Stop us if you’ve heard this story before.
In 2014, Penn baseball found itself with an 0-6 record at the conclusion of spring break before winning 24 of its remaining 34 regular season games to earn a tie for the Ivy League’s Lou Gehrig Division title.
In 2015, the Quakers had an equally frustrating opening, holding a 1-7 mark after the school’s break before winning 21 of 28 to earn their second straight tie for the division’s lead.
And now, after a 2-6 performance during this year’s break, the comeback kids are rolling again.
Behind a season-best run total and four shutout innings from Billy Lescher in his first career start, the Red and Blue cruised to an 11-4 win over Lehigh (6-12) on Wednesday evening, taking their third win in their last four contests to seize momentum entering conference play.
“We’ve had a few guys that were struggling at the plate early, and they’ve been putting in extra work to try to make more adjustments offensively, and you’ve started to see some of the results of that today,” Penn coach John Yurkow said of an offensive performance that was a full five runs more than the team’s previous season high. “We’re doing a better job cutting down on strikeouts and laying off some tough pitches, and I think that’s why we drove the ball so well.”
Behind a two-run double from junior Tim Graul, Penn (5-8) jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead — and that was all that would be necessary for Lescher. The sophomore ensured that Yurkow’s gamble to start him would pay off dividends, only allowing three runners to reach base in his four frames.
“We haven’t extended him all year — it’s been short spurts — so we wanted to extend him. We were only hoping that we would get three innings [from Lescher],” Yurkow said. “We gotta hand it to him for coming with good shutout ball.”
After a home run from Matt Greskoff stretched Penn’s lead to five, the Mountain Hawks threatened, cutting the lead to 5-4 once Lescher was removed from the mound.
But Penn would stop the momentum just in time, as four-RBI performances from Graul and Sean Phelan combined with three shutout innings in relief from Jack Hartman helped the Quakers cruise to the comfortable seven-run win.
“We had a pretty rough inning — fell apart a little bit to be honest — but we held it together just enough,” Yurkow said. “We bent a little bit, but we didn’t break.”
Looking to keep their newfound momentum going, the Quakers will next take on Lafayette (4-11) this weekend in a four-game set, hosting a pair of games on Saturday afternoon before both teams head up to Easton, Pa., for the third and fourth showdowns on Sunday.
Although the Leopards might be the favorites according to statistical metrics — ranking 213th in D1Baseball.com’s RPI, compared to Penn’s 286th — recent history has gone the Quakers’ way, with Penn winning the season series in each of the past five years en route to a 14-4 overall record against Lafayette over that time period.
With the Leopards currently sporting an alarming 5.98 team ERA on the mound, Penn’s bats will be eager for the opportunity to build on Wednesday’s breakout performance.
“Our hitters had some confidence and we scored some runs today, but we still made some mistakes and still have room for improvement,” Yurkow said. “I’m just hoping that we learn from our mistakes with so many young players, and that every time out we make fewer mistakes as we get closer to conference play.”
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