In Penn baseball’s quest for the Ivy League title, the club’s freshmen, who hail from all parts of the country, are more than along for the ride — the group has been a key driver to the team’s surprise success this season.
Catcher Tim Graul, Penn’s most impactful freshman at the plate this season, believes that the diverse class has meshed around common attitudes.
“It was funny at the beginning of the year, getting to know everybody from all over the place,” he said. “It was kind of weird, but you could tell that everybody had the same ideals, and that we were all ready to come to Penn to play baseball and put our work in.”
The emergence of the freshman class has been one of the key factors to the Quakers’ success this season.
Given the makeup of his pitching staff entering the year, coach John Yurkow set out to build a strong group of arms with his latest rookie class, and so far, he’s seen exactly what he hoped for.
“We knew we had to get a really good group of pitchers,” Yurkow said. “We knew we were gonna need to get some innings out of the freshmen, and I think they’ve responded rather well as a staff.”
That would be an understatement.
The hungry crop of arms Yurkow recruited has done more than just eat up innings. They have been key contributors to Penn’s impressive pitching staff.
Jack Hartman, who has been one of the freshman class’s top contributors on the mound, has responded surprisingly well to a featured starting role — as well as a new climate.
A Southern California native, Hartman holds a clean 4-0 record on the season, but he admits the transition to the Northeast was not easy at first.
“It’s been a huge adjustment for sure,” the lefty said. “With the temperature being in the high 20s when I came in in February, I needed to focus on warming up more. It’s just more of a process to take care of your arm.”
And Hartman certainly has taken care of opposing batters in impressive fashion thus far, holding them to a .237 average.
What’s been the key to his success? Hartman says it’s all about location.
“I’ve done a good job of keeping the ball down,” Hartman said, pointing out that he’s not the “overpowering” type on the mound. “I just have to give [batters] pitches that they really can’t hit, and locate.”
The Midwest has also provided the Quakers with success on the mound, as both Jake Cousins and Mike Reitcheck hail from Illinois.
The imposing Cousins has demonstrated virtuosity as well as versatility in his rookie season, as he is 4-0 with 20 strikeouts in five starts and four relief appearances. The righty, whose 1.50 ERA is the second-lowest on the team behind Connor Cuff, has become a staple in the weekend rotation.
The crafty Reitcheck has stepped up to a more specialized role as the club’s closer and has earned five saves — the second highest mark in the Ancient Eight this season.
Righty Mitchell Hammonds, whose talents originate in Marietta, Ga., is another rookie who has been valuable in relief lately.
The 6-foot-4 hurler boasts a 2.89 ERA and eight strikeouts in five relief appearances, including a key effort in a win over Harvard.
This weekend will be this rookie bunch’s biggest test yet, as the Quakers are set to square off against Columbia with the Lou Gehrig Division title on the line.
While Yurkow admits his freshmen — along with the rest of his club — lack Ivy League playoff experience, he is confident in his rookies’ abilities to respond to big stages. In fact, the skipper sees that as a defining trait of his freshman class.
“The good thing is that most of the freshmen we’ve brought in have come from winning programs,” Yurkow explained. “And there’s something to be said for that. You hope that on a weekend like the one sitting right before us, that they say ‘I’ve been here before, I’ve pitched in big games.’”
Penn’s rookies have grown up quickly this season, and this weekend’s series will provide another step — albeit a large one — in the talented group’s maturation, win or lose.
And although the season isn’t finished yet, the freshmen are already excited for what the future holds.
“This year has been awesome, and I can’t wait for the next three,” Graul said.
“It’s a very talented class, one that has a lot of potential,” Hartman added. “I definitely expect even better results in the future.”
With this year’s freshman class as strong as it is, contending for Ivy League titles may very well become the status quo for Penn baseball.