Beat the drum, and hold the phone, the sun came out today, and a new Penn baseball season is upon us.
After winning the Gehrig Division for the first time since 2007 last season, expectations should be high going into the 2018 campaign. Without their top-flight talent and main leadership from a year ago; another challenging season looks to be on the horizon for the Quakers.
As the Quakers prepare to head down to Natchitoches, La. to kick off the season against Northwestern State, they are looking for answers to fill a starting rotation that lost its three top pitchers from last season as well as a new bullpen anchor. Jake Cousins, Mike Reitcheck, and Adam Bleday tossed a combined 194 innings last season, and closer Billy Lescher added 28 of his own in relief, notching four saves.
On the offensive side of the ball, the absence of outfielder Tim Graul’s bat will leave a gaping hole in the Quakers’ lineup. Graul led the team in almost every major offensive category last season, and he followed up his 2016 Ivy League Player of the Year campaign with another unanimous First-Team All-Ivy selection as a senior. As one of Penn’s two captains last year along with Reitcheck, Graul's leadership will be sorely missed.
Entering his fifth season leading the Quakers, coach John Yurkow has some very important lineup decisions to make. Pitchers Gabe Kleiman and Mitchell Holcomb project to lead the starting rotation, and there are a number or junior sluggers including catcher Matt O’Neill and first baseman Sean Phelan who can help shoulder the load for the offense.
The 2018 schedule for Penn baseball is sure to bring plenty of excitement and intrigue. The Quakers will first embark on a tour of the warmer climates, playing non-conference games in Louisiana and South Carolina before returning to the Meik in mid-March. The conference slate of games is where it gets interesting: the Quakers will close out conference play this year with series against Columbia and Yale.
The Tigers and Elis sit perched atop the Ivy League preseason media poll, while the Quakers were placed in the fourth spot. Yale is the reigning Ivy League champions, and Columbia, having barely missed the ILCS last season at the hands of the Quakers, returns 2017 Ivy League Player of the Year Randell Kanemaru. These two series could shape up to be the deciding games for a team that may be in a position to control its own destiny late in the season.
First, however, the Red and Blue must play through a lengthy schedule, and it all begins on Friday against Northwestern State. This team is in a similar boat with the Quakers in terms of questions in the lineup and at the top of the rotation. The Demons came into the 2018 season with 18 new players on the roster, many of whom will start right away, as they have played previously in junior college.
The games this weekend and the other early-season contests that follow will be of vital importance to the Quakers for finding a team identity and solidifying the lineup and pitching rotation. Playing against tough competition will help prepare Penn for what promises to be a tough Ivy League season.
Penn will try to overcome these challenges as it looks to end an Ivy League title drought that has lasted over 22 years. It’s sure to be an entertaining season.
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