6-8), L/W 1-0, 8-7

Saturday Highlights

Unhittable Fisher leads Huskers to series win

It’s going to be an easy call for the Big Ten when announcing this weekend’s individual honors. The effort Nebraska senior left-handed Nate Fisher together wasn’t only the best of the weekend, but it might end up as the top pitching performance of the year at season’s end.

Leading Nebraska to a series-clinching 2-0 win at #25 Baylor, Fisher could not be touched. Pitching into the ninth, Fisher did not allow a hit on the afternoon. Pulled after hitting the first batter of the ninth, Fisher’s final line read: eight innings, zero hits, zero runs, one walk and six strikeouts. Most impressive was the efficiency at which Fisher pitched, needing only 84 pitches to pitch into the ninth. Baylor did record a hit off reliever Robbie Palkert to avoid the no-hitter, before freshman right-hander Colby Gomes closed the door with a one-out save.

Offensively, lone runs in the fourth and ninth were enough to help the Huskers reach .500. In a 2-for-4 day, Gomes recorded a one-out single, before coming around to score on a sacrifice fly by Luke Roskam. In between, as part of a 3-for-4 afternoon, a single by Gunner Hellstrom advanced Gomes to third from first. Nebraska’s third multi-hit effort was secured by freshman shortstop Spencer Schwellenbach, with a RBI-single, giving the game it’s final 2-0 score.

Overpowering Mokma helps Spartans salvage Saturday split

After being unable to secure a 4-2 lead after eight innings in a 6-4, 10-inning loss to Western Carolina, Michigan State head coach Jake Boss took no chances with his bullpen in a non-conference showdown against Ohio State.

Holding the Ohio State lineup in check all night, sophomore right-handed pitcher Mike Mokma pitched a complete-game against the Buckeyes, scattering seven hits, allowing just one run, and strikeout 11. Over 127 pitches, the second-year sophomore did not issue a walk.

“Mike was outstanding in every way tonight,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “Mike did a heck of a job when we really needed it. We had a disappointing loss in game one, and thankfully for us, Mike was ready to go out and play. He threw a lot of strikes tonight and was in command the whole way.”

Mike Mokma was the story of the game,” Ohio State head coach Greg Beals said. “He commanded his fastball really well and pitched in good counts almost all night long.”

Every batter in the MSU lineup recorded at least one hit in support of Mokma, with a 3-for-4 effort from Bryce Kelley, and a 2-for-3, two-double evening from Royce Ando leading the way.

Noteworthy relief efforts litter Saturday’s slate

There were a few outstanding relief efforts on Saturday that saw pitchers do everything they could to keep their team in the game.

Pitching 4.1 innings, Illinois’ Sean Leland struck out eight, did not walk a batter and held Grand Canyon to one hit, in Illinois’ 5-2 win.

Although they fell short of a comeback win, Penn State saw Kyle Virbitsky pitch the final three innings against Central Florida, allowing just one hit and one run.

Ohio State freshman TJ Brock pitched three perfect innings against Michigan State, striking out five Spartans.

Purdue’s Austin Peterson pitched the final 5.2 innings, surrendering just two hits while punching out nine in Purdue’s 9-8 win over NJIT.

Purdue and Rutgers bounce back to end skids

Tough losses on Saturday afternoon extended losing streaks for Purdue and Rutgers. But with nightcaps of Saturday doubleheaders still to play, both clubs were able to shake off the defeat and head to bed on Saturday night with a victory in tow.

USC Uptate did just enough in collecting six hits to turn back Rutgers, 1-0 in game one of their twinbill. With offense at a premium, Rutgers’ four hits weren’t enough to support a strong effort on the mound by Harry Rutkowski. The sophomore pitched 5.2 innings, scattered five hits and struck out eight. A second one-run contest was played Saturday night between the two, with the Scarlet Knights coming out on top this time, 8-7, overcoming five errors in the process. Chris Brito and Tyler McNamara both collected RBI-singles in the ninth inning to halt a four-game slide.

A pair of 10th-inning errors helped NJIT bring 10 batters to the plate, as a six-run extra frame powered the Highlanders to an game one victory over the Boilermakers, 9-3. Purdue had used a three-run eighth to tie the game. The ability to score later in the game continued into Saturday’s finale, as Purdue scored in each of the final four frames to win 9-8, putting an end to a five-game skid. Trailing 7-3 at the stretch, a three-run seventh, and two-run eighth set the stage for a dramatic ninth. After NJIT knotted the game 8-8 in the top of the inning, back-to-back four-pitch walks put Tyler Powers and Evan Albrecht on. A bunt single from Skyler Hunter loaded the bases, before a third four-pitch walk of the inning, drawn by Cole McKenzie, gave Purdue a literal walk-off victory.

Hawkeyes collect the hits

Before the season starter, Iowa head coach Rick Heller felt his 2019 lineup would be the most consistent, 1-9. Absent were the big threats of years past like Jake Adams, Tyler Cropley, Mason McCoy and Robert Neustrom, but present was a collect of players Heller was confident all could do their job and come together as a potent force.

Saturday’s game against Evansville may have been exactly what Heller envision.

Taking on Evansville in Marian, Ill., Iowa pounded out a season-high 19 hits in their 18-7 romp. Supporting Cole McDonald’s six-inning, one-run effort, 10 Hawkeyes collected a hit, with first baseman Zeb Adreon leading the way, using three doubles to go 3-for-5 evening with four RBI. Izaya Fullard, Ben Norman and Matthew Sosa each collected a home run, as the Hawkeyes pounded out nine extra-base hits.

“I’m happy with how our team came out to play. They had great focus in all areas of the game, especially on offense. Zeb Adreon had a big night with four RBIs. Izaya Fullard had five RBIs. Matthew Sosa comes into the game and has three RBIs with some great at-bats. Up and down the lineup, guys put quality at-bats together. We did a job of executing when we needed to move runners.”

Oregon State still has the Big Ten’s number

With their 8-3 win over Indiana, Oregon State is now 7-0 against the Big Ten this year. The Beavers have twice beat Minnesota and swept Nebraska in a four-game series the second week of the season.

Unfortunately for the Big Ten, this is nothing new. Oregon State swept Minnesota in last year’s Corvallis Super Regional, and grabbed all four games, two apiece, against Nebraska and Ohio State last February. To find the last time a Big Ten team defeated Oregon State, you have to go back to Feb. 24, 2017, when the Buckeyes knocked off the Beavers, 6-1, in Surprise, Ariz. Since then, Oregon State has won 15 in a row.

Errors comes back to bite

Saturday wasn’t the finest day on the diamond for many conference teams, with poor showings in the field coming back to haunt teams in close losses. Here’s a look at whose defense let them down the hardest.

Indiana: three errors, two unearned runs.

Michigan State: two errors, two unearned runs, lost by two in 10 innings to WCU.

Maryland: three errors, four unearned runs.

Minnesota: four errors, two unearned runs, lost by one run.

Purdue: three errors in game one vs. NJIT, all six 10th inning runs were unearned.

Penn State’s three errors against Central Florida did not lead to any unearned runs.

Friday Roundup, March 8

With the non-conference slate winding down and teams having nearly a dozen games under their belt, it’s beginning to be more clear what can be excepted of Big Ten teams to come. And if Friday’s results were any indication, what is to come is an incredibly competitive conference season where no weekend will be a gimme.

Here’s a roundup of a big night for Big Ten baseball.

Scores

Illinois (8-3) @ Grand Canyon (6-7), W, 6-3

Indiana (7-5) vs. Washington (8-3), W, 1-0

Maryland (8-4) @ Stetson (5-7), W, 7-0

#18 Michigan (9-2) @ #2 UCLA (9-3), W, 7-5

Minnesota (2-9) vs. #7 Oregon State (11-1), L 2-1

Nebraska (5-6) @ #25 Baylor (9-3), W, 12-4

Northwestern (4-7) @ Missouri (7-5), L, 3-2

Penn State (8-2) @ Central Florida (9-3), W, 5-2

Michigan State vs. Western Carolina, CLD

Ohio State vs. Furman PPD

Rutgers @ USC Upstate PPD

Rankings reflective of Baseball America’s March 4 top 25.

Friday highlights

The Big Ten makes some big noise

Just a look at yesterday’s scoreboard reveals a big day for the Big Ten. The conference grabbed two road wins against top 25 clubs, while going 6-2 overall. And the the two losses were one-run contest against Power 5 opponents. The most runs a team allowed were UCLA’s five against Michigan, as the conference outscored the opposition 41-19. The conference has collectively had an up-and-down first three weeks, but now with conference play around the corner, it appears teams are coming into form.

Pauly Milto’s career-defining performance

Slowly, but very steadily and surely, Indiana right-hander Pauly Milto is carving space in the Indiana record books and is set to graduate as one of the Hoosiers best pitchers in program history. With a 2.87 ERA over 213.1 career innings, the numbers support the argument. And now, Milto has a defining outing that will live in the memories of Hoosier faithful well beyond his four-year career in Bloomington. The final game on opening day of the Seattle Baseball Showcase at T-Mobile Park, Milto was dominant against Washington, a 2018 College World Series participant and team entering with only two defeats over the 10 games in 2019.

In eight innings, Milto allowed just one hit, walked one batter and hit another, to face just three batters over the minimum. The senior struck out six batters in a 104-pitch outing, throwing 68 for strikes. Milto’s dominance on the mound was needed as the Hoosiers were held to just six hits, but Drew Ashley’s two-out single to left, scoring Cole Barr, was enough to give Indiana a key win.

Max Meyer’s statement-making first start

Before Milto silenced the Huskies, except for one pitch, Minnesota’s Max Meyer gave everything the Gophers could have asked for in his first career start, also twirling a gem. With Minnesota looking to turn around an 2-8 start, Meyer was moved into the Gopher rotation, following a 4.2-inning relief appearance at No. 23 North Carolina State, where the sophomore right-hander allowed one run and struck out four. In his second consecutive outing against a ranked team, Meyer gave John Anderson a career-high six innings against Oregon State, striking out eight batters without issuing a walk, and allowed only four hits. But one of the hits was a two-run home run against fellow USA Baseball Collegiate National Team member Adley Rutschman, one of the top two MLB Draft prospects. The 2-1 loss will sting, but Meyer showed he has the ability to go deep into contests, and if he can stymie a top five team the way he did last night, the season’s outlook is a lot brighter for Minnesota.

Penn State continues hot start

They didn’t defeat a ranked team, but Penn State knocking off Central Florida on the road might have been the most eye-catching result. Coming off of a 15-win season, few outside of State College expected much of the Nittany Lions. But a 7-2 showing after three weekends brought a little attention to what Rob Cooper’s club is doing in the early part of 2019, a spotlight surely to grow larger after holding an UCF team who entered the weekend at 9-3, to three hits. Sophomore Mason Mellott continues to shine as a stretch-reliever, pitching the final three innings without allowing a run, supporting 3-for-5 efforts by Jordan Bowersox and Parker Hendershot.

Tommy Henry’s B-game still plenty good

It wasn’t his best performance, but Wolverine junior left-handed pitcher Tommy Henry was still plenty good, leading Michigan to the road upset over UCLA. Michigan’s 7-5 win was the program’s first over a top five team since defeating #4 Illinois in the 2015 Big Ten Tournament. Entering the contest without conceding a run in 23 innings, the Bruins did tag Henry for two runs and six hits over six innings, but the southpaw’s 10 strikeouts to two walks helped keep the bears at bay, and push Michigan to 9-2 on the year.

Maryland’s Costes is picking up where his brother left off

With senior right-handed pitcher Hunter Parsons quieting the Hatters, Parsons scattered six hits over seven innings, with 10 strikeouts to one walk, freshman Maxwell Costes provided all of the offense the Terps would need. Now 8-4 on the young season with the 7-0 road win at Stetson, Maryland saw Costes go 2-for-3 with a walk, home run, two runs and RBI out of the cleanup spot. With a team-leading .326 average, two home runs and a 1.013 OPS, Costes is continuing the family trend of being a force in the heart of the Maryland lineup, more than adequately filling the shoes of Marty Costes, who was a 22nd-round draft pick of the Houston Astros following a three-year career in College Park.

Sweet swinging Jack Yalowitz is back

Following a breakout 2017 season, where he batted .335 with 12 home runs and 10 stolen bases as a sophomore, expectations were high for Illinois outfielder Jack Yalowitz in 2018. But the draft season played out in a surprising manner, with his average dropping to .216 and power dipping to four home runs. Back in Champaign for a senior season, Yalowitz is reverting to his 2017 form and giving the Illini the production they need to break a four-year NCAA Tournament drought. Powering Illinois to a 6-3 win over Grand Canyon, Yalowitz matched career highs with four hits, two home runs and five RBI. Helping Illinois to an 8-3 start, the former first-team all-conference outfielder is batting .350.

Nebraska finds the long ball, again, and again

Through their first 10 games, Nebraska had yet to hit a home run. The Huskers were able to find the long ball on Friday, then had so much fun they did it twice in the same inning. Just two batters in, senior shortstop Angelo Altavilla blasted a two-run home run, then three batters later it was junior catcher Luke Roskam’s turn to dial up a two-run long ball. En route to routing Baylor, 12-4, Altavilla hit his second home run of the game in the top of the ninth, to cap a five-RBI night. Roskam added three more hits, in addition to his home run in the first, to go 4-for-6 with two runs and four RBI. On the mound, senior right-hander Matt Waldron allowing two runs, one earned, over seven innings, striking out eight batters without issuing a walk.

 

Judkins Named NCBWA National Pitcher of the Week

Iowa City, Iowa –University of Iowa junior Grant Judkins has been named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) National Pitcher of the Week, it was announced Tuesday by the association.

Judkins was also named a Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week and the Big Ten’s Pitcher of the Week on Monday following his dominant performance in Iowa’s 10-0 victory over Marshall on Feb. 17 in Kissimmee, Florida.

The Pella, Iowa, native pitched a career-best six-innings of no-hit ball with a career-high 11 strikeouts against the Thundering Herd. Judkins had a fast start, punching out five batters through three innings. In the sixth, he worked out of trouble after back-to-back walks to start the inning. With runners on first and third with one out, Judkins reached double digit K’s, striking out the final two batters he faced.

Judkins’ 11 strikeouts are currently leading the Big Ten Conference and rank fifth nationally. As a team, the Hawkeyes have 41 strikeouts in three games to lead the league and rank fifth in the country with 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio State Earn Baseball Weekly Honors

Rosement, Ill. — Huskers’ Hallmark named Player of the Week; Hawkeyes’ Judkins claims Pitcher of the Week recognition; Buckeyes’ Burhenn tabbed Freshman of the Week.

Player of the Week
Jaxon Hallmark, Nebraska

OF – So. – Midland, Texas – Midland – Sports Media and Communication

 

  • Helped the Huskers to a 3-1 record to open the season, posting a trio of victories over UC Riverside
  • Tallied 10 RBI on 8 hits and scored five runs while batting .444 on the week
  • Led the Huskers with a .556 slugging percentage and a .474 on-base percentage
  • Wins his first career Big Ten Player of the Week award
  • Last Nebraska Big Ten Player of the Week: Scott Schreiber (April 9, 2018)

 

Pitcher of the Week
Grant Judkins, Iowa

P – Jr. – Pella, Iowa – Pella High School – Finance

 

  • Shut down Marshall over six innings on Sunday, not allowing a hit, setting a career high with 11 strikeouts and helping Iowa to a 10-0 victory
  • Recorded five strikeouts through the first three innings
  • Overcame back-to-back walks in the sixth inning by escaping the jam with his final two strikeouts
  • The Academic All-Big Ten honoree records his first career Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honor
  • Last Iowa Big Ten Pitcher of the Week: Nick Allgeyer (April 30, 2018)

 

Freshman of the Week
Garrett Burhenn, Ohio State

P – Indianapolis, Ind. – Lawrence North – Health Professions Exploration

 

  • Threw eight scoreless innings allowing one hit with six strikeouts and no walks to help the Buckeyes to a 6-0 victory against Seton Hall on Saturday
  • Faced the minimum through eight innings to claim his first career win
  • Became the first Buckeye pitcher to toss at least seven innings in a debut since Brad Goldberg threw seven innings in his debut vs. St. John’s on Feb. 17, 2013
  • Wins his first Big Ten Freshman of the Week award
  • Last Ohio State Big Ten Freshman of the Week: Brady Cherry (Feb. 29, 2016)

Minnesota Tabbed Big Ten Baseball Favorite

Rosement, Ill. – Minnesota was voted the preseason favorite to claim the 2019 Big Ten Baseball Championship as selected by the conference coaches and announced on Wednesday. The coaches voted on the top six teams and also selected three students from their own squads to a Preseason Honors list. The Gophers were followed in the preseason poll by Michigan in second place, No. 3 Illinois, Indiana in fourth place, No. 5 Ohio State and Nebraska and Purdue tied for sixth place.

The Golden Gophers posted a 44-15 record last year en route to their 24th Big Ten Championship, the 2018 Big Ten Tournament Championship and an NCAA Super Regional berth. The Gophers became the first team since 2014 (Indiana) to win both the regular season and tournament titles in the same year. Minnesota is led into 2019 by preseason honorees pitcher Patrick Fredrickson, pitcher and outfielder Max Meyer and outfielder Ben Mezzenga. Fredrickson, the 2018 Big Ten Pitcher and Freshman of the Year, finished with a team-best 9-0 record and 73 strikeouts while leading the rotation with a 1.86 ERA, while first-team All-Big Ten honoree Meyer tied the program record with 16 saves while posting a 2.06 ERA. Mezzenga played in all 59 games and led the team with a .466 on-base percentage, while finishing second on the team with a .383 batting average.

The Wolverines finished 2018 with a 33-21 overall record. Last season, Dominic Clementi led the Wolverines with a .368 batting average and earned an All-Big Ten Conference First-Team selection, while Jesse Franklin and Jordan Nwogu captured All-Big Ten Freshman Team honors to go with numerous freshman All-America accolades. Franklin finished the season with a team-leading .588 slugging percentage and 10 home runs, while Nwogu posted a .349 batting average with a .571 slugging percentage and a .442 on-base percentage.

The Fighting Illini reached the Big Ten Tournament semifinals in 2018, finishing the year with a 33-20 overall record. Among Illinois’ preseason honorees is Michael Massey, the 2018 ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner for second base, who finished the year with 166 assists and a .996 fielding percentage. Left-handed pitcher Andy Fisher, who went 6-3 on the year with a 3.96 ERA in 15 appearances, appears on the list of honorees along with right-handed pitcher Quinn Snarskis, who went 6-1 on the season with a 2.84 ERA in 73 innings pitched.

Indiana accumulated a 40-19 overall record a year ago and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight year and eighth time overall. Among the Hoosiers’ preseason honorees are First-Team All-Big Ten selections Matt Gorski and Matt Lloyd, and transfer right-handed pitcher Tanner Gordon. Gorski led the Hoosiers in batting average (.356), hits (79) and total bases (123), while Lloyd threw 23.1 innings, striking out 22 batters and only allowing four earned runs, ending the season with a 4-2 record, seven saves, and a 1.54 ERA.

Ohio State finished the 2018 season with a 36-24 record and the team’s 21st appearance in the NCAA Tournament and second in the past three seasons. The Buckeyes return junior outfielder Dominic Canzone, sophomore catcher Dillon Dingler and junior first baseman Conner Pohl. Canzone finished second in the Big Ten in hits (80), fourth in doubles (18) and sixth in runs scored (51) last year, while Dingler batted .244 with 31 runs scored, 21 walks and 17 RBI in 53 games. Pohl, a Third-Team All-Big Ten honoree, batted .279 (64-for-229) with 41 runs scored, five doubles, seven home runs, 49 RBI and 36 walks in 60 starts last season.

Nebraska posted a 24-28 record last year and are led into 2019 by preseason honorees shortstop Angelo Altavilla, right-handed pitcher Chad Luensmann and infielder/catcher Luke Roskam. Last season, Altavilla started 46 of his 48 appearances with 32 starts at shortstop, 12 starts at third base and two starts as the designated hitter, while ranking in the top five on the team in runs scored (35), RBIs (28) and walks (30). Roskam led the Huskers in walks (34), while ranking third in home runs (5), RBIs (46) and total bases (82). Luensmann returns this season after having Tommy John surgery last year.

Purdue made its third appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season and the first since 2012, finishing with a 38-21 record. The Boilermakers return junior outfielder Skyler Hunter and sophomore outfielder Ben Nisle, while welcoming a transfer catcher in Zac Fascia. Hunter started all 59 games for the Boilermakers and led the team in hits (78) for the second year in a row, while Nisle batted .304 with 28 runs scored, seven home runs and 43 RBI in 58 games.

The 2019 Big Ten baseball season is set to begin on Friday, Feb. 15. The preseason poll, featuring the top six teams, and the complete Preseason Honors list can be found below.

2019 BIG TEN BASEBALL PRESEASON POLL (top six teams and ties)

1 Minnesota

2 Michigan

3 Illinois

4 Indiana

5 Ohio State

6 Nebraska

6 Purdue

 

2019 BIG TEN BASEBALL PRESEASON HONORS LIST

Andy Fisher, LHP, Sr., Illinois

Michael Massey, 2B, Jr., Illinois

Quinn Snarskis, RHP, Sr., Illinois

Tanner Gordon, RHP, Jr., Indiana

Matt Gorski, OF, Jr., Indiana

Matt Lloyd, UTIL/RHP, Sr., Indiana

Jack Dreyer, LHP, So., Iowa

Cole McDonald, RHP, Sr., Iowa

Chris Whelan, OF, Sr., Iowa

AJ Lee, SS, Sr., Maryland

John Murphy, RHP, Sr., Maryland

Hunter Parsons, RHP, Sr., Maryland

Dominic Clementi, DH, Jr., Michigan

Jesse Franklin, OF, So., Michigan

Jordan Nwogu, OF, So., Michigan

Marty Bechina, SS, Sr., Michigan State

Indigo Diaz, RHP, Jr., Michigan State

Mason Erla, RHP, So., Michigan State

Patrick Fredrickson, RHP, So., Minnesota

Max Meyer, RHP/OF, So., Minnesota

Ben Mezzenga, OF, Sr., Minnesota

Angelo Altavilla, SS, Sr., Nebraska

Chad Luensmann, RHP, Jr., Nebraska

Luke Roskam, C/INF, Jr., Nebraska

Hank Christie, RHP, Jr., Northwestern

Jack Dunn, SS, Sr., Northwestern

Alex Erro, 2B, Jr., Northwestern

Dominic Canzone, OF, Jr., Ohio State

Dillon Dingler, C, So., Ohio State

Conner Pohl, 1B, Jr., Ohio State

Dante Biasi, LHP, So., Penn State

Parker Hendershot, DH/IF, So., Penn State

Ryan Sloniger, C, Sr., Penn State

Zac Fascia, C, Jr., Purdue

Skyler Hunter, OF, Jr., Purdue

Ben Nisle, OF, So., Purdue

Mike Nyisztor, OF, So., Rutgers

Harry Rutkowski, LHP, So., Rutgers

Kevin Welsh, INF, Jr., Rutgers

Meyer named to Golden Spikes watch list

Durham, N.C. – Preseason recognition continues to roll in for Minnesota sophomore Max Meyer as Thursday, USA Baseball named the pitcher/outfielder to the official preseason watch list for its Golden Spikes Award for the top amateur baseball player in the country.

Meyer is just the second Golden Gopher to achieve preseason recognition in the 42-year history of the award with Tom Windle (’13) the last to earn the honor in 2013.

Meyer competed with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team this past summer, collecting seven saves in eight appearances. He led the way for Team USA, striking out 15 batters in just 8.0 innings. Meyer has received Preseason All-America recognition from Collegiate Baseball News, D1Baseball.com, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA), and Perfect Game already in 2019.

The right-hander from Woodbury, Minnesota will expand his role this spring, competing in the outfield while also anchoring the Maroon & Gold bullpen. Last year, he matched Minnesota’s program record with 16 saves in 26 appearances, posting a 2.06 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 32.2 innings. He allowed less than one baserunner per inning (0.94), holding opponents to just a .163 batting average. After collecting the third-most saves in the nation last year, Meyer earned the title of Freshman Relief Pitcher of the Year from Collegiate Baseball and helped the Gophers win the NCAA Minneapolis Regional.

The list contains 55 student athletes representing 44 universities and 18 conferences including 2018 Golden Spikes Award winner Andrew Vaughn of California. A midseason watch list follows on April 10 with semifinalists announced on May 15. At that time, fans will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite players at GoldenSpikesAward.com.

The Ten: Week 1

It didn’t take long for a Big Ten player to grab the national spotlight.

With 11 strikeouts in a six-inning, no-hit outing, Iowa junior right-handed pitcher Grant Judkins received a pair of national accolades in addition to being the conference’s top pitcher over opening weekend. Who else starred to get a new season underway? Here’s the first edition of The 10 this year, rounding up the weekend’s top individual performances.

Michigan St. Sr. 3B Royce Ando

Sliding to the hot corner for his senior season, the Spartan’s swan song got off to a hot start. Racking up five hits in 11 at-bats, Ando picked up a hit of each kind, using two singles, a double, triple and home run to touch 11 bases. Ando’s weekend line finished .455/.500/1.000.

Ohio State Fr. RHP Garrett Burhenn

Burhenn’s collegiate debut was almost perfect, literally. Taking the mound for the Buckeyes on Saturday against Seton Hall, the rookie logged eight innings and pitched to the minimum of 24 batters. Striking out six without issuing a walk, Burhenn surrendered only one hit, then promptly erased the runner with a double play. Burhenn’s effort led an Ohio State staff that allowed just six runs over four games.

Ohio State Sr. OF Brady Cherry

A change of scenery appears to be exactly what Cherry needed. Anchored in Ohio State’s infield for his first three seasons, moving from third to second and even seeing time at first base, now an outfielder, Cherry’s senior season is off to a stellar start. The offensive force in Ohio State’s 4-0 weekend, Cherry recorded seven hits in 14 at-bats, connecting on a pair of doubles and two home runs, to slug 1.071. The 15 bases Cherry touched over opening weekend is already more than one-fourth of his 2018 total of 58.

Nebraska Soph. OF Jaxon Hallmark

Hallmark earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors after using eight hits in 18 at-bats to drive in 10 runs. The sophomore recorded two doubles and a stolen base, to score five runs. For good measure, Hallmark recorded two outs to close out Nebraska’s 10-6 win over UC Riverside on Saturday.

Michigan Jr. LHP Tommy Henry

Stepping into the role of ace for the Wolverines, the junior southpaw gave Erik Bakich and staff exactly what is desired from a leading pitcher. Pitching six innings of shutout baseball against Binghamton, Henry scattered six hits without conceding a run, struck out nine batters while walking just one.

Iowa Jr. RHP Grant Judkins

When you’re the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, the National College Baseball Writers Association Pitcher of the Week and a Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week, it’s highly likely you had a dominant performance. Judkins was indeed dominant. Spurring Iowa to a winning weekend in a 10-0 win over Marshall, Judkins did not allow a hit over six innings and struck out 11 batters. Judkins’ 11 strikeouts sets a new career high, while edging teammate Jake Dreyer and Michigan’s Karl Kauffmann for the Big Ten lead after one weekend.

Penn State Soph. RHP Mason Mellott

Penn State pitchers proved mighty tough in their season-opening series against Monmouth. Powering the Nittany Lions to a 3-0 record, PSU hurlers allowed only eight hits and three earned runs. At the forefront of the charge on the mound was Mellott. The sophomore pitched four hitless innings in relief to earn the win in PSU’s 1-0 season opening victory. Then, on Sunday, Mellott logged two innings, allowing one hit and one unearned run, to earn the save in Penn State’s 6-4, securing the weekend sweep.

Indiana Sr. RHP Pauly Milto

It’s a new era in Bloomington as Jeff Mercer takes over the Hoosier program. But, at least for one game, it was more of the same. Pauly Milto continued to add to a dominant career with a gem in Indiana’s season opener. On Saturday, at Memphis, Milto pitched seven innings of scoreless baseball, striking out seven batters. The righty scattered just two hits without issuing a walk, giving Mercer a sign of what he can expect on Friday nights with his new club.

Illinois Sr. OF Zac Taylor

Few players in the Big Ten have the combo of power and speed that Taylor has. As Illinois looks to break a four-year NCAA Tournament drought, Taylor’s dynamic ability was on display, giving Dan Hartleb’s team the type of production needed to replace Big Ten Player of the Year Bren Spillane. In three games, Taylor rapped out six hits, collecting two doubles and a home run, while adding five stolen bases.

Illinois Jr. RHP Cyrillo Watson

As good as Taylor was at the plate and on the bases, Watson was his equal on the mound. Long viewed as the Illini with the best pure stuff and most potential, Watson put it all together in his 2019 debut. Helping Illinois finish the weekend 3-0, Watson logged six shutout innings against Sacred Heart. The junior righty scattered five hits while striking out eight batters, and did not issue a walk over the 90-pitch outing.

 

Freshman of the Week

Burhenn

Pitcher of the Week

Judkins

Player of the Week

Cherry

Trending Topics: Week 1

It was quite the weekend for Big Ten baseball teams, as action spanned the country from Miami, Fla., to Riverside, Calif. There were outstanding individual honors, like pitchers Grant Judkins of Iowa and Ohio State’s Garrett Burhenn, respectively logging a no-hit outing and flirting with perfection. A handful of teams sport spotless records: Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. And there were also a few surprises on the not as pleasant side, such as Minnesota losing to New Mexico and Oregon State by a combined score of 24-2 and Purdue and Rutgers concluding the opening weekend without a win.

Going beyond the scoreboard and box scores, the first of a weekly staple, Trending Topics, looks at five observations from the weekend that are either sending a team to success or holding them back.

Seniors stepping up

It’s hard to quantify, but ask any coach and there is something to draftitis affecting players over their junior year. Players who aren’t slam dunk draft picks, players with premium tools whose stock depends on production, time and time again press and scuffle, ultimately playing their way out of the draft. Then, when seniors, and facing the possibility of playing baseball competitively for the last time, no longer worrying about the draft just embracing the moment, an all-conference season unfolds.

The opening weekend showed there may be a few players who have strong senior seasons after watching their draft stock come and go, relaxed and just having the game come to them. Here’s a look at a few of those players, players who may end up having a significant say in how their team fares with them in the heart of the order.

Illinois OF Zac Taylor: 6-for-13, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5-5 SB-ATT

Indiana OF Logan Kaletha: 4-for-11, 2B

Maryland 3B Taylor Wright: 4-for-11

Michigan 1B Jimmy Kerr: 4-for-13, 2B, HR, 4 RBI

Ohio State LF Brady Cherry: 7-for-14, 2 2B, 2 HR

Buckeyes limit freebies

Although Ohio State went 36-24 and participated in the Greenville Regional last year, the Buckeyes were far from a well-oiled machine.

In 60 games, Ohio State’s defense committed 94 errors, more than 1.5 per contest and a whopping 20 more than the next closet team, leading to a Big Ten-worst .959 fielding percentage. The extra outs the Buckeyes gave the opposition were in addition to Ohio State hurlers hitting 77 batters, the most in the Big Ten, stood alongside surrendering 590 hits, also the most in the conference. A team that gives up a lot of hits, hits a lot of batters and routinely falls to play a clean game is far from the way Greg Beals wants his team to perform, regional or not.

Through the first weekend of the 2019 season, the Buckeyes have cleaned up their act.

Opening 4-0 for just the third time since 2010, Ohio State’s defense committed just two errors, for a .986 fielding percentage. Ohio State pitchers plunked only two batters, while walking just five hitters. As Ohio State breaks in an entirely new rotation, eliminating free passes, extra bases, and forced to record extra outs will go a long way in helping the Bucks reach back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since 2002-03.

Huskers on the attack

Although Nebraska batted .274 in 2018, good for sixth in the conference, and scored 6.48 runs per contest, there was notable chatter on social media around the Huskers revolved around the offense. It is true Nebraska will no longer have the services of Scott Schreiber and Jesse Wilkening, the team’s two leading batters who combined for 56 extra-base hits and 27 of the team’s 47 home runs. So on paper there is a noticeable void in power, but when looking back at Nebraska’s best teams under Erstad, they were never ones to so much power.

Take 2014, when Nebraska finished second in the Big Ten and participated in a regional. The Huskers batted .293 with only 19 homers. By comparison, Schreiber hit 18 by himself last year.

In 2016, another year in a regional, Nebraska batted .281 with 43 home runs.

Then, in 2017, when the Huskers won the Big Ten, the team held its .281 average but this time with just 25 home runs.

With Erstad leading the way, when Nebraska’s offense is at its best, it’s when every batter, 1-9, has a methodical approach of fouling balls off until one can be barreled, puts consistent pressure on the opponent, are aggressive with dirt ball reads, takes the extra 90 feet and squeezes the life out of the opposition.

In taking three of four games from UC Riverside, it appears Nebraska’s offense is getting back to that.

While it’s unlikely the team will bat .347 for the course of the season, there were 27 walks drawn in four games, 10 doubles, nine stolen bases and the team was able to generate 47 runs without needing to drop a sacrifice bunt, relying on three sac flies.

The key to Nebraska in 2019 isn’t necessarily who replaces the thump of Schreiber and Wilkening, it’s more who becomes the next Chad Christensen, Pat Kelly, Jake Meyers or Michael Pritchard, guys who did all of the little things that added up to a potent offense.

Did Minnesota’s superb defense graduate, too?

Picked by conference coaches to defend their Big Ten title, a lot of Minnesota’s expected success stems from their pitching staff. Last year, Minnesota pitched to a 3.20 ERA, a mark lowered to a conference-best 2.64 in Big Ten games. With the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Patrick Fredrickson back in his Saturday role for his sophomore season, fellow all-american and classmate Max Meyer resuming his closing duties, and many capable high-ceiling arms back, such as Joshua Culliver, Jeff Fasching, Bubba Horton and Brett Schultz, there’s a lot to like about the Golden Gophers on the mound.

But the expected strength of the team falling on the pitching staff was also in part due to the graduation of multiple starters with at least three years of starting under their belt: Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, Luke Pettersen, and arguably the Big Ten’s best two-way player in Terrin Varva. Any concern regarding Minnesota would be on how John Anderson and staff would replace the key contributors at the plate,

After a rocky opening weekend, the real concern may be how does Minnesota replace the quintet in the field.

In addition to the second-best ERA, Minnesota had the second-best fielding percentage among Big Ten teams. With a .977 fielding percentage, Minnesota committed just 52 errors over 59 games. In 2017 Minnesota had a .978 fielding percentage, committing 47 errors in 57 games, and in 2016 the Gophers fielded at a .980 mark, with 43 errors in 56 games.

In four games in Arizona, Minnesota committed six errors, including four in Saturday’s 11-1 defeat to New Mexico. Each error in Saturday’s game came from a position where Minnesota last a starter, with the weekend’s six errors leading to nine unearned runs.

Now, it was opening weekend. It was Minnesota’s first time being outside on a baseball field since the fall, and young players need time to adjust to the speed of the game. But Minnesota’s pitchers are only as good as the defense behind them, and if too many extra bases and extra outs are provided to the opponents, it won’t matter what the Gophers do or don’t do at the plate.

Hawkkkkkeyes ring them up

When your former pitching coach is hired away by the Yankees for a position called Director of Pitch Development, a position created exclusively for him, chances are your pitchers were working with one of the best in the business as they perfected their craft. The results from Iowa’s three games over opening weekend would support that.

Although Iowa’s former pitcher coach Desi Druschel was behind the plate, taking in Saturday’s games as a bystander and not participant, his work with the Hawkeye pitchers was on display.

Against George Mason, Pitt and Marshall, Hawkeye pitchers were on the mound for 26 innings. In that time, Iowa struck out 41 batters. Jack Dreyer started the parade of eye-popping numbers with a 10-strikeout showing in 5.1 innings on Saturday against the Panthers. Less than 24 hours later, Grant Judkins grabbed the Big Ten lead in punch outs with 11, in six innings against the Thundering Herd. With relievers in tow, Iowa’s game totals for strikeouts were: 10, 15 and 16.

The 41 strikeouts helped Iowa hold the opposition to a .114 batting average, 10 hits in 88 at-bats. The 20 walks are an issue to address, but Iowa’s 14.19 K/9 showing through one weekend is impressive. In case you’re wondering, that would be 795 over a 56-game schedule. The Big Ten record is 549, set by Maryland in 2015.

Weekend 10: Week 1

College baseball is back, with the first weekend of the 2019 season in the books. Minnesota and Ohio State each played on Monday, extending the weekend a day, giving us a President’s Day treat. But now, with all games in, here’s a rundown of 10 things that caught our attention, and made us say wow or go hm, over the opening weekend.

Grant Judkins dazzles

Viewed by head coach Rick Heller as the wildcard to the Hawkeye pitching staff, right-handed pitcher Grant Judkins wasted no time assuring he was indeed ready for a leading roll as a weekend rotation staple. Helping Iowa to a 10-0 romp over Marshall on Sunday, Judkins was unhittable. In six innings of work, the junior did not allow a hit to the Thundering Herd and struck out 11 batters. Judkins did walk three and hit another batter, but the 11 strikeouts were the Big Ten-high of the weekend and a career-high for Judkins. Judkins’ 11 were a part of Iowa hurling dialed up 41 strikeouts over three games this weekend.

Lonsway’s long-awaited debut

Arriving in Columbus as the Big Ten’s top ranked recruit, left-handed pitcher Seth Lonsway never logged an inning as Ohio State reached the NCAA Tournament in 2018, ineligible due to how a high school course registered with the NCAA Clearinghouse. But now, as Ohio State looks for a third regional appearance in four years, the 19th-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2017 is ready to lead the way atop the OSU rotation, as the Buckeyes need to replace all three weekend starts. The southpaw’s debut lived up to the hype of being a potential ace. Against Seton Hall, Lonsway scattered three hits, allowed one run and struck out nine batters against three walks in six innings.

Well-rounded Illini sweep through the weekend

It was a strong weekend showing for Illinois, getting it done in all three aspects in North Carolina. After opening the weekend with an offensive barrage in an 11-3 win over Georgetown, Illinois knocked off a ranked Wake Forest team at home, 5-2, before dispatching Sacred Heart, 4-0. Illinois relievers allowed only one unearned run, while the defense committed just one error throughout the weekend. The Illini tortured the opposition on the bases, racking up 10 steals in 11 tries, led by senior outfielder Zac Taylor going 5-5. While Dan Hartleb’s team hit on all cylinders, the performance of junior right-handed pitcher Cyrillo Watson was the weekend’s highlight. On Sunday, Watson struck out eight batters in six innings without issuing a walk.

Mercer picks up win #1

The Jeff Mercer Era in Bloomington was delayed a day, but the first game of Indiana’s Saturday doubleheader at Memphis, the Hoosiers knocked off the Tigers, 6-1, giving head coach and Indiana native Jeff Mercer his first victory leading IU. A seven-inning, two-hit effort from senior right-hander Pauly Milto and a four-run fifth inning sparked Indiana. Indiana’s third coach in five years, Mercer has spoke about how Indiana is the program he dreamed of leading, with the weekend’s two wins in Memphis, and series win, ideally the first of many.

Michigan marches on

A team with multiple preseason rankings, Michigan performed as a team worthy of a bullet, with a weekend sweep over Binghamton, in Port St. Lucie. A pair of 10-run margins, 10-0 and 12-2, sandwiched a last-at-bat, 5-4 win on Saturday. Junior lefty Tommy Henry showed ace-stuff with nine strikeouts and one walk over six innings in the season opener. Classmate Karl Kauffmann followed that with 10 punchouts in eight innings on Saturday. The first game saw four Wolverines record multi-hit games, before Saturday and Sunday produced games of three multi-hit efforts. For the weekend, the Michigan offense produced 11 extra-base hits and seven stolen bases, in turning back the Bearcats in all three contests.

Pitching powers PSU to sweep

Leading the Nittany Lions to a three-game sweep on Monmouth, PSU pitchers allowed just three earned runs all weekend, four total, as seven pitchers combined to yield just eight hits all weekend. With 27 strikeouts to nine walks, the pitching staff starred as PSU grabbed victories of 1-0, 7-0, 6-4. Making two relief appearances, sophomore Mason Mellott allowed one hit and one unearned run over six innings, a vital cog in PSU opening the season with a weekend sweep for the second year in a row.

Sidelined Huskers make their return

Three key Nebraska pitchers returned to the diamond after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. And, at least through the first weekend, the results were encouraging, although the defense behind them caused a few lines to appear bloated. Helping Nebraska take three of four games at Cal-Riverside, the returning pitchers and their performances were:

Sophomore left-hander Connor Curry: 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 SO

Friday starter, junior right-hander Chad Luensmann 3 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO

Junior right-hander Robbie Palkert 1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO

In 2017, Luensmann and Palkert were key late-inning relievers, respectively pitching 43.1 and 41.1 innings to 3.47 and 2.61 ERAs, helping Nebraska claim its first Big Ten time.

Purdue’s late-inning woes

It was a tough weekend for the Purdue bullpen, as the Boilermakers saw late leads lost in all three games at Southern Miss. Coming off of the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012, Purdue showed they have the parts to be competitive against a top team, the Golden Eagles were ranked No. 26 in the NCBWA preseason poll, but following the graduation of two-time all-conference closer Ross Learnard, the bullpen depth came up short. The leads Purdue lost this weekend:

Friday, 6-4, after 7.5

Saturday 2-0, after 5.5

Sunday 7-4, after 5.5

There isn’t much time for Purdue to sulk or think what could have been, Purdue has another tough weekend in front of them with four games at Texas, another preseason top-30 club.

Minnesota’s rough weekend

It was almost as bad of a weekend as possible for the defending Big Ten champions. In four games in Surprise, Ariz., the Gophers managed only one win, suffering poor showings in all facets of the game. Minnesota did not receive a quality start on the weekend, committed four errors in an 11-1 loss to New Mexico, lost 13-1 to Oregon State, in a rematch of last years Corvallis Super Regional, then saw Gonzaga avenge their season-opening, 8-5 defeat, with a 6-5 win on Monday. Outscored, 38-15, pitching to a 6.69 ERA, while batting .200 and with six errors, the journey for a third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years is off to a nightmarish start for Minnesota. But, the last time Minnesota lost three games in one weekend, March 11-14, 2016, they would go on to claim a Big Ten title.

Burhenn showcases his stuff

As good as Lonsway was for Greg Beals, he didn’t turn in the best pitching performance of the weekend for the Buckeyes. Freshman right-handed pitcher Garrett Burhenn was almost perfect in his debut, helping Ohio State clinch the weekend series against Seton Hall on Saturday. In eight innings, Burhenn pitched to the minimum 24 batters over 78 pitchers. Allowing just a single, erased on a double play, the freshman from Indianapolis struck out six batters without issuing a walk., in Ohio State’s 6-0 win. Leading up to the season, the Ohio State staff was what Patrick Fredrickson and Max Meyer did as freshman for Minnesota, and believe their corp of freshman arms, led by Burhenn, had the potential to do the same. So far so good.

Season Preview: Penn State

After two years of building up the program, Rob Cooper guided Penn State to a 28-27 record in 2016, a winning season which included a 12-12 mark in the Big Ten. The postseason eluded the Nittany Lions as the tiebreaker to break a three-team tie for eighth place between Illinois, Iowa and Penn State went to the Hawkeyes. But as Penn State’s NCAA Tournament drought approached driving age, there was reason to look to the future with optimism. Since then, Penn State has finished last in the Big Ten in consecutive seasons, winning just 33 games in the process. Outsiders may look to Cooper’s team in State College and, based on recent history, not expect the Nittany Lions to make much noise. But the displeasure experienced in 2018 may yield positive results, as PSU heads into 2019 with a sizable sophomore class looking to lessons learned during struggles into foundations of success and take a step forward.

Program facts

Head coach: Rob Cooper, sixth season, 97-190

Last conference championship: 1996

Last NCAA Tournament: 2000 Austin Super Regional

2018 in review

Record: 15-34 overall, 3-21 in the Big Ten; 13th

At the plate: .233 AVG, .332 OBP, .342 SLG, 79 2B, 17 3B, 21 HR, 47-60 SB-ATT

On the mound: 5.53 ERA, 421.2 IP, 231 BB, 339 SO, .272 BAA

In the field: .960  FLD, 26 double plays, 20 passed balls, 48 SBA, 19 CS

 

Roster rundown

Key losses: OF Braxton Giavedoni (.247 AVG/.292 OBP/.382 SLG), RHP Justin Hagenman (3-7, 4.60, 78.1 IP), LHP Taylor Lehman (2-7, 5.36, 47.0)

Key returners: Soph. LHP Dante Biasi (3-6, 5.20, 62.1), Soph. RHP Bailey Dees (1-2, 5.14, 28.0), Soph. DH Parker Hendershot (.283/.379/.363), Jr. 3B Connor Klemann (.234/.343/.345, 10 XBH) Soph. RHP Mason Mellott (0-1, 4 saves, 3.18, 34.0), Sr. C Ryan Sloniger (.303/.404/.494, 13 2B)

Key newcomers: Fr. LHP Hutch Gagnon, Fr. OF/INF Ryan Ford, Jr. INF Gavin Homer, Jr. C Jacob Padilla, Fr. LHP Kyle Shingledecker, Fr. INF Justin Williams

Composition by class (eligibility-wise): Freshman (8), Sophomores (15), Juniors (6), Seniors (6)

 

What to expect in 2019

There are two ways to view the state of the Penn State program entering 2019. The first, seeing the glass as half-empty, would be that every team but Northwestern won as many Big Ten games in 2018 as Penn State has combined between the 2017-2018 seasons, seven. A 4-20 conference season followed by a 3-21 campaign makes for the lowest two-year Big Ten win total since Indiana won seven conference games between the 1981-2 seasons. But even then, the Hoosiers played only 30 Big Ten games, opposed to Penn State’s 48. But enough of the negative. Viewing a three-win season in lens of the glass being half-full would reveals the only team of the last 40 years with a worst winning percentage in Big Ten games than Penn State’s .125 clip in 2018 was Purdue in 2016. Just three years ago, Purdue went 2-22 in Big Ten play for an .083 winning percentage. Where many outside West Lafayette wrote off Purdue for the near future following the 2016 season, first-year head coach Mark Wasikowski guided Purdue to a 29-27 season. Breaking even in Big Ten play at 12-12 Purdue shocked all by finishing eighth and earning a spot in the Big Ten Tournament.

That 2017 Boilermaker team wasn’t all that unlike what the 2019 Nittany Lions may be. Where Purdue had a strong sophomore class, led by Nick Dalesandro, Jackson McGowan and Gareth Stroh, so too does Penn State, with the likes of Bailey Dees, Parker Hendershot and Mason Mellott. A third-year pitcher, Tanner Andrews spearheaded the rotation. Can Penn State’s Dante Biasi be that guy for them? A few transfers from junior college helped set the mentality while providing much needed production, with freshmen sprinkled up the middle. The 2019 PSU team can check those boxes, too.

Yes, times have been tough in State College. But history has shown things can change in a hurry in the Big Ten. Penn State will need to hit better, throw more strikes and field better. But with the shear volume of innings pitched, trips to the plate, balls fielded and thrown by a freshman last year, there’s the opportunity for Penn State to take a big step forward. It’s too be seen just how big that step is, and if it gets the program back on track and trending up in the same way Cooper’s first three years unfolded.

At the plate and in the field

There’s no where to go but up for the Penn State bats. A .233 team batting average ranked last in the Big Ten, .010 points behind the closest team, Maryland. Only Indiana struck out more times than the Nittany Lions’ 451 punchouts, but Indiana’s 463 total came in 10 more games. PSU finished next to last in on-base percentage and slugging, with 10 teams hitting more than the 21 home runs the clubs produced. Through it all, one player had a banner year, and forced his name into being considered one of the Big Ten’s best.

Serving as Penn State’s primary catcher, Ryan Sloniger led Penn State with a .306 average, the line Nittany Lion regular to bat at least .300, with 13 doubles, two triples an five home runs. Adding a .404 on-base percentage and .494 slugging mark, Sloniger looked little like the player he was the prior season. As a sophomore, the Punxsutawney, Penn., native batted .215 with four doubles, two triples and one home run, posting a .613 OPS. Heading into his senior season, Sloniger will be looked upon as Penn State’s offensive leader. Although there might be a position change.

With the addition of transfer Jacob Padilla, from Murray State College, and Penn State coaches seeing growth in Shea Sbranti, multiple players will take their spot behind the plate. When Sloniger is not suited up behind the plate, he will be at first base, looking to provide PSU with the necessary offense at a position which is expected to provide a little thump in the middle of a Big Ten lineup. Like Padilla, transferring from a junior college, Gavin Homer from Kellogg Community College, will be asked to provide a good glove and capable bat, as he takes on second base for Cooper.

The left side of the infield will have familiar faces with senior Conlin Hughes and redshirt-junior Connor Klemann returning to shortstop and third base respectively. Where Sloniger took a step forward in 2018, it was a step backward for Hughes. In 2017, Hughes batted .255 with nine doubles, three triples and four home runs, adding seven stolen bases. Hughes’ average dipped to .189 in 2018, recording six doubles, one triple and no home runs. Rebounding from an injury which limited him to 10 games in 2017, Klemann batted .234 with 10 extra-base hits. As a freshman, Klemann batted .260 over 28 games, lending belief there’s more in the third baseman a full year removed from a season-ending injury.

The first of several important sophomores, Parker Hendershot looks to build off of a strong debut season and fortify the DH spot in the PSU lineup. Appearing in 35 games, Hendershot batted .283 with six doubles and a home run, and drew 16 walks to sport a .379 on-base percentage. Those numbers would be good for classmate Curtis Robison to match, as he fills out a corner outfield spot in year two for the Nittany Lions. Although he batted .179 over 42 games, Robison collected eight doubles, a triple and two home runs as a freshman.

Penn State’s most consistent offensive force over the last two years, Bowersox used nine doubles and four triples to bat .276 last year. In 2017, over 33 games the right-handed hitter batted .333 with seven doubles and three home runs. Junior outfielder Mason Nadeau rounds out he returning players who saw the bulk of their time in the outfield last year. Like Bowersox, Nadeau’s 2017 season was better than his 2018 go. Last year, Nadeau’s average plunged to .202, after beginning his career in State College with a .308 average. Sbranti may see time in the outfield, as well as freshmen Ryan Ford and Justin Williams, with the veteran of the group being senior Jordan Bowersox.

Throughout the lineup, there are players who have shown they can be solid contributors for Penn State. What’s held the team back is rarely have those good years aligned. Where Sloniger stepped forward in 2018, several players regressed. Now, if Solinger maintains the high level of play he established last year, Bowersox, Hughes and Nadeau hit at their 2017 clip, Klemann shows the ability he did as a freshman before injuries set him back in 2017 and Hendershot and Robison show growth in their second year as DI athletes, last year’s .233 team average will fill look a distant memory. That may seem like a lot of ifs, but to even be an if the possibility has to be there, and past performances have indicated they are there for Cooper and Penn State.

On the mound

The outlook isn’t as clear on the mound for Penn State where youth is found in abundance. The Nittany Lions will need to replace Friday starter Justin Hagenman and the 76 strikeouts he recorded over 78.1 innings. Also gone are Taylor Lehman and Marko Borichich, two pitchers who flashed signs of promise but never put it all together, but still combined to pitch 75.1 innings, as Lehman made 10 starts and Borichich appeared in 21 games out of the bullpen.

With 15 sophomores on the team, second-year players will have a big say in Penn State’s success in 2018. They will especially do so on the mound. Sophomores Dante Biasi and Bailey Dees will lead the rotation, with Dees making a significant jump according to Cooper, as he gets ready for a bigger role. Biasi logged 62.1 innings over 13 starts and struck out 51 batters to 36 walks. He may not have the mid-to-upper-90s fastball his older brother Sal Biasi brought to the Penn State rotation two years ago, when he struck out 88 batters in 72.1 innings, but Biasi was serviceable in his first year on the mound after Tommy John surgery. As he made four starts and appeared in 12 games, it was Dees who wowed with strikeouts, punching out 36 in 28 innings. Dees did walk 16 and surrender 31 hits, but the stuff is there to be a big time arm, it’s a matter of control and developing a greater sense of pitchability.

A third sophomore, Conor Larkin, looks to be a key contributor in the bullpen, following 18 relief appearances last year, compiling a 5.79 ERA. In 37.1 innings, Larkin was tagged for 43 hits, but did record 38 strikeouts to 17 walks. Classmate Mason Mellott recorded four saves as his 3.18 ERA led all pitchers, contributing 34 innings over 24 relief outings. Kyle Virbitsky, yet another sophomore, pitched to a 5.40 ERA in 21.2 innings, with 14 of his 15 appearances coming as a reliever. Fourth-year junior Eric Mock started the season at the back of the Penn State bullpen, and finished with three saves over 31.2 innings and a 5.97 ERA.

For newcomers, Cooper likes the promise left-handed freshmen Tyler Shingledecker and Hutch Gagnon have shown leading up to the season and expect the ball to be in their hands early and often.

There are a few key innings that need filled and throughout the pitching staff there isn’t a lot of history for the players Penn State will rely on on the mound. But there are a lot of players that were thrown to the fire early, players that arrived on campus together and look to turn the tide together, who figure to be battle tested, with little that can come there way in 2018 to throw them off. If a few players take a step forward in their second season, there may be enough in the rotation and in relief for the pitchers to do their part, and take some pressure off the bats so the best of their abilities come out and get the ship turned for Penn State.

Five things to watch

Sloniger building off of last year and becoming one of the Big Ten’s top bats.

Do Hughes, Bowersox and Nadeau return to 2017 form.

Can Mellott and Mock form to 1-2 punch at the back of the bullpen.

Which sophomore in the rotation takes a step forward.

Does Cooper rotate catchers or does someone make the position theirs through production.

One weekend to circle

March 1-3 vs. Duke. After playing in a super regional and ending the season with a top 10 ranking, picked to be one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best teams, Penn State’s neutral site series against the Blue Devils will be a great barometer of progress. The first two series of the season, three games against Monmouth and four games against Fairfield, all played in Cary, N.C, should give Penn State the ability to head into March with a winning record. For a young team, success in the opening weekends are critical, creating confidence by seeing the offseason efforts pay dividends is a must. In taking on Duke, Penn State will see first hand what a regional club looks like and where they have to go to become one themselves. If Biasi, Mellott, Mock and Dees can put together quality outings against a potential top 25 team, or Hendershot, Sloniger or Ford run into one as Duke features one of the country’s best pitchers in left-hander Graeme Stinson. A strong showing against Duke can quickly parlay into bigger things, as another good non-conference series at Central Florida follows, before a series against UMass-Lowell concludes the pre-Big Ten slate where date with Minnesota starts Big Ten play.

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