Over a two-day span, Penn baseball takes on two opponents in four big games. And there is just one goal: start out Ivy play in the win column.
After winning four of their last five games against Lafayette, the Quakers (13-7) begin their conference schedule this weekend against Dartmouth (12-1) and Harvard (3-15).
Penn has put together a strong non-conference performance, winning 11 of its last 14 games heading into Saturday. The Red and Blue hope to continue that strong play in the Ivy League.
“We were able to beat up on some teams pretty well,” starting pitcher Jeff McGarry said. “I think that gives us a big confidence boost heading into Ivy League play.”
“Compared to last year, we are off to a much better start,” first baseman Matt McKinnon said. “Our starting pitching has shown a lot more dominance going deep into some games.
“I know we’ve got Dartmouth this weekend who has been killing it and has votes for the top 25, so it’s going to be some good competition.”
Dartmouth visits Meiklejohn Stadium for the first doubleheader after winning four straight games. The Big Green have enjoyed the best start of any Ivy team, leading the Ancient Eight in both team batting average and earned run average.
Meanwhile, the Crimson have struggled this season. Their pitching staff has begun the year with a 6.69 ERA — last in the conference.
But while Harvard seems unlikely to unseat Dartmouth atop the Red Rolfe Division of the Ancient Eight, the Quakers are still approaching the weekend like any other.
“There is no difference. We have to go out with the same mentality,” McKinnon said. “As we showed last weekend, you can go against a team with two wins and still lose.”
Much of the talk about this Quakers team concerns its youth, and Penn has seen strong production from its underclassmen on both offense and defense. This includes freshman Mike Vilardo, who boasts the third-highest batting average on the team.
And it’s not as though the team’s young pitchers haven’t been performing. Despite lacking seniors in its starting rotation, Penn can count on its four starters — McGarry, Dan Gautieri, Connor Cuff and Pat Bet — who have combined for a 3.19 ERA so far this season.
So, even with the Big Green’s strong offense coming into town this weekend, the pitching staff knows what it needs to do in order to attack Dartmouth’s hitters.
“It is really important to throw three pitches for strikes and, when you get ahead with two strikes in the count, to bury your pitches,” McGarry said. “If you leave the ball up against a good offensive team like Dartmouth, they’ll punish you.”
Beginning Ivy League play at home is a major advantage for the Red and Blue. The last time Penn began conference play at home was in 2011, when the Quakers won all four games against Dartmouth and Harvard.
As they host the same teams, the Quakers look forward to duplicating their start from two seasons ago.
“We always get excited to play at the Mike with your walk-up [music] and the fans, so we are pumped about that,” McKinnon said.
“We have to take advantage of having our home field and make the best of it,” McGarry added.
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