Penn State baseball travels to Cary, NC this weekend for a four-game set beginning Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. against Xavier. After getting swept by No. 1 TCU to open the season, the Diamond Lions are still optimistic as they work for their first win of the season.
Coach Rob Cooper acknowledged the that he could’ve scheduled a plethora of other schools for the season opening series, but intentionally chose the unanimous number one team in the country because playing the best can only make his team better.
He also noted that if it wasn’t for a few fielding miscues and his pitchers inability to find the strike zone at times that the Nittany Lions had a chance to upset TCU at least once last weekend.
“I learned that we have the ability to play with that type of program,” Cooper said.
Penn State is an extremely young ball club that contains an eye-popping 26 underclassmen and two true freshmen who saw action in the starting lineup this past weekend. Shortstop Joe Weisenseel and center fielder Mason Nadeau went a combined 1-17 (.058 average), but Cooper claims that he likes having young guys at high profile positions.
With the TCU series now a thing of the past, Penn State shifts focus to its new opponent for this weekend and what it can do to take the series. Xavier, Xavier, Xavier, sound familiar?
“It has nothing to do with who we’re playing,” Cooper said. “It has everything to do with our approach, our mental beliefs, and us taking care of the things we do.”
It’s that type of mindset the Nittany Lions need to have if they want to bounce back in North Carolina this weekend. Cooper emphasized the importance of playing a “faceless” opponent.
Though Xavier doesn’t catch your eye on the schedule as much as TCU did, it’s important to note that the Musketeers made the NCAA Tournament last season — falling in their regional final to UC Santa Barbara — and are consistently one of the more competitive teams in the Big East.
Xavier finished the 2016 season 32-30, winning the Big East tournament and defeating its regional No. 1 seed Vanderbilt in the postseason.
As one of the more dangerous players in the Big East, Will LaRue will be a key Musketeer for the Nittany Lions to keep their eye on this weekend. The junior outfielder can do it all. He was third on the Musketeers in hits last year and if he gets on base, look for him to run. LaRue became one of the nation’s most dangerous base stealers last year by swiping an impressive 31 bags on 36 attempts. The speedy outfielder uses his legs to his advantage in the field as well. In 2016, he posted a .977 fielding percentage with just three errors in 61 games.
This weekend will be another test for Penn State, but as Cooper has stressed in the past, the faceless opponent can be beaten if the Nittany Lions stick to their game plan.