The secret to Penn baseball's success in recent years – good recruiting and baptism by fire.
Throughout his tenure with the Quakers (4-11), coach John Yurkow has been focused on growing the program with strong recruiting.
Each season, the program recruits players who can fill voids in the lineup and contribute right away, and Yurkow works with them as soon as they arrive on campus. He has also shown he is not afraid to test the younger players and give them opportunities to prove themselves early in the season.
"We recruit kids that want to play, and we specifically look for guys that want to compete for starting spots and that confidence is not only great for them, but it also pushes our more experienced guys to work harder as well," sophomore pitcher Mitchell Holcomb said.
This year is no different.
One freshman standout this season is infielder Eduardo Malinowski, who has started all but one of the Quakers' 14 games to this point in the season. Malinowski is currently maintaining a .314 batting average thus far with 5 runs batted in.
Freshman pitcher Cole Sichley has appeared in four games in relief this season for the Quakers, where he has allowed only three earned runs, while tallying five strikeouts.
And even their older peers have taken notice.
"I don’t think it's surprising that they've been given so many opportunities because they have worked hard and definitely deserve the time and the coaches know that and like to give them chances," junior first baseman Sean Phelan said.
Phelan knows a thing or two about making an early statement in freshman year. He started in 39 of the Quakers' 40 games in his first year with the team, finishing the campaign with a .230 batting average, three home runs, and 17 RBIs.
"The combination of adapting to life on campus while figuring out the collegiate game is very difficult," Phelan said. "Personally, I struggled my freshman year because it's definitely a hard adjustment as the game is faster at the collegiate level and you need to prepare yourself mentally as a freshman as well."
With a season under his belt, Phelan rebounded his sophomore season, starting 45 games and finishing the season with a .323 batting average while knocking in 31 runs. Now, in his junior year, Phelan continues to impress with three home runs and nine RBIs through 14 games this year.
The current sophomores also showed signs of brilliance in their rookie seasons and have built off that strong start with strong 2018 campaigns.
Holcomb started eight games a year ago, finishing with a record of 1-1 while posting an ERA of 4.60 and striking out 26 batters. He has continued to grow this season, lowering his ERA to a mere 2.05 and striking out 25 batters thus far through four starts.
Sophomore second baseman Chris Adams started 43 games a year ago for the Red and Blue and had an impressive rookie season in his own right. Adams finished the year with a .292 batting average, one home run, and 20 RBIs. Like Holcomb, Adams has picked up right where he left off, maintaining a .333 batting average this season and knocking in eight runs.
Freshman year does have its challenges, however, and the transition from high school to the collegiate level is a daunting test for the players to overcome. Fortunately, the Quakers have over half of the school year to prepare before finally taking the field in late February, and the coaches devote that time to helping the freshmen adjust to college life on and off the field.
"The hitters at the collegiate level are so much better than those in high school so your game has to be more complete and you have to make fewer mistakes and just can't take pitches off," Holcomb said.
"It's great that we have the time to work with our guys in the weight room, build individual skills, and get guys into the flow of the program and the collegiate game," Yurkow said.
Penn may have started slow out of the gate, but the Quakers have what it takes to return to the Ivy League Championship Series this year and for years to come with their strong recruiting and player-development.
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