In its seventh week of a 13-week regular season, Penn State reached a benchmark.
The Nittany Lions were swept at the hands of Nebraska, losing 8-2 on Friday and 11-2 on Saturday before dropping the series finale 5-3 on Sunday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
The Cornhuskers arrived in Happy Valley in first place in the Big Ten and left still atop the conference, providing Penn State with an important reference point midway through its 2021 campaign.
“Basically, everything that we’re trying to build this program to be, they were,” coach Rob Cooper said about his opponent.
Twenty-four games into their 44-game regular season, the Nittany Lions are 8-16 and reside near the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Against the top teams in the conference — Nebraska, Michigan and Indiana — Penn State is 1-9.
“Wins and losses aren’t about one guy, especially in baseball,” Cooper said. “It’s just about having the respect for your teammates that you’re going to go out and give them everything you have, and we didn’t do that.”
The Nittany Lions struggled on defense in the series, committing nine errors. The mistakes allowed Nebraska to score nine unearned runs, including four in each of the first two games of the series.
“If you want to learn something from a championship-level team, they play College World Series-level defense,” Cooper said about the Cornhuskers. “If we want to be a national program that has success, [we] got to do those things. Saying that you’re trying is not good enough.”
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At the start of the fourth quarter of Penn State’s most recent game against Michigan, the od…
Penn State’s offense was unable to muster much scoring, tallying just seven runs on 22 hits over the weekend. The Nittany Lions matched Nebraska with seven hits on Sunday and recorded over 10 in the first game Friday, but they brought few runners across the plate.
Cooper attributed his offense’s production not to his players’ talents or physical abilities, but to their mindsets in the batter’s box.
“Fear can creep in a lot of different ways,” Cooper said. “I need to be able to have an answer and a plan so that I can minimize that fear to be able to free myself up and be the best player I can be.”
The Nittany Lions rank near the middle of the Big Ten with a .259 team batting average, a noted improvement from the 2019 campaign. However, Penn State is near the bottom of the conference in total runs scored.
“Our goal is to not be a great hitting team, it’s to be a good offensive team,” Cooper said. “The name of the game is scoring runs.”
The Nittany Lions also have a difficult time playing from behind, recording just one comeback victory in which they were trailing by two or more runs this season. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers scored first in all three games between the two sides.
With eight victories, Penn State has won more conference games so far this year than it did in the 2018 and 2019 seasons combined. However, Cooper acknowledged that his team still has a long way to go.
“If we want to really try to move this program forward, then we got to go about this thing better,” Cooper said. “It’s just a matter of being willing to lay it out there and be part of something bigger than yourself.”
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