Baseball Team Draws Ohio State in Conference Tournament Opener
The Penn State Nittany Lions baseball team is headed to its second consecutive Big Ten Tournament berth, receiving the third overall seed, their highest position in the tournament bracket since 2008. The Nittany Lions have yet to take home a conference title and are hoping that they can survive in Columbus in order to receive their first after a strong finish to the regular season.
The Lions haven’t come close to a Big Ten championship since 2000 — their last time appearing in the title game. The tournament, which features double-elimination play, will kick off this afternoon, with Penn State taking on the sixth-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes. With a win over the Buckeyes, they will go on to face the number two seeded Indiana Hoosiers tomorrow. If they lose this afternoon, they’ll play the loser of today’s matchup between Nebraska and Michigan State.
It’s unclear which starting pitcher will take the mound today, but one thing is certain: strong play will be needed from senior first baseman Jordan Steranka, who was named to the All-Big Ten First Team after putting up huge numbers all season. His eye-popping .362 batting average is the fifth best in the conference and his slugging percentage of .615 is the best in the Big Ten. Steranka has almost half of the team’s conference-leading 23 home runs with 11 of his own (the second most by a single player in the Big Ten).
If he manages to keep it up in the tournament along with some help from the rest of the order, Penn State pitchers will have a much easier time knowing that the team’s bats are providing some run support.
It’s likely that sophomore lefty Joe Kurrasch will be the starter this afternoon. He’s been fairly consistent this season and has an outstanding 1.98 ERA in conference play. In a series at Medlar Field in late April, Kurrasch pitched a strong game against Ohio State, going 6.2 innings and allowing no earned runs on just two hits while fanning seven Buckeyes.
Kurrasch was dominant in his last outing against Michigan State just six days ago, which also makes him the most rested of any Penn State starter. Hopefully he can carry some of that momentum into the tournament before handing the ball over to Steven Hill, who will be the probable starter for the second tournament game tomorrow.
One thing’s for certain — no matter how the Nittany Lions play over the next few days, they will be hard-pressed to play more disappointing baseball in the tournament than the 2011 team did. Tough back-to-back losses to Purdue and Minnesota sent the Nittany Lions packing early last year, so even a win over the Buckeyes today will be an improvement.
However, I don’t doubt that this team has their eyes on the real prize: their first ever Big Ten Championship.
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