Baseball fans rejoice, your Nittany Lions will take the field in just a little more than a month when they head to Texas to take on TCU February 17th at 7:30p.m. The Diamond Lions are coming off a season that saw them finish 28-27 and go 12-12 in conference. The pressure is on in Rob Cooper’s fourth season, but luckily for him he’s got a young star to ride behind in such an important season.
One of the main reasons the Lions were able to enjoy scattered success in 2016 season was the stellar play of freshman infielder Willie Burger — specifically at the plate and in the field. Burger is listed as in infielder but he’s also seen time at catcher to go along with his experience at third and first base. Coming out of high school, Burger was named a Perfect Game All-American in 2014 and was ranked one of the top-100 players in the country (No. 72) and the No. 4 player to come out of Pennsylvania. The Lancaster native is looking to build off an impressive rookie campaign where he was one of the most lethal bats in Penn State’s lineup. Burger also earned a slew of Big Ten honors last season — the young star was crowned both Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week in late March.
A lingering rib injury held the freshman to just 39 games last year, but when he was in the lineup he made his presence felt. Burger batted a respectable .250 in his 140 at-bats while slugging a .336 and added 34 RBIs which ranked second on the team. His ability to adjust to pitchers throughout the season is a testament to Burger’s resiliency and perspective of the game of baseball.
While the 6-foot, 200 lb slugger was able to find a home in the lineup with the Lions last spring due to his success at the plate, he was also able to flash the leather for the lions in the field. As many fans know, good defense is imperative to success in all sports, but especially in baseball. The old adage “defense wins championships while offense looks pretty” is especially true on the diamond, and Burger has been nothing short of impressive with the glove. In his first season with the Lions he was able to post an impressive .965 fielding percentage while adding 28 assists.
Though he was just a freshman last season, Willie Burger’s defining moment as a Nittany Lion may have already happened. While Burger was still recovering from his rib injury in late March last season, Rob Cooper called upon his rookie slugger to try and extend the Lions lead against Illinois in the top of the 9th inning.
Many players struggle when called upon to pinch hit, but Burger was able to fight through his injury and put a 2-2 fastball down in the zone in the left-centerfield gap that cleared the bases for the Lions and extended their lead to 5-1. The Lions held on the emerge victorious 5-3 and Burgers pinch-hit, bases clearing double proved to be the deciding factor.
With Rob Cooper preaching that the Lions must come to work with a blue collar attitude, Burger’s grit is just what this Nittany Lions baseball team needs to improve off their first winning season since 2012.