As the rest of campus flings away this weekend, Penn baseball will be given its toughest and most significant test thus far when it hosts Cornell.
The two Gehrig Division foes will square off four times in the weekend series, which will have significant implications for the Ivy playoff race.
The Big Red (14-11, 5-3 Ivy) will be looking to extend their four-game road winning streak, while the Quakers (16-11, 8-0 Ivy) are seeking to build up another win streak of their own.
The matchup should prove exciting and intriguing, as it will feature Penn’s Ivy League-leading offense doing battle with perhaps the conference’s strongest pitching staff.
While Penn’s offense has produced a whopping 50 runs and nine home runs in eight Ivy contests, Cornell’s pitching staff boasts a conference-low 2.20 earned run average and has yet to give up a home run in Ivy competition.
“They can pitch,” head coach John Yurkow said. “They’re pretty deep on the mound.”
Pitching depth is also something the Penn staff boasts, and it could very well be the determining factor in the weekend series, which features 32 innings of baseball in two days.
Sophomore lefty Michael Byrne, who is 2-2 in five starts, leads the Big Red starters with 1.56 ERA and a .229 opponent’s batting average. The only starting pitcher with a better ERA in the Ancient Eight is Red and Blue junior Connor Cuff.
Despite holding a 2-1 record, Nick Busto, Cornell’s other lefty starter, has struggled at times, which his 6.59 ERA displays.
Penn freshman designated hitter Tim Graul, who had a breakout 4-for-4 performance against St. Peters on Wednesday, should get the chance to stay hot against the Big Red’s arms, given his ability to hit left handed pitching.
Both clubs’ bullpens have proven trusty thus far and have been instrumental to their early conference success.
Senior Connor Kaufmann and rookie Tiger Smith have both been effective stoppers out of the bullpen for Cornell — both have double-digit strikeouts and are holding opposing batters just a shade over .200.
As Yurkow explained, the command of the Cornell pitchers will put special demands on the Red and Blue bats.
“They’re good at throwing their off-speed pitches for strikes up and down their staff,” the skipper said. “So we’re really gonna have to be disciplined.
“We’ve gotta be ready to hit neutral count change-ups and breaking balls.”
If any club is up to the task, however, it’s the Red and Blue.
The Penn lineup has proved potent from top to bottom, as the club boasts a Ivy-best .307 batting average in conference play.
On the other side, Cornell’s collective .236 average is near the bottom of the conference.
That doesn’t mean the Big Red are without serious threats at the plate, however.
Cornell sluggers Ryan Karl and Chris Cruz, who both have five homers and north of 20 RBI, are the Ivy League’s most destructive duo besides Rick Brebner and Jeff McGarry of Penn.
The Big Red also possess speed and lead the Ancient Eight in walks.
In order for the Quakers to extend their success both at Meiklejohn Stadium and against Ivy competition, they will have to play their most complete weekend of baseball yet.