It’s not all about youth.
This season, Penn baseball’s freshmen have been impressive contributors and have filled some holes left by last year’s graduating class. But much of their success has been due to the upperclassmen leadership, particularly from senior captains and offensive powerhouses Ryan Deitrich and Spencer Branigan.
“When a team is playing well, it usually has a lot to do with how the upperclassmen are conducting business with the team,” coach John Cole said. “What’s really impressed me is the seniors’ ability to maintain their leadership qualities even when they’re having an off day or not playing well. Baseball is full of failure, and you’ve gotta be able to handle it and be in control.”
The seniors so far are certainly in control. First baseman Branigan is currently hitting .346 and has an impressive .992 fielding percentage, which ranks just behind sophomore catcher Austin Bossart in players who have started all 15 games.
Deitrich, who is currently leading the Quakers with a .421 batting average and a .614 slugging percentage, is well aware of the impact the seniors have had on the younger players.
“We really just try to focus on doing the right things in practice, staying focused the whole time and just letting the underclassmen know that you need to do things the way coach wants them done.
“He’s been in this for over 30 years, so he knows what he’s talking about,” Deitrich said.
But Deitrich was also quick to commend the underclassmen for their impact thus far. He was especially impressed by their confidence and drive.
“They’ve really bought into the system and they’re really confident in their abilities, which is great for us because we need good bats in the lineup, especially after losing [Greg] Zebrack last year.”
Case in point: sophomore Joey Greco, who blasted two home runs, one of which was a grand slam, against Villanova on Wednesday.
The Quakers’ confidence, both as individual players — seven players are currently hitting over .300, three of those over .350 — and as a team, has also been instrumental to their success so far this season, and they will look to continue their momentum when they open a five-game slate against Lafayette on Saturday.
The Leopards (2-14) come into the weekend doubleheaders fresh off a 6-0 shutout loss to Wagner. In their last three games, the Leopards have managed only two runs.
The Quakers (9-6) have won five of their last six contests, beating George Washington three out of four games and then putting up an impressive 12 runs against Big 5 rival Villanova on Wednesday.
Penn was down 5-3 in the sixth inning but managed a five-run, two-out rally to close out the inning. Penn shut out Villanova for the remainder of the contest while building on its 8-5 lead, tacking on four more runs to bring the final score to 12-5.
Cole pointed out that the Quakers’ pitching has also been a key factor to the Quakers’ wins, both the starting rotation and the bullpen. The pitching staff is currently posting a 4.14 earned run average overall. Undefeated sophomore starter Dan Gautieri leads the pitchers with a 1.37 ERA.
“We have confidence in our starting pitching and our bullpen has been dynamite,” Cole said.
Cole also lauded his team’s toughness and ability to hang on to leads late in a game.
“If we get into the seventh inning and we’re out ahead, we’re not giving up the win,” Cole said.
Deitrich attributes the team’s success to a change in the “culture” of the team and a shift in mentality.
“It’s about going out there and being aggressive, and its not so much about the individual stuff. I think we’ve gotten rid of the whole don’t mess up kind of mentality, let’s just go out there and play, it changes the way we think about things.”
Momentum and aggression, Deitrich believes, will be key. With 33 runs scored in their last five contests, the Quakers are in attack mode and on paper, overmatch the Leopards, who have not won since March 10.
“We have five games against them and we want to take all five,” Deitrich said. “That’s all there is to it.”
SEE ALSOComments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.