Walt Moody | Nittany Lion coaches whiff by spurning local talent

wmoody@centredaily.comJune 22, 2013 

Penn State baseball coach Robbie Wine resigned Tuesday, ending nine years with the program.

Less than two weeks earlier, softball coach Robin Petrini also resigned after 17 seasons.

The two moves seem to link the two major spring programs and indeed they have a lot in common. Both resignations came on the heels of two of the worst seasons in program history. Softball was 16-34,

while baseball had its worst winning percentage since 1897 with a 14-36 mark.

Both programs have new state-of-the art facilities, but neither ballpark has seen consistent turnout from fans, who are charged admission.

Both programs have been struggling to find postseason success. Under Wine, Penn State did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Petrini sent eight squads to the NCAA Tournament, but none advanced past the opening round.

Those kinds of things will certainly weigh on a coach’s employment.

But another common thread between the two programs is one shortcoming that is mentioned over and over when you’re among that sport’s community.

Penn State doesn’t get the local talent.

Whether that’s a perception or a reality, it doesn’t do your program any good to have people believing that you can’t take care of — or don’t care — what’s in your own backyard.

If you look at a couple of the most successful programs at Penn State, the emphasis is heavy on keeping the best Pennsylvania athletes at home.

While he can get wrestlers from all over the country, Cael Sanderson has used a roster stocked mainly with homegrown talent to win three consecutive national titles.

When Bill O’Brien arrived in Happy Valley, one of the first things he did was send his assistant coaches out to make contact with the state’s coaches. Given the NCAA restrictions surrounding the program, he

needs talented walk-ons to fill the roster.

Granted the talent pool may be a little greater for those sports, but there is a priority from both coaches to find talent at home and keep it here.

Certainly, the softball program’s recruiting strategy has been focused outside of the state. Take a look at this season’s roster and you’ll see just three players from Pennsylvania, including Penns Valley walk-on

Rachel Myers, and eight players from California.

If Penn State was getting the best talent from the Golden State, it would be a fine strategy. But all too often, the Nittany Lions are getting the leftovers after the national powers cherry-pick the top-rated talent.

There are players in Pennsylvania that are Big Ten caliber. You just have to find them.

Lock Haven University rode the right arm of Exeter High School star Kristin Erb to two national championships and a runner-up finish in Division II. Erb, who graduated in 2010, had a 168-18 career mark and was Division II Player of the Year twice. She certainly wouldn’t have hurt the Penn State roster.

Most recently, Ligonier Valley’s Maddy Grimm, who most area high coaches have marveled at, spurned Penn State for Kent State. Grimm told me that she did get a tour at Penn State, but felt Kent State was a better fit. She did confirm that Kent State offered her more scholarship money than Penn State could.

Loyalsock catcher Amanda Daneker was very impressive during Thursday’s Pennsylvania Softball Coaches Association All-Star Game. She’s headed to Coastal Carolina, who is led by Kelley Green, the former Lock Haven coach who has maintained her recruiting ties to Pennsylvania even though she’s now

in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Certainly, you can’t land all of the talent. To expect that isn’t fair.

But if you ask many of the state’s high school coaches, there is the perception — right or wrong — that Penn State didn’t care about their players.

Another coach — someone who would know — said that the out-of-state players have trouble adjusting to the often miserable weather that we have in March and April. Pennsylvania girls don’t complain when there’s no sunshine or temperatures in the 70s.

Michigan got to the Women’s College World Series with a roster chocked full of Northern players. The Wolverines had eight Michigan players and two more from Illinois.

Penn State baseball has a similar problem, but it’s a little bit different.

Wine had 13 Pennsylvania players on his roster this year. It’s the ones that keep getting away that dog the Penn State baseball program, which hasn’t made real NCAA noise since making the Super Regionals in 2000, that are the problem. The lack of postseason success is tough for a program that was NCAA runner-up in 1957 and made the College World Series five times.

Centre County has produced excellent baseball talent over recent years.

The name that comes up the most is former Philipsburg-Osceola standout Matt Adams. Anyone who saw Adams swing the bat in high school should have recognized that he was a special talent. Penn State apparently showed little interest in Adams — there was talk that he was a tough fit as a position player.

Adams went on to become the Division II Player of the Year at Slippery Rock and is now is wearing a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

State College High School has sent multiple players to Division I schools, some of which (like Steffan Wilson) have gone on to professional careers. Three players from the 2012 Little Lion roster (Saige Jenco, Darian Herncane and Ryan Karstetter) are on or will play at Division I schools.

P-O and other schools also have produced Division I talent, but in nearly every instance those players have gone elsewhere. Many of the state players (like Lewistown’s Elliott Searer) were walk-ons at Penn State.

Would landing more local and regional talent guarantee success on the field for both the softball and baseball programs? Absolutely not.

The competition is tough in the Big Ten.

What it should guarantee is more local interest in those programs.

When you charge to get into the ballpark, you’d better have something the locals are interested in seeing.

Here’s arguing that they’ll be more interested in a good player from around here than one from California.

Hopefully, that’s something where both the new softball and baseball coaches can find some common ground.

 

Walt Moody is sports editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4630 or wmoody@centredaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt.

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