For a team set to begin its 2012 season on Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla., against Seton Hall in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge, Penn State baseball coach Robbie Wine boasts a starting staff to get excited about.
With Cody Lewis, a junior transfer righthander from Saddleback Junior College; John Walter, a junior righthander and 2011 third-team All Big Ten; and Steve Hill, a junior righthander and second-team All Big Ten, Wine said he believes he’s got a team with plenty of experience to win significant games this season.
The Lions recorded a 32-22 record last season and were 12-12 in the Big Ten.
“You look across the country at some of the starters,” Wine said at Monday's spring sports media availability, “and we go in with a pretty good starting rotation.”
The 2012 campaign may be Walter’s last season with the Nittany Lions, Wine said, because there’s a good possibility he may be selected in the next MLB Draft. He would be the first Lions player since Ben Heath (fifth round to the Houston Astros) and Heath Johnson (45th round to the New York Yankees) in 2010 to be taken in the draft.
Question marks still surround who will be behind the plate calling this staff’s pitches, however. The leaders to be the Lions’ starting catcher appear to be junior Ryan Clark and sophomore Alex Farkes, Wine said. In 20 games played last season, Farkes compiled a .233 average with five RBIs. In 38 games and more than triple the at bats, Clark hit .231 with five home runs and 16 RBIs.
Freshmen JJ White and JC Coban will compete for the third catching option.
“It's a good question,” Wine said of the catching logjam. “We sit up here every day in the office. I think it's pretty close here right now.”
The team’s first home game of the season isn’t until March 21 against Pittsburgh, the 18th game of the year.
Men's and Women's Lacrosse finding "identity"
As for the men’s and women’s lacrosse, the theme for both teams in 2012 will be “identity.”
For years, neither team has had a defined home playing surface. Second-year men’s lacrosse coach Jeff Tambroni said his group never had a true home-field advantage. They’ve played outdoors at Jeffery Field and Bigler outdoor turf and indoors inside Holuba Hall.
This season, though, both Tambroni’s team and women’s coach Missy Doherty’s crew will be playing on the brand new Penn State Lacrosse Field, which is behind the Bryce Jordan Center and adjacent to the Indoor Track Facility.
The facility, in the first phase of its completion, helps draw recruits, both men and women, to Penn State because of the commitment to the sport shown from the university, coaches said.
When these recruits and their families take a look at it, they realize how serious Penn State is about growing the sport and about men's and women's lacrosse,” Tambroni said.
“I think at this point we've been talking to 15- and 16-year-old sophomores right now who come up and their eyes are open wide when they see that facility. I think once we get the stands in there and develop that second and third phase it's going to help considerably having those kinds of options to compete against the schools that we want to compete against out there in Division I lacrosse.”
The men’s lacrosse team finished 2011 with a 7-7 record and opened the 2012 season with a 14-10 loss to No. 6 UNC. Their home opener is at 1 p.m. on Saturday against Michigan. The women’s team finished 2011 at 10-8 and open their season at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at Bucknell. Their home opener is at 1 p.m. Sunday against No. 2 Maryland.
-- Joe McIntyre