The Penn State Nittany Lions baseball team began its 2016 campaign in Cuba, but as it ends the regular season, the team will be back home in familiar digs in Medlar Field at Lubrano Park for a three-game series against Big Ten-foe Iowa.
Iowa will be a pivotal match-up for head coach Rob Cooper’s Nittany Lions, which control their postseason destiny. Winning two out of three games all but clinches a trip to the Big Ten tournament and a chance to play their way to Omaha and the College World Series.
Penn State enters this weekend’s series against Iowa holding a 38-28 overall record against the Hawkeyes, however, these teams haven’t played since 2013.
The Nittany Lions are coming off a weekend where they went 1-2 against Nebraska, so Penn State is looking to regain some momentum heading into a possible postseason berth.
Iowa comes to Happy Valley after winning its previous series against Big Ten front-runner Michigan State — the Hawkeyes only gave up three runs on the weekend. Iowa currently sits at 10-11 in conference play and 25-24 overall.
Who to Watch
As is custom on senior weekends, look for the Nittany Lions’ seniors to have success throughout the weekend.
Senior Nick Hedge takes the hill for Thursday night’s series opener, looking to build on his last start where the lefty gave up only three runs on seven hits in seven-plus innings of work. That start (against Nebraska) was Hedge’s first weekend start since last season when he was the starter for series’ opening games.
At the plate, there might not be a hotter hitter in the country than the Nittany Lions’ Greg Guers. The senior outfielder has been on an incredible tear, hitting .452 with three home runs, a triple, a double and nine RBIs in his last eight games. Of those three home runs, two came in back-to-back games against Pitt and Nebraska.
Also celebrating senior weekend for the Nittany Lions will be record-setting closer Jack Anderson, outfielder James Coates, pitcher Jared Fagnano and infielder Tyler Kendall.
Playoffs? Talkin’ bout playoffs
Only three games separate third place from tenth in the Big Ten standings. Eight of those teams will make the tournament in Omaha. Penn State could finish as high as third if several scenarios go their way and as low as tenth if they go winless this weekend.
Two wins would seal the deal to clinch a post-season berth for the Nittany Lions. The potential berth would be the program’s first postseason appearance since 2012.
For Penn State to finish third, 15 games have to go perfectly. The Nittany Lions need to sweep Iowa, Minnesota needs to sweep Ohio State, Indiana needs to sweep Nebraska, Illinois needs to sweep Michigan and Maryland must win only two games against Michigan State.
Should Penn State go winless this weekend, it would all but ruin their chances at a Big Ten berth. If the team goes 1-2 over the weekend, the Nittany Lions would need Michigan State to sweep Maryland and have Michigan go winless in their series against Illinois.
Luckily for Penn State, they are in control of their destiny — unlike many other Big Ten teams hoping for a post-season berth.
Game 1: Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
PSU LHP Nick Hedge (5-2, 2.75 ERA)
Iowa RHP C.J. Eldred (2-8, 3.67 ERA)
Game 2: Friday at 2:00 p.m.
PSU RHP Sal Biasi (5-5, 3.90 ERA)
Iowa RHP Tyler Peyton (3-5, 5.02 ERA)
Game 3: Senior Day Friday at 6:30 p.m.
PSU RHP Justin Hagenman (6-3, 3.50 ERA)
Iowa RHP Calvin Mathews (0-4, 6.29 ERA)
Image credit: Mark Selders