After all of the ups and downs of a merry-go-round season, the Penn State baseball team fell to Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament, 12-3, ending its 2012 campaign.
It was the Nittany Lions’ second straight winning season, as they finished with a record of 29-27. However, not too long ago, the team appeared on track for one of its most disappointing seasons, struggling to a 5-18 record to start off the year.
At times, the team gazed on to see their opponents cash in on their luck. While other times, the Lions frustrated themselves into making simple mistakes all around.
Even when pitching dominated, the hitting did not, and vice versa. Nothing seemed to be clicking.
Nothing, that is, until March 28.
On that date, Penn State hosted a double-header against winless Coppin State. Penn State won both games.
The two victories gave the team its first winning streak and the momentum it needed.
“It is definitely a confidence booster just because we haven’t really been up at all,” said freshman catcher JC Coban at the time after the game. “We really got our confidence back. I think we are really going to go in there [against the then-upcoming Purdue series] with a lot of momentum.”
And they did. Penn State gave ranked Purdue one of the toughest series the team has faced. Playing well-rounded ball, the Lions took one game of the three game set with a 16-6 blowout win.
At the time, something clicked. A new attitude…a new confidence. Essentially, it seemed as if a new team had been born.
It could be felt while seeing the guys in the dugout and bullpen. It could be heard in their postgame interviews. Most importantly, it could be seen on the scoreboard.
The season started to turn around.
Suddenly, the bats were connecting, pitchers hitting their spots, and the fielding became soundless.
Even the bad luck turned, and the Lions saw themselves cashing in on others’ misfortunes winning games that they had no right to win, such as the come-from-behind victory against Mount St. Mary’s on April 25.
All season long, all roads led to Columbus, Ohio for the Big Ten Tournament to try to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament. But some roads are less traveled than others.
No other Big Ten team had as tumultuous a season as Penn State did, going 22-9 to finish the season and earning a No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
Yet, as quickly as the switched turned on for the Lions, it turned off at the tournament. After a heartbreaking defeat to Ohio State, which rallied late in the opening game, the long and strenuous season came down to an elimination game against the Nebraska Huskers.
Without All-Big Ten senior first baseman Jordan Steranaka due to illness, the Lions faced an uphill battle from the start.
One of the lone Penn State highlights came in the first inning when senior Sean Deegan hit a leadoff home run to give the Lions an early lead. That soon became forgotten, though, after Nebraska’s scrappy hitting, ranked 10th overall, scored 12 runs off of Penn State junior Steven Hill and later the bullpen.
The Lions did not execute in the elimination affair committing two errors, allowing 10 hits on 12 runs. Their season-long battle with adversity came to a disappointing end.
An outstanding senior class, consisting of Ryan Clark, Mike Franklin, Sean Deegan, Joey Debernardis and most notably, Steranka, will part ways from the team to pursue their own future ambitions in baseball and in other fields.
The team will look to new leaders to be the face of the team in the 2013 campaign, such as Coban, rising junior pitcher Joe Kurrasch, and rising senior outfielder Steve Snyder.
For the time, they can only look back to the season that what was, but look back in pride they may.
The salvaged season should be remembered for the conquering of adversity, Steranka’s records, Hill’s no-hitter, and the games that were won in dramatic fashion.
But now they wait.
Until the time, when winter’s harsh cold meets its end in spring’s blossoming return and the luscious green grass of Medlar Field resurfaces at Lubrano Park, they will wait.
Waiting to return to the field where dreams are made. Excellence is sought. And losing perfects champions.