At practice Tuesday, as the Penn State baseball team ran infield drills, two sounds routinely reverberated off the walls at the Multi-Sport Facility.
With a crack of the bat, the awaiting shortstop pursued the ground ball. Seconds later, there was a prominent pop, as the infielder's quick throw locked into the palm of the first baseman's glove.
It's a drill to help the Nittany Lions sharpen their reaction times when racing to short hits, and it has the team thinking small in order to win big.
"If we get a chance to bunt a guy up with nobody out, we're going to do that," Penn State head coach Robbie Wine said. "It not only gives us a chance to drive a run in, but it also puts pressure on the defense. You're not going to blow people out early, it's going to be who executes and who makes the least amount of mistakes will win the ball game."
Despite the team's 1-2 record this season, Wine's strategy of using a series of singles and doubles to advance runners around the bases, appropriately named "small ball," has been extremely effective through the first three games. Eight of the nine starters have registered hits, and seven have already blasted an extra base hit. Only third baseman Mike Deese has gone yard, but that hasn't discouraged the others on the team.
"Well I'm not really a home run hitter," catcher Joe Blackburn said, "but I try ... personally, I don't really consider singles and doubles small ball, it's just baseball. You hit the ball and you run. I mean, yeah, we play small ball to an extent, but personally I won't be swinging for the fences."
Though Blackburn vows he won't be trying to go "yard" each time he steps up to the plate, the catcher and the other Lions use base running drills to capitalize on every hit that lands inside the park.
During one of the drills, the team works on the mental aspect of cycling the bases. Assistant coaches bookend first and third base, raising their hands high for the runner to halt, or winding their arms like a windmill, showing the runners to head to home.
But while the Lions were able to out-hit host High Point during their opening series, those barrages of offense did not always translate into runs on the scoreboard. During the team's first and third games, Penn State had 21 hits, compared to just three in Saturday's second game of the two-game doubleheader.
"Well in RBI situations there are two things going on," Wine said after Sunday's game, "the hitter has to recognize what is going on around the bases, and the pitcher has to adjust to the pressure. We simply didn't capitalize on that."