Everyone knows the old adage: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
It wouldn’t exactly be fair to say that John Yurkow failed to succeed in his first season as the head coach of Penn baseball. In 2014 — his first year at the helm — Yurkow guided the Red and Blue to a 24-17 record (15-5 Ivy), tied for the best mark in the league.
A program-record nine Quakers earned all-Ivy honors and the team as a whole led the league in nearly every offensive category, from batting average (.274) to slugging percentage (.419) to home runs (32).
Unfortunately for the Red and Blue, Columbia finished with an identical 11-5 mark, triggering a one-game playoff to determine the Lou Gehrig division’s winner. The Quakers dropped that May 3 contest at Meiklejohn stadium and then watched as the Lions swept Dartmouth, 2-0, in the Ivy championship.
“I would hope they look [at last year] as a learning experience,” Yurkow said. “Our guys were extremely disappointed. I thought we had the best team in the league, but the best team doesn’t always win … It was tough addressing the team after that one.”
However, the Quakers look poised to rebound in a big way after last season’s disappointing conclusion. Picked by Baseball America as the 2015 Ivy League team to beat, the Red and Blue return key players on both sides of the ball.
Catcher Austin Bossart (.297, 4 HRs in 2014) and first-baseman Jeff McGarry — Baseball America’s preseason pick for Ivy Player of the Year — will supply pop in the middle of the lineup, while pitchers Ronnie Glenn (5-2, 3.46 ERA in 2014) and Connor Cuff (5-3, 1.77) will anchor the pitching staff.
The team will also be infused with young talent, notably freshman RHP John "JT" White, who can hit 92 on the radar gun and will compete for the team’s closer role.
With one season under his belt, Yurkow feels more comfortable as the leader of the program.
“This year, I’m just a bit more at ease. I feel like I can trust my guys a little bit more, since they have a better idea of what we’re trying to do.”
Yurkow took over a program that had finished last in the Gehrig division in 2013 after going 7-13 in Ivy play. That led to the firing of then-coach John Cole. Yurkow, Cole’s longtime assistant, was tasked with the chore of bringing the Quakers their first Ivy title since 1995.
The coach credits a change in team atmosphere for last season’s quick turnaround.
“Changing the culture was big,” Yurkow said. “It’s something that you have to work on every day. A year and a half in, you can see a big change in the mindset of our guys, both on and off the field.”
So, after a season in which he saw success uncommon for first-year coaches, Yurkow will have a chance to take things even further with this year’s deep and experienced Penn squad.
“Our team thought we were going to win the Ivy championship [last season],” Yurkow admits. “I’m hoping that that motivated the guys all through the summer, fall, and into the spring.
“I hope they never forget it, because I don’t want them having that same feeling walking off the field this year.”
The season starts Friday. If Yurkow has it his way, it will end with that elusive Ivy title in hand.
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