This year’s Penn State baseball team could relate to something that the late, great Frank Sinatra said.
“You’re riding high in April, shot down in May.”
That lyric from one of Sinatra’s many hits, “That’s Life,” is one way to sum up the past few weeks of Penn State baseball.
In late April, Penn State swept Ohio State in Happy Valley and outscored the Buckeyes 32-8 in those three games. This put Penn State at 5-7 in the Big Ten and in a solid position to make it to the conference tournament for the second straight year after a decade-long hiatus.
Since then, Penn State’s been 1-7 in the Big Ten and out of the playoff picture.
Tuesday night’s 11-3 loss to rival Pitt at PNC Park was the latest example of a brutal May for Penn State. The team’s 0-8 for the month, and its last three games are at home against Maryland Thursday-Saturday. The Terps are tied with Indiana for the Big Ten lead, so a visiting team could celebrate a Big Ten regular-season championship in Happy Valley.
That would add to Penn State’s misery.
Pitt accomplished that feat Tuesday night, using three home runs to pound its rival.
Penn State’s bats could have helped more, too. The team only scored three runs, and one of them came with Pitt ahead 11-2 in the eighth inning.
“We obviously didn’t do enough offensively to be in the game,” Penn State coach Rob Cooper said after the game. “Pitt had some big hits. I think we had the same amount of hits, but we made two errors. We just didn’t do enough things to win a baseball game.”
Cooper knows that this team has potential. The Ohio State series showcased that, as did beating nationally ranked Miami in the season’s opening game and doing the same to West Virginia– now ranked No. 6– April 11, in a game that featured one of the wildest plays of this college baseball season.
But April showers have not brought May flowers to Penn State baseball.
“There’s large stretches of very, very good, and we’re in a stretch right now of not so good,” Cooper said. “Until the season is over and there’s no more games, we have to regroup and figure out a way to compete in our next game.”
Senior leader Josh Spiegel acknowledged that the team’s “in a bit of a funk right now.”
“I think every team goes through a little bit during a season,” Spiegel said. “Ours is a little bit longer than we’d like, but I think, as a team, we just have to keep together for the last three games.”
Although a Big Ten Tournament berth isn’t among them, Penn State does have some things to play for over the season’s last weekend.
For one, it can end the year on a high note against one of the Big Ten’s top teams and send Spiegel and the rest of Penn State’s seniors off with a bang if, indeed, this is their last ride in college baseball.
Spiegel has another year of eligibility left if he wants it, as does Ryan Partridge. Partridge, normally a left-handed reliever, was a left-handed starter for the first time in his college career Tuesday night, giving up four runs on three hits over four innings in his hometown MLB Park.
Partridge knows Penn State has a chance to ruin Maryland’s Big Ten title hopes and described PSU as a “team full of battlers.”
“I think our whole team battles, wants to win,” he said. “It’s just a few things that haven’t gone our way here and there, and we’re trying to make up for it. But I know our whole team wants to win. No one’s trying to lose. We just have to keep doing everything we can to get in that win column.”
Partridge expects himself and his teammates to leave everything on the field next weekend.
“Just play our hearts out,” Partridge said. “For some of these guys, it will be the last time they ever play. All you can really do is try to give back to the game of baseball by just playing your hardest and trying to win the last three games of the year.”
Penn State’s three-game set with Maryland, scheduled for Thursday-Saturday, is set to begin Thursday at 5 in Medlar Park at Lubrano Field.
For Cooper, it will be critical for Penn State to channel TV character Ted Lasso and former PSU basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry.
“Believe,” Cooper said. “Just believe that you’re good. It’s the same team. The same team that went down to Miami and was one pitch away from taking two out of three. It’s the same team that was in a really good place about a month ago and swept Ohio State. So we have to be tough mentally.”