Following stops in Tennessee and Virginia, Penn State is back on the road this weekend as it ventures deep into the South.
The Nittany Lions (1-5) will take on Stephen F. Austin (2-4) today at 3 p.m. in San Antonio, Texas, in the first game in a tournament at the University of Texas at San Antonio. This game marks the first of eight over a 10-day stretch for the Lions, as they will also face UTSA and Nebraska-Omaha in the tournament and will have series against Houston and Houston Baptist next week.
With the grueling stretch about to begin, the team is looking to take the season a game at a time.
“If you let a series dwell on you, it snowballs into a losing streak,” senior pitcher Steven Hill said. “You honestly have to look at baseball one game at a time or you’re going to let games that you should win get out from under you.”
The Lions haven’t played at home and have struggled on the road thus far, hitting for an average of .245 in their six games. Only sophomore catcher J.C. Coban has hit a homerun this season.
Pitchers have struggled as well with a collective 6.70 earned run average. Assistant coach Jason Bell explained that though his team has struggled early on, it’s showing the hard work needed for a turnaround.
“This team really does work hard and it’s a matter of time until results start paying off,” Bell said. “It’s one of those things we preach it a lot, I do, especially with the pitchers, is that [people] that are watching the game only see about 10 percent of what these guys do.”
Bell said that the hardest thing for players is the interruption of routine in preparation for games. While at home, players know what time they eat and what time they practice, on the road, especially in another time zone, schedules change and players may not be able to prepare the same
Despite the intensity of the upcoming schedule, the team is excited for the stretch as players can build some consistency.
“We’re going to play a lot of baseball and these guys will be put in a lot of situations to grow and get the experience,” Bell said. “You look at a guy like Steve Hill who is going to get two starts on this trip or you get some bullpen guys that might pitch three or four times in a row… That’s why this trip for us is huge because it gives us a chance to get some consistency going and execution will come as well.”
The weekend will be somewhat of a homecoming for Hill. The starting pitcher hails from, Colleyville, Texas, a few hours from where the team will be playing. He spoke about the positives of playing in the South.
“It’ll be warm and I’ll have family there who will expect me to pitch well,” Hill said. “I think it’ll help everybody out, it helps you get looser quicker.”
With the Lions three weeks away from opening their Big Ten schedule, Bell said that this stretch will prepare them well for what they will see in conference play. Dealing with the size of the crowds like that at the University of Houston will give the team a picture of the pressure they will have to handle late in the season.
“You translate that to later in the year when we’re playing at Michigan up by one in the ninth inning, full count, bases loaded,” Bell said. “How’s a guy going to react? He’s been in that situation and knows how to deal with it.”