For Penn State, the month of May is a welcome sight.
The Nittany Lions are coming off a tough April in which they went just 5-12, dropping their overall record below .500. The blue and white will look to start the final month of the season in better fashion this weekend as it welcomes Rutgers for a three-game set beginning Friday night.
Penn State has just 11 contests remaining in the 2019 campaign, the first three of which will be against the Scarlet Knights. Despite posting a 19-20 overall record and residing in the basement of the Big Ten standings, the final three weeks will still be an important stretch according to coach Rob Cooper.
“We have a chance to finish as a winning team… which would mean a lot for these guys,” Cooper said. “There’s a lot to play for still.”
The Nittany Lions could also play spoiler, as their final two conference opponents – Rutgers and Ohio State, are fighting for the final spots in the Big Ten Tournament. The Scarlet Knights are currently ninth in the standings and outside of the final postseason position by way of a tiebreaker.
Rutgers rolls into Happy Valley with an 18-24 overall record and a 7-8 conference mark. Unlike Penn State, the Scarlet Knights have nine Big Ten matchups remaining.
Rutgers is coming off three straight conference losses, all of which were at the hands Michigan. The Scarlet Knights have also struggled on the road this season posting a 5-16 record.
The Nittany Lions and Rutgers share three common opponents – Monmouth, Lafayette and Purdue. Penn State went 4-2 against those squads, while the Scarlet Knights went 4-1.
The series against Rutgers comes at an interesting time for the Nittany Lions, who lost two of three to Maryland last weekend. Penn State won the final game of the weekend, but carried its momentum into a non-typical week.
Due to the players taking final exams, the Nittany Lions played no midweek contests and held only voluntary practices this past week. Despite the jumbled schedule and the lack of a nonconference matchup, Cooper believes the unconventional week won’t kill Penn State’s momentum.
“Even though this is voluntary, when guys come in and they can get certain things done, then you’re able to hit some of the things that you’re not able to do because you’re playing every day,” Cooper said. “For us, I actually think this comes at a really good time.”
The Nittany Lions will roll out their standard weekend pitching rotation against the Scarlet Knights, with left-hander Dante Biasi starting on Friday, right-hander Eric Mock manning the bump on Saturday and right-hander Bailey Dees taking the ball on Sunday. Dees’ previous start lasted just 2.1 innings, but Cooper said the brief outing was not due to injury.
“He’s in a good place physically, and this past weekend I think really showed him that he needs to get his confidence at the same level that he is physically, if not more so,” Cooper said. “I think he’s going to be fine.”