W i th any important goal, if you don’t get the little things right, it’s impossible to achieve the bigger parts of your task, dooming your venture to fail.
Yet during Penn baseball’s Sunday doubleheader against Cornell, it was clear that the Quakers had all the fundamentals in place to let their big arms do the talking when all was said and done.
In fact, starting with the second inning of Sunday’s first game, there was no doubt which team was willing to get down and dirty for any one single out.
In the top of the second inning, junior pitcher Connor Cuff gave up a grounder that seemed destined to get through the infield. But sophomore infielder Ryan Mincher had other ideas, making a diving stop and hurling the ball across the diamond to nail Cornell catcher Matt Hall at first.
And in the bottom half of the inning, Cornell messed up a simple throw to first, giving Penn a man on second that Mincher was able to move to third with a solid at-bat, leading to the Quakers’ second run of the game.
Only three innings later, it was senior centerfielder Brandon Engelhardt’s turn to save an out, albeit this time at home plate. With a runner on second, Cornell got a single through the infield and looked like it had the tying run ready to score.
But Engelhardt fielded the ball cleanly and made a perfect throw home to get the out at the plate.
On top of that, Engelhardt , Mincher and the rest of Penn’s lineup found ways to scratch across runs, capitalizing on Cornell’s fielding mistakes to score 13 runs in just two games without the benefit of a home run.
“I thought we did a good job doing the little things,” coach John Yurkow said. “And we’re going to have to continue to have some diversity in our offense if we’re going to continue to win games.”
What makes this squad special isn’t just the fact that Penn does the small things right, but that it also gets big performances from a variety of sources.
Take this weekend for example. Every hitter and fielder did their part to let the Quakers’ pitching staff truly shine, as it has done throughout Penn’s recent stretch of 17 wins in 20 games. The Red and Blue’s final three starters against Cornell — freshman Jake Cousins and juniors Cuff and Ronnie Glenn — made the difference in the four-game set.
All three pitchers gave Penn exactly what it needed in very different ways. After losing 9-0 to begin the four-game set after junior Dan Gautieri struggled, Cousins was called upon as the stopper, something that can be a daunting task for a young starter.
Yet the righty came out firing fastballs past the Big Red hitters and gave Penn’s bats a chance to wake up.
Meanwhile, Cuff and Glenn struggled at times on Sunday, maneuvering in and out of trouble. Yet it was their ability to bend but not break that made each performance admirable.
“I’d rather have them not get into jams, but it’s going to happen from time to time,” Yurkow said. “And when it happens, it just comes down to being mentally tough.”
Cuff nearly let Cornell back in the game in the fourth inning, giving up a solo home run to cut Penn’s lead to one. But the junior responded by attacking the strike zone, throwing first pitch strikes to each of the next four hitters to get out of the inning relatively unscathed.
And Glenn had at least two base runners in each of his first four innings, but managed to walk off the mound with no runs to his name in one of his best performances of the year.
“They both picked it up where they needed to,” Yurkow said.
When all is said and done, it may not have been pretty at times, but Penn had the perfect combination of fundamentals and big-time pitching to take an important Ivy League series over the weekend.
And with two series to go in conference play, the Quakers simply need to keep doing the little things right so the squad’s best pieces can stand tall if they want to play in the Ivy League Championship Series.
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