Penn baseball is looking to change the story after falling just short at Columbia’s feet in each of the last two seasons. But after their roster was pillaged by the University’s 2015 Commencement Ceremony, the Quakers will have to fight to avoid having their fate change for the worse.
In each of the last two seasons, the Red and Blue lost in a one-game playoff to the Lions, who walked away with the Gehrig Division title and a chance to play for an Ivy League title against an inferior Rolfe Division opponent.
The Quakers took heavy losses at the plate after last season, losing several star hitters.
Last year, senior Connor Betbeze led the Ivy League in hits and on-base percentage while finishing second in batting average, third in steals and walks and eighth in total bases. Mitch Montaldo led the Ancient Eight in home runs, extra-base hits and slugging percentage while finishing second in total bases, third in doubles and RBI, and seventh in OBP. Austin Bossart finished second in doubles, third in extra-base hits, sixth in RBI and ninth in runs.
But those players are all gone, and Penn will have to be resourceful to replace the runs the departed seniors had been putting on the board.
“We’re not gonna hit home runs the way we have in the last couple years, that’s just not gonna happen, that’s not how our roster is made up,” Penn coach John Yurkow said. “So we’re gong to have to be more creative, have to walk a little more, take some pitches.”
“We’re going to have to manufacture runs a bit differently,” senior Gary Tesch agreed. “Before, it only took one swing of the bat to put a run on the table, whereas now we need multiple hits to string together.”
Who, aside from Tesch, will step up to keep the offense functional? Freshman Matt Tola has had a solid start to the season, but when asked if he’s ready to fill the shoes of Montaldo, Bossart and Betbeze, he kept things in perspective.
“I hear those are some huge shoes to fill,” Tola said. “I know [the Class of 2015] played a huge role on the team and had great seasons. But I think all of us have the desire to fill those shoes and we’ve been working hard to do so. ”
Penn also lost major contributors on the mound. In 2015, Ronnie Glenn led the league in wins, strikeouts and complete games, and Connor Cuff went 3-0 in his Ivy starts.
But Yurkow is optimistic about his team’s chances on the mound.
“I truly think by the end of this year, our pitching staff will be deeper and have better numbers than last year’s staff. I do. The talent’s there, you can see it,” Yurkow said. “We have a lot more left-handed pitching. Adam [Bleday]‘s an experienced kid, with Mike [Reitcheck] and Jake [Cousins]. Gabe Kleiman, he couldn’t pitch last year because he transferred in, but Gabe’s throwing rather well for us early. We have some experience in the bullpen, which is nice. We have two hard throwers with [Jake] Nelson and [Billy] Lescher, we really haven’t had that in the past.”
Reticheck led the Ivy League last season with a 1.23 ERA, and Cousins wasn’t far behind with a 1.83 mark, so Yurkow certainly has reason to believe the two juniors can shoulder the load as the aces of the staff.
As for the offense, it might be a bit of a struggle, at least at the beginning.
“It’s a lot easier when you have position players who have done it for three years, and they come back in the fall, they know the system,” Yurkow said. “Whereas now you’re doing a lot of initial, first step, really trying to take it down and build a strong foundation.”
But Yurkow doesn’t have many of those fourth-year veterans, and he knows it. To avenge two seasons’ worth of heartbreak at the hands of Columbia, Penn will need production from several players with fewer than two seasons’ worth of experience.
“We’re gonna have to win with our younger players this year. It’s just how the roster’s made up.”
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