When Penn State lost three starting pitchers, Conor Larkin, Bailey Dees and Kyle Virbitsky, to pro baseball last summer, it left a significant hole in the blue-and-white pitching staff.
Coach Rob Cooper attacked the vacancy on both the recruitment track and the transfer portal, attracting a number of promising new pitchers.
One of those new additions was junior Jordan Morales, who was transferred from La Salle.
Cooper said Explorers coach David Miller praised the left-handed pitcher.
“[Miller] said, ‘[Morales] is one of the biggest competitors around and the gold standard of teammates,” Cooper said.
Fast forward to Saturday night’s matchup against Omaha, where Morales had his number called from the bullpen in the seventh inning.
It was a key moment in the game and in the series – the teams were tied at three and a series win was on the table for Penn State.
“I didn’t know how long I would be there,” Morales said. “I just went with my game plan, attacked the strike zone and I’m glad Coach Cooper stuck with me.”
With the way the junior was throwing, the choice to let him carry the team to the finish line was simple.
Cooper even dubbed Morales “the ninja” because of the way he “comes out of nowhere and does it.”
“When you’re facing him, you don’t have time to really settle in because he’s going to come right at you,” Cooper said.
In the three innings he threw, the ninja silenced his competition.
Morales threw five strikeouts and didn’t give up a single hit, allowing only one Maverick to hit a hit.
With each consecutive outing, the junior southpaw looked more and more rushed – punches and all.
“My confidence exploded,” Morales said. “[I was] just be myself there.
On the other hand, fortune favored the blues and whites this time around, as sophomore shortstop Jay Harry struck in the winning run late in the seventh.
“They played hard, built energy and came out to fight,” Cooper said. “We found a way to finish it.”
Morales’ three shutout innings earned him his third win of the season, as well as the team’s “player of the game jersey”.
The shirt is an oversized graphic tee that says, “We might just be these motherfuckers.”
The quote comes from former Atlanta Braves outfielder Joc Pederson, who wrote it in an article for the Players’ Tribune ahead of Game 1 of the 2021 World Series.
Pederson and the Braves were underdogs in the 2021 MLB Playoffs but rose to the top nonetheless, winning the World Series in six games.
“I read this letter to our team and they just loved it,” Cooper said. “They really connected to it, and you could tell those guys wanted it.”
The blue and whites are far from being a championship, but optimism sparked a resurgence in the second half of the season.
Wood echoed his coach’s sentiments, speaking on behalf of his entire team.
“That [quote] really resonated with us because we feel like we’re a great team,” Wood said. “We are a good team and we know it, no matter if [other teams] know it.”
With Saturday’s victory, the Nittany Lions won three straight games for only the second time this season.
Now just one game under .500, a series sweep over the Mavericks would put Penn State on a hot streak heading into the final three weeks of the regular season.
“I’m really proud of these guys right now,” Cooper said. “The score, the team, the situation doesn’t dictate how they approach it.”
In game 2, the blue and whites found themselves in front early and had to maintain the advantage. The night before he was hanging out and needed to organize a rally.
In both situations, Cooper’s team showed balance and teamwork to claim victory.
It seems a week away from Big Ten play has helped Penn State become a much stronger team than it was before.
“Yes [teams] want to treat us like we’re still a low-end team, go for it,” Wood said. “We’re ready to play and ready to kick their asses.”
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