Friday, March 27, 2009

The Daily Collegian: Penn State begins conference play against OSU

By Eddie Gentile
Collegian Staff Writer

Heading into the weekend, the Penn State baseball team holds a six-game win streak with an average margin of victory of more than five runs.

But don't expect those numbers to soften this team's focus.

"We aren't looking back and saying 'Yea, we won six straight,' " head coach Robbie Wine said. "I think, better yet, we're looking ahead to Ohio State. Everybody is ready to start Big Ten play."

This weekend, the Penn State baseball team (13-8) will host the No. 28 Ohio State Buckeyes (18-3) at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park to open the Big Ten season.

While the Nittany Lions are currently riding on the momentum of their season-best six wins in a row, the Buckeyes enter Medlar Field as one of the more talented baseball clubs in the nation.

Ohio State is the home of two of the Big Ten's top statistical pitchers. Alex Wimmers sits at a perfect 5-0 record with a 1.62 ERA as a starter and Buckeyes' hurler Drew Rucinski has racked up a 5-1 record with a 2.57 ERA.

Earlier this week, Wimmers pitched five innings of hitless baseball on only three days of rest against the No. 2 Miami Hurricanes before Rucinski entered in a relief role to allow just one hit in his three innings of work. The Buckeyes took down the Hurricanes, 7-1.

The Lions players and coach said they had no particular attack plan to crack the Buckeyes' pitching staff, but instead look to continue what has been working so well at the plate during the team's current hot streak.

"Our motto this year is try and get one run an inning, and we try to average nine runs a game," Lions outfielder Grant Youngblood said. "We're just going to have to be ready go."

Freshman third baseman Jordan Steranka and Youngblood both said the Lion batters have also been approaching the plate with one goal in mind: put the ball in play.

That one-run-an-inning philosophy and simple just-make-contact mindset has Penn State averaging more than eight runs a game in its last six contests, something pitcher Paul Cianciolo says has given him and the rest of the staff confidence on the mound by working with margin for error.

"Any pitcher on our staff has an advantage because we can go out there and put up six runs any inning," Cianciolo said. "It's huge, especially when heading into a big weekend like Ohio State. It's just great to build momentum to go against Ohio State."

Giving the Penn State pitchers confidence may play an especially large role in this weekend's Big Ten opening series.

Not only do the Buckeyes boast a talented pitching staff, but, as a team, Ohio State has the most runs for in the Big Ten -- 199 -- and the best team batting average -- .339 -- compared to Penn States 151 runs and .311 average over the same number of games.

"I haven't really looked into the stats and what they've been doing yet," Wine said Wednesday night. "You're going to have to go out there and not beat yourself and hope for a couple of breaks every once and a while."

The Lions realize the task at hand and have experience facing some of the nation's top talent as they matched up and dropped four straight against No. 9 Texas earlier this year.

But unlike then, Penn State has renewed confidence and momentum to cruise on heading into this weekend's beginning of conference play.

"We know they're a great opponent. But we've been playing well and we have a lot of confidence right now," Steranka said. "We just want to keep that going."

Penn State Student News

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