Despite finishing with more losses than wins once again, there were many bright spots from last year's Penn State team on the offensive side.
While the lineup for the Nittany Lions featured mostly underclassmen, the impact some of the veterans had could lead to more improvement in the team for future years.
Two big names who have now departed from the middle of the lineup for the Nittany Lions are second baseman Gavin Homer and third baseman Justin Williams.
Williams was the only non-pitcher for Penn State to be selected in the MLB Draft last month, going in the 17th round to the Houston Astros.
As a junior, Williams had the best season of his Penn State career, hitting .302 with five home runs. Throughout each of his three seasons, Williams found a way to improve his batting average and slugging percentage.
Coach Rob Cooper said Williams’ ability to hit for power played a big role in assisting other players in the lineup.
“Justin’s the kind of hitter that’s a tough guy to pitch to,” Cooper told The Daily Collegian. “He’s got that threat of hitting a home run basically every time up, so knowing that you gotta pitch to that guy and knowing that he can do damage on every pitch, it really helps the guy who’s hitting in front of him because they don’t want to pitch to him.”
Despite not being drafted like Williams, Homer finished his Penn State career as an on-base machine after transferring from Kellogg Community College before the 2019 season. Homer ended the 2021 campaign with a .310 batting average and a .429 on-base percentage.
Hitting in the leadoff spot, Homer consistently found ways to get on base, which is one of the main traits Cooper liked about him.
“Gavin did a great job of getting on base, and to have somebody that can get on base consistently, it really makes your offense a lot better,” Cooper said.
Both Williams and Homer spent their first season at Penn State in 2019 when the Nittany Lions only won four conference games.
This year, the two played key roles as the Nittany Lions won eighteen matchups in a grueling conference-only schedule, finishing ninth in the Big Ten. The pair’s 2020 stat lines were off to a great start before the season was shut down, too.
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Both players consistently put together strong plate appearances when they stepped in the batters’ box, and it’s something younger players took notice of.
Rising junior catcher Matt Wood said he felt the way both players approached those at-bats was the biggest impact they had on him as a player.
“Working with those two was really cool because they have a unique perspective and approach at the plate,” Wood told the Collegian. “They’re so focused on every little detail every game, and I think that is something that I really took away. Not taking every pitch and any moment for granted, trying to be as locked in as possible every single moment that I’m up there because I didn’t want to waste any ABs.”
Looking forward to the 2022 season, the Nittany Lions are primed to take a big step forward with the majority of their 2021 offense returning to Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Despite being without the services of Williams and Homer, Cooper said he believes there are plenty of players who can step up to help improve on 2021’s 18-23 season.
“Johnny Piacentino basically played the entire year with a broken thumb, so he still was a force in the lineup, and so being able to have him healthy and get him a full year is huge,” Cooper said. “Jay Harry had a really good freshman year, Matt Wood was in some ways probably our most consistent hitter and has continued that throughout the summer, and there were times when Tayven Kelly showed some real offensive potential.
We got some younger guys we feel like have to get better in camp but have the ability to help us offensively, so that’s something we’re gonna see when we start up in the fall.”
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