On Sunday, March 18th, the Penn State baseball team lost to East Carolina, 7-4. It was the Lions’ third loss in a row and their ninth loss in the previous 10 games. Their record at that point had fallen to 4-13, and clearly something had to happen for the Lions to begin turning their season around.
Who would have guessed that that “something” was just to return home?
The next game on Penn State’s schedule was the home opener at Medlar Field against Pitt. Jordan Steranka had four hits in the game, four RBIs, and nailed a three-run homer in the third inning. Penn State won that game 5-3, and since then the Lions have been tough to beat–by anybody.
Going into the Big Ten tournament opener on Wednesday against Ohio State, #3 seed PSU has an overall record of 29-25, a conference record of 15-9 (good for a tie for third place), and an incredible 18-4 record at home.
Since that lowly day in March, Penn State is 25-11, and it won the last six straight series against Big Ten teams, three of which were on the road. The last time Penn State won three Big Ten road series was in 1996.
It would be an understatement to say that head coach Robbie Wine and his team deserve a mountain of credit for turning this season around, and a lot of that credit rightly should belong to a very strong senior class.
Jordan Steranka, the senior first baseman from Pittsburgh who was drafted last year by Houston and chose to stay for his senior year, was the offensive leader for the Lions all season. He batted .362 with 11 homers, 18 doubles and 39 RBIs and started all of Penn State’s 54 games.
Third baseman Joey DeBernardis was not far behind Steranka. He hit 281 with 8 homers and 35 RBIs, and senior outfielder Sean Deegan added 11 homers and 41 RBIs. These three seniors combined to drive in 115 runs, more than half the team’s total, and hit 30 of the team’s 37 home runs during the season. It would be easy to point to them as the major reasons for the team’s success this year.
On the mound, the Lions got a combined 13 wins from Joe Kurrasch, Greg Welsh, and Steven Hill, and another 8 more from John Walter, Mike Franklin, and Cody Lewis. Kurrash led the team with a 1.98 ERA in 15 appearances, and Hill pitched Penn State’s first ever Big Ten no-hitter at Iowa. Reliever Dave Walkling led the team with 7 saves in 19 appearances.
The Lions, however, do not have a great record in the Big Ten tournament. They are 13-18 overall in tournament games, and they lost their first two games in 2011 to Purdue and Minnesota.
Maybe that is something else this 2012 team can turn around.