When Penn State was up to bat in the bottom of each inning on Friday, home plate seemed like a nearly unreachable land.
Only two Nittany Lions successfully made the full trip around the bases to the dish, with several others coming up short. The two runs were not enough to propel the blue and white to a victory, losing 5-2 at the hands of Maryland.
Penn State mustered just six hits and four walks, producing the pair of runs in the fifth. The Nittany Lions were unable to string any offensive sequences together, stranding six runners on base.
The lone bright spot for the Penn State offense was catcher Ryan Sloniger, who hit the two-RBI double that put the Nittany Lions on the board. But even the senior could not find his way around to score as he was tagged out while trying to stretch his double into a triple.
The struggling offense has been a constant theme in recent weeks and has played a major role in Penn State’s 1-14 Big Ten record. The last-place team in the standings, the Nittany Lions also rank at the very bottom of the conference with a .228 batting average.
“I just think right now, guys are second-guessing themselves a little bit, which obviously slows your swing down,” Sloniger said about the sputtering offense. “Guys are just missing some good pitches.”
Only three Penn State players have a batting average above .250, and just four have an on-base percentage above .350. On the flip side, 10 Nittany Lions are hitting below .200 on the year.
“I think that some guys are getting a little caught up in their struggles,” coach Rob Cooper said. “We got to have some guys believe in themselves a little bit more and I think we’ll be okay.”
In its first 28 games of the 2019 campaign, Penn State averaged 4.82 runs per contest while posting a 17-11 record. However, in their last nine matchups, the Nittany Lions have gone 1-8 with 2.44 runs per game.
While Penn State’s production has been cut in half recently, Sloniger believes it is the result of just one variable.
“It’s always confidence,” Sloniger said. “Early on, when guys were swinging it well, they didn’t really doubt themselves.”
The Nittany Lions have scored three or fewer runs in 11 of their last 13 contests, with only three victories over that span. Furthermore, Penn State has posted a batting average below .240 in 11 of those matchups as well.
With their season winding down, the Nittany Lions find themselves seven games outside of a Big Ten Tournament berth with eight conference contests remaining. Sloniger believes their struggles against Big Ten opponents have brought some added stress, but he is optimistic they will get things turned in the right direction.
“Obviously guys want to win, so it’s easy to try and do a little more than what you really need to,” Sloniger said. “If we just get back to what guys did early in the year… I think that we’re going to be OK.