WORK AND PLAY: Penn State University’s Spring Break trip continues at Grand Canyon

Penn State University Baseball during an NCAA college baseball game against UCSB Gauchos. The Nittany Lions take on Grand Canyon University for a three-game set Thursday-Saturday. Penn State is currently sitting at 4-5 on the season. (Photo courtesy of Penn State Baseball)

LOS ANGELES – Penn State baseball enters the back half of its Spring Break trip out west, opening a three-game series at Grand Canyon University Thursday in Phoenix. First pitch times are set for 8 p.m. ET Thursday and Friday, and 4 p.m. ET Saturday.

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GCU Series History: First Meeting

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Thursday Probables

PSU RHP Conor Larkin (0-0, 7.36 ERA)

GCU RHP Jake Wong (1-0, 2.93 ERA)

Friday Probables

PSU RHP Justin Hagenman (1-1, 2.25 ERA)

GCU RHP Mike Lundin (1-2, 3.95 ERA)

Saturday Probables

PSU LHP Taylor Lehman (1-1, 2.70 ERA)

GCU LHP Jake Repavich (0-1, 11.88 ERA)

Road Swing Continues

Penn State is playing its first 12 games of the season on the road and has gone 4-5 in the first nine.

Penn State played its first six games in the state of North Carolina, going 3-3, and then went 1-2 at UC Santa Barbara.

Visiting the Valley of the Sun

Penn State baseball is making just its third trip all-time to the state of Arizona and facing Grand Canyon, located in downtown Phoenix, for the first time. Its previous two trips were to nearby Tempe to play at Arizona State in 2003 and 2006.

Penn State first played an Arizona-based team in 1973, facing Arizona State in the College World Series in Omaha.

Penn State has played the University of Arizona once, meeting in 2004 at the Round Rock College Classic in Round Rock, Texas.

Penn State has yet to win in eight contests against Arizona-based teams.

Penn State men’s gymnastics will be in the area, competing at Arizona State Saturday.

Penn State football won its seventh Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30, 2017 in nearby Glendale.

Rotation Rotation

With a short week due to Penn State’s Saturday-Monday and Thursday-Friday series, freshman RHP Conor Larkin will lead the rotation this weekend, aligning RHP Justin Hagenman for Friday and LHP Taylor Lehman for Saturday in the coming weeks.

Larkin will be making his second career start.

All-Time vs. Grand Canyon

Penn State and GCU are meeting for the first time in program history.

Scouting Grand Canyon

GCU is off to a 3-8 start on the season. Like the Nittany Lions did last year, the Lopes opened 2018 at TCU. GCU managed a win in the finale against the seventh-ranked Horned Frogs, but has only managed wins over Cal Poly and Cal State Northridge since.

The Lopes entered 2018 as the favorites to win the conference again. Additionally, infielders Ian Evans and Austin Bull, and RHP Jake Wong all landed spots on the All-WAC Preseason Team.

Penn State vs. the WAC

Penn State is 5-1 all-time against the current alignment of the Western Athletic Conference. The Nittany Lions faced a WAC foe last season, taking two of three at Sacramento State.

Solid Start

Penn State earned a three-game sweep at Elon to start the 2018 season 3-0, marking its best start since starting the 1980 season 3-0.

Penn State’s 4-5 start matches its 2017 record through nine games, which was its best start since 2011.

Sloniger on Johnny Bench Watch List

Catch Ryan Sloniger was named as a nominee for the Johnny Bench Award, presented by, which goes to the top catcher in Division I baseball.

The watch list will be narrowed down to the semifinalists, whom will be announced May 16, 2018. Ballots will be sent to the national voting panel at the end of May for a vote to determine the three finalists. The finalists will be announced June 4, 2018. A final vote among the national committee will occur during the College World Series. All finalists will be brought to Wichita and the winner will be announced at the 21st Annual Greater Wichita Sports Banquet on June 28, 2018.

While Bench is remembered for his offense, he may have had the greatest impact behind the plate. He was the first receiver to use a protective helmet in the field, popularized catching one-handed and kept his throwing hand behind his back to protect it from foul tips.

Slugging Sloniger

Catcher Ryan Sloniger has a hit in all nine games this season, most recently posting his first multi-hit game, going 2-for-5 with three RBIs in a win over UCSB Monday.

It is the longest hitting streak to start a season since Jim Haley tallied at least one hit in the first 10 games of 2016.

Sloniger’s two home runs and 10 RBIs surpass his 2017 totals of one home run and seven RBIs. He had two career home runs in 78 games played over his first two seasons.

Sloniger’s 1.11 RBIs per game rank eighth in the Big Ten.

Sloniger has started all nine games behind the plate this season.

Hendershot Bids for 1.000

Freshman Parker Hendershot did not lose his confidence after not making the travel roster during the opening weekend at Elon, as he has started his career at a 5-for-8 clip at the plate.

Hendershot debuted against No. 23 St. John’s in Penn State’s sixth game of the season, and went 2-for-2 off the bench, scoring two off Penn State’s four runs on the day.

Hendershot pinch hit in Penn State’s series opener at UCSB, singling to improve to 3-for-3 to start his career.

Hendershot drew his first career start (DH) in the series finale at UCSB, doubling in his first at-bat to improve to 4-for-4. He struck out in his next at-bat, but drove in his first two RBIs with a base hit in his.

Hendershot’s three-game hitting streak is the second-longest active streak on the team.

Hendershot is one of four Nittany Lions to post a multi-hit game this season.

Sticking With It

After managing just a Ryan Sloniger base hit in the first inning and six base runners in the entire game in the second of three games at UCSB, head coach Rob Cooper did not rip up his lineup card.

Cooper made just one change, swapping lefty-batting Curtis Robison out in favor of right-handed classmate Parker Hendershot to face the UCSB left-handed pitcher. The rest of the order was the same, and the lineup produced 11 hits and seven walks in an 8-7 win.


With 14 newcomers on the team, many fresh faces have seen action for the Nittany Lions.

A total of 12 of the 14 newcomers have seen action with eight earning starts.

Junior college transfer Shea Sbranti (1B) and freshman Curtis Robison (DH) were Opening Day starters for Penn State.

Freshman Mac Hippenhammer debuted as a pinch runner on Opening Day (at Elon), and then was replaced in the field by classmate Tommy Gibson.

Freshman Derek Orndorff debuted as a pinch hitter in the Lions’ second game of the season (at Elon). Freshman relief pitchers Conor Larkin and Mason Mellott also debuted, with Mellott debuting in the ninth and earning his first career save.

Orndorff (1B) and Gibson (SS) made their first career starts in the third game of the season (at Elon). Redshirt freshman Dante Biasi started on the mound in his first collegiate action, and he carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning.

Larkin made his first start in Penn State’s fifth game of the season (vs. Monmouth).

Freshmen Kris Kremer and Parker Hendershot made their debuts off the bench in the sixth game of the season (vs. No. 23 St. John’s). Hendershot went 2-for-2 at the plate with two runs scored. Pitchers Kyle Virbitsky and Bailey Dees debuted in relief.

Hippenhammer made his first career start (CF) in the eighth game of the year (at UCSB).

Close Games

Three of Penn State’s four wins have been by one run, and all have been decided by two runs or less.

RHPs Eric Mock and Mason Mellott have two saves each.

Four of Penn State’s first five games were decided by one run or less. Penn State went 2-2 in those games.

Penn State’s first five games were decided by two runs or less. PSU went 3-2 in those games.

The last time Penn State opened a season with five games decided by two runs or less was 1973. Four of the five games were also decided by one run.