Despite finishing with more losses than wins once again, there were plenty of positives from last year’s Penn State team on the offensive end.
While the formation of the Nittany Lions mainly consisted of sub-classes, the impact of some veterans could lead to further improvement of the squad for years to come.
Two big names who have now left the Nittany Lions’ midfield are second baseman Gavin Homer and third baseman Justin Williams.
Williams was the only Penn State non-pitcher to be selected in the MLB Draft last month, going in the 17th round against the Houston Astros.
As a junior, Williams had the best season of his career at Penn State, hitting .302 with five home runs. Throughout each of his three seasons, Williams has found a way to improve his batting average and stroke percentage.
Coach Rob Cooper said Williams’ ability to strike for power played a big part in helping the other players in the roster.
“Justin is the kind of hitter that’s tough to pitch with,” Cooper told The Daily Collegian. “He’s got this threat of hitting a home run every time so knowing you have to throw at this guy and knowing he can do damage on every throw it really helps the guy hitting in front of him because they don’t ‘I don’t want to throw him.
Although he was not drafted like Williams, Homer ended his Penn State career as a base machine after transferring from Kellogg Community College ahead of the 2019 season. Homer ended the 2021 campaign with an average at stick of 0.310 and a base percentage of 0.429.
Hitting the front row, Homer always found ways to get to the base, which is one of the main traits that Cooper loved about him.
“Gavin did a great job getting to base, and having someone who can get to base consistently, it really makes your offense a lot better,” Cooper said.
Williams and Homer both spent their first seasons at Penn State in 2019 when the Nittany Lions won just four conference games.
This year, the two have played key roles as the Nittany Lions have won eighteen encounters in a grueling conference-only schedule, finishing ninth in the Big Ten. The pair’s stats for 2020 were also off to a good start heading into the end of the season.
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Both players consistently put up solid home plate appearances when they stepped into the batting box, and that’s something the younger players have noticed.
Upcoming junior wide receiver Matt Wood said he thinks the way both players approach these hitters is the biggest impact they have on him as a player.
“Working with these two was really cool because they have a unique perspective and approach to the plate,” Wood told the Collegian. “They’re so focused on every little detail in every game, and I think that’s something that I really took away. Don’t take every step and every moment for granted, try to be as locked in as possible every moment I’m up there because I didn’t want to lose AB.
Looking forward to the 2022 season, the Nittany Lions are set to take a big step forward with the majority of their 2021 offense going to Medlar Field in Lubrano Park.
Although he doesn’t have the services of Williams and Homer, Cooper said he believes there are plenty of players who can improve to help improve the 2021 18-23 season.
“Johnny Piacentino basically played all year with a broken thumb, so he was always a force in the roster, and so being able to have him healthy and have him a full year is huge,” said Cooper. “Jay Harry had a really good freshman year, Matt Wood was in some ways probably our most consistent hitter and continued through the summer, and there were times when Tayven Kelly showed real offensive potential.
We have younger guys who we think need to improve in camp, but have the ability to help us offensively, so that’s something we’ll see when we start in the fall.
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