After a disappointing weekend, the Penn baseball team looks to take their frustrations outside the Ivy League.
Wednesday, the Quakers (20-14, 6-6) travel to Bethlehem, Pa. to face Lehigh (18-19) in their final nonconference matchup of the season.
The Red and Blue are coming off a tough series loss to Princeton, losing three out of a four-game set to the Tigers. In the series finale, the Quakers almost managed to pull off a comeback win after being down four runs, but eventually lost in 10 innings, 7-6.
The loss left the Red and Blue with bitter tastes in their mouths, as they now sit three games behind Columbia for the Lou Gehrig Division lead.
“We did not pitch well, we did not defend well, and we definitely did not hit well,” coach John Cole said. “It was tough to swallow because you’re home, it’s a big series, you’ve got to play better, and we didn’t.”
After facing the Mountain Hawks, Penn will have eight straight games against division rivals Cornell and Columbia that will likely make or break the Quakers’ season. A win against Lehigh would be a good first step heading into the season-defining stretch.
Penn’s players have already left the disappointing Princeton series in their rearview mirror.
“Baseball is a game where you have a lot of ups and downs,” freshman second baseman Mike Vilardo said. “The biggest struggle in baseball is remaining even-keeled, not enjoying the highs too much and not getting too low.
“All we control is the next eight games.”
Even though each part of the Quakers’ game struggled in the Princeton series, there is still much for the team to be hopeful about going into the final stretch of the regular season.
The offense has some powerful contributors. Senior Ryan Deitrich is tearing the cover off the ball this season, boasting a .632 slugging percentage as well as an astronomical .524 on-base percentage.
The Red and Blue have also received significant contributions from their underclassmen, most notably Vilardo, who is batting .321 and slugging .504 while looking like a hitter far beyond his years.
Vilardo has been humble about his success, attributing it more to hard work than anything else.
“Nothing comes easy in this world, and I can definitely say, I don’t think anyone puts in as much time as I do, day in and day out, with my swing,” he said. “At home, my dad and I spend hours and hours every day hitting, and that’s always been my best tool.”
The Quakers will likely need strong days at the plate from both Deitrich and Vilardo to handle the Mountain Hawks’ efficient bullpen.
Sophomore reliever Josh Flyer has paced Lehigh with a sterling 0.79 ERA, while senior Tom O’Malley has held hitters to a paltry .211 batting average.
But if all goes according to plan, not even those Mountain Hawks will be able to stop Penn from flying high and gaining momentum heading into its most crucial slate.
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