When a baseball manager wants to close out a game, he can issue a call to the bullpen.
Out trots a lefty or right who can usually throw heat and the majority of the time that reliever is going to close out a win.
Penn State women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington doesn’t have that luxury and closing out games has been a problem for her reeling team.
Entering Sunday’s 2 p.m. clash against Wagner at the Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State (1-6) has lost six straight, four of those losses have come down to the final minute with the Lady Lions failing to get either a basket or defensive stop that could have won the game.
“We’ve got to close out games,” Washington said. “Right now we’re not adept at closing out games.”
It’s easier said than done.
Penn State has four new starters this season and no one on the roster has a history of making big plays in the stretch run.
Throw in the fact that the team is struggling offensively — making only 37.5 percent of its shots and averaging 58.7 points, and the pressure in the stretch of games increases.
“I think that’s what makes us not close out well is that we do get anxious,” senior forward Tori Waldner said. “Teams get a run. It may not be that we’re not scoring, but we’re not stopping them from scoring. We get a little bit anxious because if we’re not taking care of it on one end and we don’t take care of it on the other, then this is what happens — the losses.”
And fans of the Lady Lions, who have won three consecutive Big Ten crowns and been to four straight NCAA Tournaments — aren’t used to seeing their team with a poor record.
“I think people are asking, ‘What’s wrong?,’” Waldner said. “They’ve seen the program be successful for three-plus years. They know it’s a new team, but they expect the same style of play. And, I expect the same amount of wins. We need to produce in practice and in games.”
Washington said her team is getting better, even if the fans can’t see it right now. That’s what she is concerned about more than results.
“I think winning will be great, but one of the things that I’m seeing from game to game is longer stretches of playing the way that we’re asking them to play,” she said. “... . I’m seeing that even though it’s not necessarily showing up in the win-loss column. I’m seeing longer stretches of positive and connected play. We obviously need longer stretches of that, in particular at the end of close games. We’re learning that and the learning curve for this team is a little longer than any of us would like it to be.
“I see the improvement and development. As long as we continue to keep growing, keep learning and keep seeing things, that stuff will take care of itself eventually.”
Waldner says she sees the improvement, but is looking to get off that No. 1 in the “W” column. She says a lot of that is attitude.
“Winning is going to bring confidence, but we have to come out on the court with confidence already,” Waldner said. “We need to come in believing that we’re going to win and that nothing else is going to happen. If we come out hoping that we’re going to win, this is going to continue.”
The Lady Lions face a team that is suffering even more than they are.
Wagner is 0-6 this season and has dropped nine straight going back to the end of last season.
The Seahawks are shooting 32 percent from the floor and 58 percent from the line.
Penn State has also struggled from the foul line, making just 62 percent this season.
“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on that,” said Washington, who has five of her eight primary players shooting below 61 percent from the line. “We’ve been a program that has traditionally shot well from the free throw line because we always put an emphasis on it. Some of it is nerves getting up there. We’re working on it and getting more confident in making them. When you struggle to get a lot of points, those are ones you’ve got to have.”
Washington remains confident her team will improve down the stretch of games.
“Learning how to close out games, that’s a skill,” she said. “It’s something we’re working on and it’s something that I think we’re to get better at as we continue to play games.”
Notes: Penn State leads the series against Wagner 1-0. That win was a 103-42 romp in 2011. ... Three of Wagner’s losses this season have come against Maryland (97-24), Rutgers (81-53) and St. John’s (71-49). ... Lindsey Spann has scored in double figures in all seven games for Penn State. ... Fans that bring a new unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots will receive a $5 ticket.