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Penn State Baseball: Red-Hot Nittany Lions Set to Battle Ohio State in Big Ten Tournament

by on May 22, 2012 1:17 PM

Red-hot Penn State is making its second consecutive trip to the Big Ten Tournament Wednesday, but unlike last year, the Nittany Lions are on arguably the biggest roll in the country.

They have gone 22-7 since April 1 and claimed the No. 3 seed. 

Penn State  (29-25, 15-9 Big Ten) will play No. 6 seed Ohio State (31-25, 11-13) Wednesday at 3:35 p.m. in Columbus in the opening round of the double-elimination tournament. 

Coach Robbie Wine wasn't phased by his team's slow start, knowing the Nittany Lions would eventually come around.

"I wasn't concerned after the way we started, because we knew we had a very good team," he said.

"We knew it would come around and it did. We are happy with the run we had, but we aren't satisfied with it. We know we can reach better goals."

Making their 10th trip to the Big Ten Tournament in program history, the  Nittany Lions have posted a 13-18 record during those postseason competitions. 

Opening Round Opponent

Penn State will play the second game of a doubleheader of baseball slated for Columbus Wednesday. The game can be seen on the Big Ten Network. Additionally, Penn State games can be heard on ESPN Radio 1450 State College. 

It will be Ohio State with the home field advantage this time around, but in their prior matchup this series, a three-game set at the end of April, the Nittany Lions used a pair of one-run victories to take two of three from Ohio State. 

The Buckeyes seemed a shoe-in for the tournament after rebounding from the Penn State series to sweep Northwestern, only to be swept themselves out of their final series of the season against tournament No. 2 seed Indiana. However, Ohio State got a breath of life when it won a tie-breaker, and clinched the sixth and final spot in the tournament.

Sophomore Jaron Long is likely to be the starter for Ohio State after posting a team best 2.29 ERA and picking up six wins. Long was the only Buckeyes pitcher to beat the Lions this season, shutting them down in the series opener in a 4-1 Ohio State victory.

With Long on the mound, the Buckeyes are likely to play plenty of small ball, as they led the Big Ten in walks, steals, and sacrifice bunts. The speed on the base paths will be a test for Penn State catcher JC Coban, who has thrown out just one runner all season.

Wine said Long is tough, but beatable.

"Long pitched a good game against us the first time, but all we need is some timely hitting," Wine said.

Kurrasch Likely to Start for Nittany Lions

Penn State starter Joe Kurrash led the team with a dazzling 1.98 ERA while racking up four wins and one complete game as the team's Friday starter for most of the season. If Kurrash does get the call, Penn State's top hitters, Jordan Steranka, Joey DeBernardis and Luis Montesinos, will have to fair better than the first time they faced Long.

Penn State played a very difficult nonconference schedule, and its dismal early record reflected that. However, Wine said those games can and will pay dividends once the first pitch is thrown.

"We played some very good teams early on, and our guys got a lot from that experience," Wine said. "It absolutely is going to help us now."

Tournament Outlook

Penn State snuck into the Big Ten Tournament a year ago as the No. 6 seed with a 12-12 record. After finishing the year as strong as the Lions did, though, Wine said he and his team expects more this year.

"Last year we just got in, and we were thrilled with that, but this year we want more, we're in it to win it," Wine said. "We have the team to do it, and we know what we have to do."

More information on the Big Ten Tournament can be found at Championship Central



Greg Pickel writes for StateCollege.com and Onward State. He's on Twitter as @GregPickel.
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