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The good news is that there's nowhere to go but up. The Penn baseball team begins its 2000 campaign with new hopes, new goals and a new stadium, but with almost exactly the same lineup. Last year, the Quakers struggled with youth and inexperience, finishing last in the Ivy League with a 9-28 record, going 6-14 in Ivy games. But losing only first baseman Russ Farscht to graduation, the Red and Blue hope they are wiser for the wear. Last year, poor team defense did the team in and kept it out of games. Penn was the Ivy League's worst fielding team last year, committing 110 errors. Almost 40 percent of the runs the Quakers gave up were unearned. Penn coach Bob Seddon will try to shore up his infield with the help of two new faces. Freshman Nick Italiano will start at second base -- a position that produced 27 errors last year. Sophomore Oliver Hahl will get the nod at third, after spending the last two years away on a Mormon mission. "Just from seeing what happened in the fall and the last couple intrasquad games, it's a totally different team," said pitcher Mike Mattern, who posted six of the team's nine wins and a team-leading 4.02 earned run average as a freshman. "You just know when a ball is hit up the middle, people are making plays that last year would never have been made," Mattern said. The infield is keyed by All-Ivy selection and team MVP Glen Ambrosius. The tri-captain -- who hit a team high .331 with three homers and 22 RBIs -- has started all but one game in his three years at Penn. At first, junior Ron Rolph looks to be the opening day starter, although junior Chris May started 10 games there last season. Senior Jeff Gregorio will catch the lion's share of games and will also be expected to pick up where Farscht left off. Gregorio will likely bat cleanup and looks to follow up a breakout offensive year in 1999, in which he hit .303 with five home runs. Now that Hahl is occupying the hot corner, junior Jim Mullen will move from there to left field. Named last year's "Unsung Hero," Mullen's .311 batting average was second-best on the team. Seddon is looking for increased offensive production from his outfielders this year -- five regular outfielders combined for 36 RBI, the same total as Farscht last season. The addition of Mullen's bat in left should help; he led the Atlantic Coast Baseball League in hitting this summer with a .417 average. "Our outfield in the last couple years hasn't put up the numbers," Seddon said. "If you follow baseball, you know on a good team you look at the batting averages of your outfielders and they're the leaders of the team. That could be our Achilles heel." Senior tri-captain Kevin McCabe will start in center field for the second straight year. McCabe -- last year's Most Improved Player -- hit .291 with 15 RBI and only posted three errors in 35 starts. In right, a battle is brewing for the starting spot. Senior Jeremy McDowell and junior Randy Ferrell both saw time in the outfield last year. But Ferrell is out with a shoulder injury, and freshman John McCreery -- who will also pitch for the Quakers -- is making a strong bid for playing time. The pitching staff is hampered by a season-ending elbow injury to tri-captain Sean McDonald, Penn's workhorse over the past three years. Seddon remains optimistic, however, pointing to the emergence of Mattern as a No. 1 starter and a bevy of freshmen arms. The starting rotation, as well as the other eight starting spots, will be hammered out on the team's spring break trip to Florida, where it will play 10 games in nine days. "Last year at this time, I couldn't name but two guys [who were legitimate starters]," Seddon said. But this year Seddon expects contributions from Mattern, junior Matt Hepler, sophomore Mark Lacerenza, and freshmen McCreery, Benjamin Krantz and Benjamin Otero. The Quakers will use the Florida trip, which begins tomorrow afternoon at Florida Institute of Technology, as spring training for the Ivy League season, which begins the weekend of April 1 with a couple of tough doubleheaders against Rolfe Division foes Yale and Brown. "[The Rolfe Division] is loaded," Seddon said. "I think you can flip a coin to see who wins." Harvard, which has won the Ivy League the past three years, remains the favorite in the Rolfe Division, closely followed by the Elis, the resurgent Bears and a tough Dartmouth squad. In the Gehrig Division, Penn has its scopes set on defending champ Princeton. The Tigers are favorites to repeat as Gehrig winners, due to sophomore ace Chris Young -- who led Princeton with a sparkling 2.38 earned run average -- and the rest of the solid pitching staff. "I don't know if I fall in love with the rest of their team, but they are the team to beat in our division," Seddon said. "I feel we're certainly stronger than Cornell and Columbia. I don't think Cornell and Columbia stack up to any of the four teams in the other division." The Quakers hope the defensive modifications and the additions to the pitching staff plug the holes that caused Penn's ship to sink to the bottom of the Ivy League last year. Penn is relying on its older and wiser players, with the infusion of young talent into the starting lineup, to move back up to the top of the Gehrig Division -- a place it occupied just three seasons ago.

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