Penn leadoff hitter and second baseman Nick Italiano may have a pulled left hamstring, but there's not much chance he'll miss action this weekend. "I'd have to be in a wheelchair not to play," Italiano said. The sophomore's injury might have been troublesome enough to keep him out of practice yesterday, but it certainly isn't sufficient to keep him off the diamond when Dartmouth and Harvard come to town for a pair of doubleheaders tomorrow and Sunday at Murphy Field. This marks the first Ivy League weekend for all three teams. Although both the Crimson and the Big Green play in the Ivy's Rolfe Division, Gehrig Division contender Penn knows that games against these two top-notch clubs will go a long way in determining how good the Quakers (11-3) really are. "These two teams are strong, and they're always a good test," Penn coach Bob Seddon said. While the Red and Blue have won nine of their last 10 en route to their best start in years, neither of this weekend's visitors to the Murph have been able to piece together more than three wins thus far this spring. The Big Green won three of ten on a swing through California, while Harvard went 3-9 in Florida. Those records can be misleading, however. Both Harvard and Dartmouth have the talent to take top honors in the Rolfe Division and in the Ancient Eight. Coach Bob Whalen's Big Green won both their division and the league last year with a 28-13 overall record, and they return much of the talent that brought them to the summit. Last year's Ivy League MVP Brian Nickerson returns at third base for the boys from New Hampshire. A fifth-year senior, Nickerson hit .372 and whacked a team-high 10 home runs last season. He's currently riding the crest of a nine-game hitting streak. Ivy League Player of the Week Michael Levy has been knocking the cover off the ball this season. The senior catcher batted an eye-popping .647 last week with a triple, two doubles and a pair of homers. Seddon's not sure who Dartmouth -- which split a doubleheader with Penn in Hanover last spring -- will send to the hill. "I don't know who he'll pitch, maybe [John] Velosky," Seddon said. "He went 7-2 last year and we haven't seen him yet." To counter whoever they put on the mound, Penn will start Mike Mattern in the matinee and Matt Hepler in the second game. Unlike Dartmouth, which has had a week back at home since spring break, the Crimson are not even getting a chance to drop their bags off in Cambridge before starting their Ivy schedule. Coach Joe Walsh's squad will fly to New York today before squaring off against Columbia on Saturday and heading down to the Murph on Sunday. This hectic travel schedule may tire out the Crimson before starting pitcher Andrew McCreery throws the first pitch on Sunday. "Two years ago, they had to do that [travelling], and it made them tired," Seddon said. "They beat us, 18-16...but you could tell that they were a tired team." The Crimson may have found little success down South, but they grappled with high-quality programs like Big Ten squads from Ohio State and Northwestern. The top of the Harvard rotation is very solid, as John Birtwell leads the way with a 1-1 record and an infinitesimal ERA of 0.64. Seddon is not sure whether the Crimson will unleash the aces at Columbia on Saturday or wait for the Quakers. "They might pitch them against us, but that would be disrespectful toward Columbia," Seddon said. "You always want to win your first league game."Comments powered by Disqus
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