Penn State heads home with 1-3 record in Cuba against teams from top league
Penn State dropped the final game of its four-game exhibition tour of Cuba, a 15-2 loss to Matanzas on Saturday in which the Nittany Lions committed six errors.
Penn State wound up with a 1-3 record during its weeklong visit to the Caribbean island over Thanksgiving break, becoming the first American team to earn a victory against a club in Cuba’s premier baseball league. The first two games Penn State played, with Havana’s Industriales and first-place team Ciego de Ávila, were broadcast on Cuban television.
The game against Matanzas on Saturday was the second tilt the Nittany Lions played outside the city of Havana in as many days after knocking off Mayabeque, 9-3, on Friday.
Blunders proved costly for Penn State. Its six errors led to 10 unearned runs for the Crocodiles. Three members of the Matanzas team finished the game with three RBIs.
“We just did not play the game well at all,” said Penn State head coach Rob Cooper. “We had six errors in the game and it should have probably been 10 or 11 if the game was scored properly.”
Penn State fell behind in the first inning of every game but, overall, the matchup against Mantazas was the only one in which the Nittany Lions were not competitive.
Played against the backdrop of warming diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, the tour seemed to demonstrate that a program at a major U.S. college could make a decent showing against club teams in a nation long known as a baseball powerhouse. The direct impact of the series on baseball’s future in Cuba is unknown, though both a travel agent and minor league team executive dropped in at games.
For the Nittany Lions, the tour helped develop some comradery within a young team that features 12 freshmen. The extra practice and game experience received because of this trip puts Penn State ahead of the curve in terms of repetitions, which will benefit the Lions as they approach the start of their regular season.
“I’m so proud of how the guys played on this trip and excited that they got this experience together,” Cooper said.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience for all of us and it was even more than I thought it would be,” he added. “Our guys felt a special bond with the people of Cuba, it was tough to leave.”
Freshman outfielder Jordan Bowersox led the team in hits on the trip with five, starting and batting leadoff in three of the four games played. Redshirt junior Christian Helsel blasted the only home run of the week during Friday’s matchup vs. Mayabeque.
Penn State’s 2016 season starts Feb. 19 in Cary, N.C., for the USA Baseball Complex Tournament.
(Writer Andy Madore and photographer Cameron Hart are students in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.)