The Quakers are finally coming home, and it couldn’t happen soon enough.
Penn baseball is scheduled to open up Ivy League play with a three-game series this weekend against Brown, marking the first set of home games for the Red and Blue (4-11) this year. Depending on the weather conditions, the teams will play a Saturday double-header, beginning at 11:30 a.m., and finish the series with a 1:00 p.m. matchup on Sunday.
Penn is set to return to Meiklejohn Stadium following a 15-game roadtrip in the South to start the season, during which it faced several tough non-conference opponents. The team expects the experience gained from the slew of non-conference road games to ultimately pay dividends.
“The hope is that you play a challenging schedule early in the year,” said coach John Yurkow, now in his fifth year as the Red and Blue skipper. “You hope that you benefit from that by playing teams that are balanced, that are really well-coached, that have played more games than we have at that point in the season.”
With the Quakers now more than ready to begin conference play, their first challenge comes against Brown (4-7). The Bears are ranked last in the Ivy League Preseason Media Poll, while Penn stands in the middle of the pack at fourth. Both teams know, though, that the preseason rankings are meaningless once the games start and that anything can happen in Ancient Eight baseball.
Last year, these teams split their two-game series played at Brown, both of which were close affairs. Despite the Bears losing three first-team All-Ivy selections from last season, Yurkow doesn’t want his group to take this year’s Brown team lightly.
“I think pitching-wise, they’re pitching it a little bit better than they had in the past,” the two-time Big Five Coach of the Year said. “They have a couple hitters that have a little bit of juice that can hurt you, so we’re gonna have to do a good job just coming out and really maintaining that energy through all 27 innings of the weekend.”
Among the standouts for Brown are junior catcher Mark Sluys (.368 batting average) and sophomore infielder Rich Ciufo (.318 BA). Additionally, sophomore Garrett Delano has been getting it done both on the mound, with a 1.93 earned run average, and at the plate, hitting .279 with two home runs.
On the other side, Penn will come into the series with some firepower of its own. The Quakers bring back eight of their nine starters in the batting order, losing a key player in 2016 Ivy League Player of the Year Tim Graul.
Of the returning starters, a trio of infielders have led the way thus far. Sophomore second baseman Chris Adams has team-highs in batting average (.333), stolen bases (4), and is tied for third on the team with eight runs batted in. First baseman Sean Phelan and third baseman Matt McGeagh, both of whom are juniors, lead the Quakers with three home runs apiece. McGeagh has a team-high 10 RBIs while Phelan barely trails him with nine of his own.
On the bump, sophomore Mitchell Holcomb and senior Gabe Kleiman have led a rotation that has lost three solid pitchers to graduation. Holcomb has a phenomenal 2.05 ERA, while Gabe Kleiman holds a 4.44 ERA with 23 strikeouts entering conference play.
With this season’s new Ivy League scheduling rules, which eliminated the two divisions and have each team play one another three times, Yurkow said the goal for his team is to win every series, which would put them in a great position late in the season.
Looking ahead, the final two conference series against Columbia and Yale, who rank second and first, respectively, in the Ivy preseason poll, could decide whether or not the Quakers make a second consecutive appearance in the Ivy League Championship Series, where they lost to Yale last season. For now, though, all of the focus is on Brown, as Penn cannot afford many early-season slips ups.
The heart of the season is officially here and the Red and Blue are ready to roll.
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