Penn baseball toured the South this spring break.
The Quakers spent the time off from academics on a three-team, nine-game tour of the South, making stops at Williamsburg, Va. to take on William & Mary, Durham, N.C. to play Duke and Rock Hill, S.C. to square off with Winthrop.
“Our main priority on this trip was to gain some confidence and test ourselves against some tough teams,” coach John Cole said. “We had a tough schedule … so we wanted to get out a little ahead with this schedule.”
This year, Penn is returning 13 letterwinners, including five position players and three starting pitchers. The Quakers (4-5) also have a number of players coming back from injuries, including sophomore pitcher Connor Cuff, who led the team in strikeouts last season before being sidelined with an arm injury. Also back is junior third baseman Rick Brebner, who was batting .313 with four doubles and two homers before he was injured.
After graduating standout pitcher Vince Voiro and four-year starting shortstop Derek Vigoa, the Quakers will look to round out the starting pitching rotation, the middle of the infield and center field positions.
“Nothing has been highlighted more than that for us, when you have five of your nine guys playing in their first college game, whether its because they’re a freshman or because they’re coming back from an injury,” Cole said. “But now that we’ve gone out and gotten some wins and played some games, that fear of the unknown is gone a little bit.”
Penn posted a mixed bag of results over the trip, with some wins ending in shutouts — 6-0 and 7-0 over Duke (7-7) and Winthrop (4-11), respectively — and other games winding up just as lopsided, with losses to William & Mary (10-5), 19-5, and Duke, 8-1.
The Quakers managed to grab at least one game from the opposing team per series, going 1-3 against the Tribe, 1-1 against the Blue Devils and 2-1 against the Eagles.
Despite dropping the first two games of the season to the Tribe, 7-5 and 8-2, the Quakers regrouped for the third contest and won, 10-4. Seven Quakers had two or more hits in the win, and winning pitcher Dan Gautieri gave up just two earned runs. Penn was demolished, 19-5, in the final game of the William & Mary series.
“That game just got away from us, and we couldn’t get it together,” Cole said.
The Quakers’ offensive performance against the Tribe gained recognition in the Ivy League and the Big 5 for the week of March 5, despite going 1-3 in the series. Senior outfielder Ryan Deitrich was named Big 5 Player of the Week for hitting .600 in three games against the Tribe.
Mike Vilardo was likewise recognized for his offensive prowess, leading the team with six RBIs, three doubles and a home run during the series, and was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week.
Despite the lopsided loss, the Red and Blue came back for what Cole called “the most impressive moment” of the entire spring training trip, which was a 6-0 victory over Duke.
Junior pitcher Pat Bet got the start for Penn and allowed only two hits over six innings of work. Senior first baseman Spencer Branigan led the offensive effort, going 3-for-4 with a walk, an RBI and two runs scored.
Cole said he was especially proud of the way his team was able to turn a 19-5 thrashing into a shutout road win over an ACC team, adding that toughness was a “sign of good things to come” for this team.
Penn closed out its trip with a 2-1 series win against Winthrop. Highlighting the Winthrop series was a 7-0 complete game shutout from pitcher Dan Gautieri.
“I think keeping everybody healthy will make or break us this year, but overall, I think the guys are really gaining some confidence,” Cole said. “They feel good.”
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