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Penn State Baseball’s Youth Key During First Weekend Of Season

Penn State baseball’s freshman and sophomore players were a big part of the team’s three-win performance in the opening weekend of the 2020 season.

Freshman catcher Matt Wood headlined the underclassmen who contributed. Wood was arguably the best player on the field this past weekend. He started all four games while batting in the lineup’s second spot, and got three starts at catcher, while playing as designated hitter in the other. He had a .467/.556/.533 slash line while scoring three and driving in four runs on the weekend. Head coach Rob Cooper was impressed with the young catcher’s performance.

“I think he did a really really good job for his first college weekend, especially having to catch too,” Cooper said.

Wood seems to be a perfect fit in the No. 2 slot in the lineup, as he has the ability to drive in runs and to also be a table-setter for the hitters behind him. In this new era of baseball, it’s fairly common to bat your best hitter second to maximize the amount of at-bats he can get. Cooper is still experimenting with different lineups, so despite his great performance, it’s entirely possible that Wood will bounce around the lineup a little bit.

“Right now it is more of just trying to get guys who I think can get on base repeatedly,” Cooper said. “The more you can put those guys up and give them an opportunity to get on base, the better.”

On the mound, freshman pitchers Braden Halladay and Logan Evans turned in solid performances. Halladay came into the game out of the bullpen in the weekend finale and pitched two shutout innings, allowing just one hit. Evans made his lone appearance in game three out of the bullpen as he helped work starting pitcher Hutch Gagnon out of trouble. Evans pitched 2.1 innings and allowed only one earned run while striking out six batters.

Left fielder Ryan Ford and third baseman Justin Williams, two sophomores, each batted in the middle of the lineup during every game. Ford batted .286 and drove in five runs, while Williams batted .250 with a .368 on-base percentage. For two out of the four games (including the Penn State victory that featured a 14-run outburst), the second, third, and fourth spots in the lineup were occupied by Wood, Williams, and Ford. Coach Cooper has a lot of trust in these younger bats to produce in the middle of the order.

Two sophomore pitchers, Tyler Shingledecker and Hutch Gagnon, turned in strong contributions for the Nittany Lions this past weekend. Shingledecker came out of the bullpen in game two and was completely dominant. He pitched four no-hit innings and struck out five batters on just 47 pitchers. Although Penn State lost that game 4-2, Shingledecker’s performance gave the Nittany Lions a chance to come back after falling behind early in the game. Coach Cooper wasn’t surprised by Shingledecker’s dominance, as he has been working really hard this offseason.

“Tyler Shingledecker is a really good pitcher,” Cooper said. “He has worked really hard to get better and he had a lot of confidence in that first game. The sky is the limit for him, we really believe that.”

Gagnon started game three and had a gutsy performance as he allowed seven baserunners in 3.2 innings, but gave up just two runs while striking out five. The stat line wasn’t pretty, but he was able to limit the damage to keep his team in the game.

In order for Penn State to have a bounce-back season, these younger players are going to need to keep up their contributions to go along with the veterans on the team like Gavin Homer, Bailey Dees, and Parker Hendershot.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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