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With three hits and a stellar defensive performance on Tuesday, sophomore catcher Matt O'Neill was crucial in Penn baseball winning its home opener over Lehigh.

Credit: Nick Buchta

The Quakers just couldn’t wait to be home.

A week ago, Penn baseball was forced to reschedule its home opener (against Villanova) and the first home series of the year (against Marist). This week, they rescheduled again, moving Wednesday night’s clash with Lehigh up to Tuesday afternoon.

But when its home opener finally got underway, Penn played perhaps its best game all year. Junior Jack Hartman got the win in relief for the Quakers, who beat the Mountain Hawks, 6-4.

Penn (4-9) finally got the offense to wake up to the tune of 11 hits, including three doubles. It’s not as if Lehigh’s (3-12) pitching was poor either – freshman starter Levi Stoudt was consistently hitting 91-93 mph on the radar.

“I thought we did a good job attacking fastballs in the zone,” coach John Yurkow said. “Even early in the first couple of innings when we didn’t score, we were hitting balls hard at guys. That was probably the most consistent we’ve hit the ball hard.”

Sophomore Matt O’Neill led the Quakers with three hits. The catcher also made perhaps the play of the game in the top of the ninth when he quickly recovered a ball in the dirt to throw out Lehigh’s Chris Kersey at third. The play took the tying run off the base paths and put the Quakers an out away from victory.

“I just got a few good pitches to hit. I tried to simplify [my swing],” O’Neill said. “I felt like it was getting a little long last couple games, so I was trying to take short compact swings, but I never really lost any confidence.”

The Quakers did look confident, but it wasn’t exactly a comfortable win. In what is becoming increasingly typical, Penn gave up an early deficit. This time, the Mountain Hawks led the game from the first at bat, when leadoff man James Bleming homered off Penn starter Mitchell Holcomb. Holcomb recovered after that, but was still in position to take the loss when his day ended after four and a third innings.

The Red and Blue finally took their first lead with a three-run fifth featuring two doubles. After Lehigh answered to tie the game at 4 in the sixth, Penn took the lead for good in the bottom of the same inning. Sunday night’s hero and junior Andrew Murnane had his second consecutive game-winning RBI when his double scored sophomore Matt Tola. Murnane reached base in every plate appearance, scoring two runs alongside his RBI.

Penn’s next series against Lafayette (2-18) features the Leopards’ home opener in a doubleheader on Saturday before returning to Meiklejohn Stadium for a second doubleheader on Sunday. That means – weather permitting – that this weekend will be Penn’s first four game weekend of the season, only a week before the Ivy League season opens with Dartmouth.

Counting another matchup against Lafayette on Tuesday, the Quakers have five games to fix any problems before conference play. Despite a losing record however, Yurkow doesn’t think many big improvements are necessary.

“We still have to cut down [on our mental mistakes],” Yurkow said. “We’re going to play some 2-1, 3-2 games, you have to cut down on these little mistakes because they add up over the course of nine innings.”

Small mistakes aside, Yurkow seemed more than happy with how his team played. The bats woke up, the bullpen pitched a strong 4.2 innings, and his veteran starters are ready to go. He knows that if Penn can carry some momentum from this game to the Lafayette series and beyond, it would be in perfect position to start the conference season.

The projected starters this weekend are seniors Jake Cousins (1-1), Mike Reitcheck (1-1), Big 5 Pitcher of the Week Adam Bleday (0-2) and junior lefty Gabe Kleiman (0-0).