Freshman pitcher Connor Cuff came to Penn facing high expectations.
In his second collegiate start, he lost a game — for the first time in three years. Cuff went 19-0 in his two varsity seasons in high school.
“His senior year was phenomenal,” said his high school coach George Ushella, adding that Cuff “provided great leadership.”
Now, at 1-1 with a 3.63 earned run average as a member of the Red and Blue, Cuff is regaining his high school standing as one of the best and is becoming a premiere pitcher on Penn’s squad.
Tuesday, as Penn thumped Villanova with a final score of 11-4, coach John Cole put Cuff in for the last four innings.
“I feel pretty honored by how much I’ve pitched,” Cuff said. “Beating [Villanova] not once but twice — proving that it wasn’t a mistake — felt really good.”
Cuff knows what it means to pitch in big games, as he was the winning pitcher in the clinching game of last year’s state championships with Lyons Township High School outside Chicago, Ill. The final game was a classic, Hollywood-style matchup between Cuff’s huge public high school and a private sports powerhouse. Cuff’s opponent, Providence Catholic, had 15 college-bound players and was ranked No.1 in the state.
Not that Cuff didn’t have help. His squad was a great baseball team in its own right — two seniors currently play for Illinois State and one is at Valparaiso. A sophomore on last year’s team pitches 90 mph fastballs.
“We had a really great group of guys who played really well together,” said Cuff.
“It was pretty special. I pitched that game. And I gave up a homerun in the first, but we ended up battling back to win, 8-3.”
“[After the homerun] he settled down and pitched phenomenally,” remembered Ushella, recalling that Cuff only gave up five hits in seven innings pitched. Ushella described Cuff as a perfect combination for an athlete: a leader with a great work ethic.
“He’s very self motivated,” Ushella said. “He’s a very intense kid who’s learned to harness that intensity around composure.”
When Cuff had to choose where to play college ball, this work ethic, no doubt, helped him gain a prestigious bevy of choices — he was picking between Penn, Brown and Cornell.
“I really liked [Penn], and the feel of the school in the city,” Cuff said. “It just seemed like a really good pick for me.”
Now, as an ace freshman pitcher, Cuff has the future of Penn baseball riding on his right arm.
“[My goal is to] get as many wins as I can, and maybe just fill the role I’m given,” he said.
“He’s quite a bulldog out there,” Ushella said.
“He’s on a mission to pitch the best game he can possibly pitch, and keep the team in the game.”