Penn State baseball has not been known for having much on the field success in recent history. This century has been almost entirely comprised of losing seasons and only one NCAA tournament berth. However, things may be beginning to finally look up for the Diamond Lions.
Penn State is off to a 7-2 start this season. The Nittany Lions’ early success has not been seen since 2000, when Penn State finished second in the Big Ten and had an overall record of 45-19.
Prior to this weekend, however, not much noise was being made about the Nittany Lions, who were 6-0. This was mainly due to the quality of Penn State’s competition. The Nittany Lions’ first two opponents, Monmouth and Fairfield, are a combined 1-14 on the season.
Although, this weekend might have been something of a statement for Penn State baseball – at least compared to the past few seasons of historic mediocrity.
Penn State took on the No. 21 Duke Blue Devils in a three-game series this past weekend. Though the Nittany Lions were the home team in all three contests, the games were played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
After Duke dominated Friday night’s opener by a score of 14-0, along with accomplishing a combined no-hitter, Penn State looked to be a total fluke compared to its record.
However, Saturday the tides turned. Penn State picked up one its most significant victories in recent memory. The Nittany Lions rallied from a 7-4 deficit to upset the Blue Devils, 8-7.
Unfortunately, Penn State failed to take the rubber match of the series from Duke. Despite being up 2-0 going into the seventh inning, the Nittany Lions’ bullpen gave up nine unanswered runs to yield a 9-2 score line, which was much more lopsided than the game truly was.
These results, particularly Saturday’s victory, could serve as huge turning points for a Penn State program which has fallen on hard times as of late. To put this victory into perspective, the Nittany Lions only have three victories against teams in the RPI top 50 in the past two seasons. While RPI data for this season is not officially reviled until March 18, it is safe to say Duke is of that quality, given its No. 21 ranking in the Collegiate Baseball poll.
Penn State is also already halfway to its 2018 win total just three weeks into the season, another strong sign of growth in the program coach Rob Cooper is building.
Multiple players have stood out for the Nittany Lions throughout the weekend and season alike. Kris Kremer is by far the most notable. The sophomore went 4-for-4 in Saturday’s victory, tying the school record with three home runs in the contest, while also accumulating six RBIs, the most by a Penn State player since 2015.
Another sophomore who stepped up on the big stage was Mason Mellott. Mellott picked up the win on the mound with 4 2/3 innings of one-run baseball in relief of Bailey Dees. Mellott has been sensational out of the bullpen all season, shutting down opponents to the tune of a 1.17 ERA.
Down the road, Mellott looks to become part of a solid one-two punch with starter Eric Mock. Mock has lifted a heavy load for a Penn State team which lacks depth out of the bullpen and done so effectively. In 20 2/3 IP throughout three starts, Mock’s ERA is an exceptional 1.31. His six-shutout innings against Duke on Sunday raised a lot of eyebrows for sure.
Although the season is still young, and the sample size remains small, things may be starting to look up for Penn State baseball. Only time will tell, as the Nittany Lions continue non-conference action in the Sunshine state, with a weekend series at UCF on the horizon.
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