Penn State had a difficult assignment on opening weekend, beginning the season with a series at top-ranked Texas Christian. The Nittany Lions were swept in Fort Worth, outscored 27-7 in the series.
After such a tough start to the season, PSU was eager to get back on track this weekend as it traveled to Cary, N.C., to take on Xavier in a four-game series at USA Baseball's National Training Complex.
Facing PSU on the mound was Xavier lefthander Zac Lowther, who led the Cape Cod League in strikeouts over the summer. But the Nittany Lions' lineup was up to the task and righthander Sal Biasi came through on the mound for PSU, in a 7-5 victory.
Coach Rob Cooper was pleased with the Nittany Lions' (1-3) performance in their first victory of the season.
"A couple things: one, we needed a win," Cooper said. "And No. 2, that dude from Xavier is going to be a high pick. He's good. He's really good. He came out pretty strong in that first inning. And I thought our guys did a good job. We talk about it, when you're facing good pitching, you've got to find a way to make an adjustment. I thought our guys did."
Lowther ranked as the No. 18 prospect on the Cape last summer after making the all-star game and striking out 54 batters in 36 innings. When he is at his best, he gets swings and misses with his fastball, which sits 88-92 mph. The junior had his swing-and-miss fastball going in the first inning (though it mostly sat 88-90 mph), as he struck out the side, recording the first two whiffs on fastballs.
After the first, however, PSU did a better job against Lowther, who did not have his best command. The Nittany Lions scored twice in the third and fourth innings, knocking the lefthander out after 3.2 innings.
With PSU's offense made the adjustment to Lowther, Biasi was settling into the game on the mound. He threw five innings and held Xavier (2-3) to three runs on three hits. He struck out five and walked none to pick up the victory.
"I was feeling for things a little bit early but then I got into a little bit of a groove," Biasi said. "I didn't have my best stuff, but I battled."
Part of Biasi's growth as a pitcher during his college career has been learning how to handle days like Friday where he wasn't at his best or things aren't going his way. In the past when things have gone wrong, Cooper said Biasi had a tendency to let it bother him and try to do too much.
"It was never that he was a bad kid or selfish, he just really wanted to win," Cooper said. "The biggest thing we challenged him is, 'You've got to blank all that out and just take care of your half of it.' He did a good job of that."
Biasi started his career in the bullpen before moving to the rotation last year. He went 5-6, 3.74 and struck out 66 batters in 67.1 innings as a sophomore.
Listed at 6-foot, 190 pounds, Biasi doesn't have prototypical size for a righthander, but will draw interest from scouts throughout the spring. His fastball sat around 90 mph Friday and he mixed in a slider and changeup effectively, even if he didn't have his best stuff.
The next step in his development is to work more efficiently so that he can get deeper into games.
"Just getting ahead and getting contact early," Biasi said. "I want to stay ahead of guys and when I get two strikes, I have to put them away."
While he works on that aspect of his game, Biasi is enjoying the chance to mentor his younger brother Dante Biasi, a freshman lefthander. And like the rest of the Nittany Lions, Sal Biasi wants to help PSU take the next step as a program in Cooper's fourth season at the helm. They went 28-27 last season, their first winning record since 2012, but fell just short of making the Big Ten Conference Tournament.
Biasi and the Nittany Lions are eager to leave their mark on the program.
"We've got a lot of young guys and now we have a lot of young guys with experience," Biasi said. "I think everyone's hungry and really wants to leave their mark on Penn State baseball and turn this program around and make it a winning program."