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After a rough ending to both 2014 and 2015, Penn baseball will look to get past perennial power Columbia this season.

Credit: Ilana Wurman , Ilana Wurman, Ilana Wurman

Penn baseball kicked off its season with a trip to Florida over Spring Break, going 2-6 over the eight-game stretch.

The season got off to an ugly start with a 17-5 loss to North Florida in Jacksonville. Jake Cousins gave up 10 runs (three earned) as a two-out error in the first inning opened the door for a monster frame punctuated by a grand slam.

“We definitely didn’t perform up to the standards of what we all wanted to do,” Cousins said. “We were all confident going down there, and the first game didn’t go well, not hitting the ball, making a couple defensive mistakes, I wasn’t making pitches, it was a combination of things.”

The Quakers kept it close in the second game, but fell to UNF once again, this time by a score of 5-3. Mike Reitcheck gave up four runs (two earned). Senior Gary Tesch and junior Tim Graul each had three hits.

“We have a couple things we need to figure out, but I am confident because there were a lot of glimpses of us potentially being really good,” Tesch said. “The past few years we’ve struggled in spring break and we’ve come back and turned it around, so I’m confident in us doing that again.”

Penn got in the win column in their third game, finally getting the best of UNF with a 3-2 win. Gabe Kleiman pitched six strong innings, allowing two runs, before freshman Jake Nelson tossed three scoreless frames. The team was down 2-1 in the eighth when Ryan Mincher’s two-run single gave the Quakers a lead they would not relinquish.

“I think maybe first couple games out, some of those freshmen were a little nervous, a little jittery,” Penn coach John Yurkow said. “As the week wore on, they settled in a bit more.”

The Red and Blue made it two in a row with a 4-3 victory over Holy Cross. Freshmen Matt O’Neill and Matt Tola each had three hits, and senior Jonah Campbell provided the end-of-game heroics with a walkoff single in the 10th. Adam Bleday allowed two runs (one earned) in six innings, and sophomore Billy Lescher pitched 2 1/3 perfect innings in relief.

“I felt good. I got some decent innings. I give it to my defense for always playing defense behind me and putting up runs while I’m pitching,” Bleday said.

Holy Cross struck back in the next game, beating Penn 5-3. Graul had another three-hit game, but the Quakers left 12 men on base. Andrew Burnick allowed three runs in three innings, before the Quakers got another strong relief outing with 2 2/3 hitless frames from Jack Hartman.

Penn fell once again in their sixth game, dropping the opener of their series with Georgetown, 4-2. Cousins bounced back with a stable outing, allowing three runs in 5 1/3 frames, before Nelson posted another solid line with 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Tola had three hits to lead the offense.

The Quakers struggled mightily in their next game, losing 9-1 against Georgetown. Reitcheck allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings and the offense mustered just four hits.

Penn finished its trip with an 11-6 loss to Georgetown as Kleiman, Bleday and Lescher all struggled on the mound. Tesch was a bright spot with three hits and three runs scored. Yurkow was ejected from the game for arguing with the umpires.

“It’s funny, that’s my first time I’ve gotten thrown out of a game as head coach. I was thrown out a few times as an assistant,” Yurkow said. “You never wanna get thrown out of a game, maybe my emotions got the best of me a bit, it’s part of the game. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again. It’s one of those things where I was hoping maybe the guys would get fired up after I did it, we put a rally together but then we gave it back. So hopefully it won’t happen again. I don’t wanna make a habit of it.”

Penn played the final five games of its trip at the New York Mets’ spring training complex at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie.

“It was awesome,” Yurkow said of the experience. “What a tremendous opportunity for our guys, just to be in that setting.”

“It was unbelievable,” Tola added. “We were really lucky to be able to do that. It was quite an experience. The field was beautiful. We got to see a lot of big league players around. It was something special.”

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