Simply put, last season wasn’t what Penn State baseball was hoping for.
The Nittany Lions went just 18-24 in 2021, which equates to a 43% winning percentage that was good for a ninth-place finish in the Big Ten. They never really hit their stride a year ago and came out of the gates with a record of just 4-10 in their first month. At no point in the season has Penn State had a winning record.
Rob Cooper is back for his ninth season as head coach of the Nittany Lions. He and the Nittany Lions are aiming to improve on a 2021 season that saw Penn State beat just one ranked opponent.
For starters, Penn State can spark some optimism after leading the Big Ten in doubles a year ago with 93 while ranking No. 10 in the nation in doubles per game with 2.21. The added base power gives the offense reason for positivity heading into the 2022 season.
Following the departures of launchers Bailey Dee, Conor Larkinand Kyle Virbitsky, the Nittany Lions will have big shoes to fill on the bump. Senior Tyler Shingledecker and grad student Mason Mellott are the only returning pitchers to pitch more than 20 innings last season. Mellott and Shingledecker led the team in appearances a year ago with 17 and 16, respectively.
Right-handed pitcher Steven Miller will return to the mound for the Nittany Lions in 2022. Last season alone, the Pittsburgh native led the team with a 3.29 ERA (minimum 10 appearances). After striking out 17 in just over 13 innings, Miller is expected to be a big part of Penn State’s 2022 pitching team.
Another pitcher expected to play a big role on the staff is second pitcher Jaden Henline. As a 2021 rookie, Henline recorded nine appearances (three starts) and threw a 3.72 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 19.1 innings pitched.
Wide receiver Matt Wood, who earned second-team All-Big Ten honors as a designated hitter in 2021, is also returning for his junior year. Wood started in 39 of Penn State’s 42 games a year ago and hit .295 with an .852 OPS to go along with four home runs and 21 RBIs. Wood will undoubtedly be one of the biggest bats in Penn State’s lineup.
Star outfielder Johnny Piacentino is arguably the biggest and most impactful batsman to return to the Penn State roster. Recently named one of the top 150 outfielders in the nation by D1Baseball, Piacentino will look to build a monster 2021 season in which he led the Nittany Lions in slugging percentage (.525), OPS (.875), batting ( 162), doubles (15), home runs (eight) and RBIs (32). If Penn State wants to turn things around offensively in 2022, Piacentino’s big bat needs to make an impact in mid-command.
Other returning bats include redshirt junior Josh Spiegel and sophomore shortstop Jay Harry. Last season, Harry started all 42 games at shortstop and hit .268 with 28 RBIs. Between split time at catcher, first base and designated hitter, Josh Spiegel hit .261 with four homers. Spiegel also racked up an OPS of 0.760, which is third highest among returning players. Both players are expected to play an important role in the formation of the Nittany Lions in 2022.
The Nittany Lions will open their season on the road in Cary, North Carolina against the Monmouth Hawks. The first pitch is set for 2 p.m. on Friday, February 18.
Fans, however, will have to wait nearly a full month to see Penn State take the field at Medlar Field in Lubrano Park. The Nittany Lions home opener is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15 against Niagara.