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Penn senior righthander Mike Mattern led the Quakers in strikeouts in 2001. The Philadelphia native notched 40 strikeouts, including eight Princeton batters on April 21. [Theodore Schweitz/DP File Photo]

The Penn baseball team returned home from Florida this week with a dissatisfying 3-7 record, but an optimistic outlook for the remainder of the 2002 season.

"Our record doesn't show it," junior second baseman Nick Italiano said, "but we have a lot to look forward to."

Penn split with Eckerd in its first two games before trouncing Merrimack, 18-11, on March 10. The Quakers then hit hard times, dropping six of their final seven contests, including two apiece to city rival Temple and division II power Rollins College. Penn also lost to Maine and split with Rhode Island in that stretch.

The Quakers, though, are not concerned with their record. They played a tougher schedule than in years past and ran into hot teams at the wrong time.

What the Red and Blue are concerned with is the level of their play, which was not exactly what they had hoped for. Penn's pitching was inconsistent throughout the week, and the defense sputtered at times.

"When you come to Florida, you play for 10 straight days, so you're going to have to go with a lot of young pitching," said Bob Seddon, entering his 32nd season as Penn's head coach. "But the pitching has to be better."

The Quakers certainly surrendered a whole lot of runs -- their opponents averaged more than 10 runs per contest -- and their team ERA is now a woeful 8.54.

Some of the blame, however, has to go to the team's defense, which committed 26 errors on the trip.

"The defense didn't play as good as it could have," said Italiano, who did not commit an error in a team-high 46 attempts. "At times, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong."

One thing that didn't go wrong was the team's offense. The Quakers' team batting average is now hovering just below .300, and in seven of the 10 games Penn scored five runs or more.

That run total, however, could have been even higher if not for some poor hitting in clutch situations.

"We hit the ball well, but we left 11 men on base on average," Seddon said. "And that's not good."

Also slowing the Quakers was a rash of injuries incurred during their excursion. There was nothing too serious, but a few nagging injuries shelved some of the team's starters. The Quakers were also hit by 22 pitches, which certainly did not help the injury cause.

But while it's rather easy to look back on their first 10 games and pick apart all the problems, the Red and Blue are now ready to look ahead.

Penn is a young team -- featuring 13 fresh faces -- thus the early speedbumps are not entirely unexpected. In fact, Italiano believes the team's strengths are actually the same areas that Penn had difficulty with in Florida.

"Our strength is our pitching and defense," Penn's co-captain said. "They struggled in Florida, but I think they are our strengths. Our hitting was better than expected -- hopefully all parts of our game will come together."

Seddon is confident that the three facets of baseball -- hitting, fielding and pitching -- will soon come together.

"Thus far, we haven't put two of three on the table," Seddon said. "And when we did, we won."

The Quakers return to action today, returning home to Murphy Field to play St. Joe's in a game that may get rained out. Penn then faces Lafayette in Easton, Pa. tomorrow before taking on Lehigh and Hartford in home doubleheaders over the weekend.

After a 3-10 break, Penn hopes to add some much needed wins before the Ivy League portion of the schedule begins next Friday against Princeton.

"Winning helps bring confidence out," Seddon said. "Once you start winning games, things will happen across the board."

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