While most Penn students will be traveling to distant lands with friends or returning home for a well-deserved week of relaxation over spring break, Penn baseball will be hard at work down South.
After losing their series with Northwestern State last weekend, the Quakers (1-2) will travel to South Carolina this weekend to begin a ten-day road trip, where they will take on Wofford (3-5), Furman (4-4), and USC Upstate (3-5-1).
The Red and Blue struggled offensively in the first two games of the opening series in Natchitoches, L.A., but their bats came to life in the finale with the Red and Blue putting eight runs across the plate. The Quakers will look to continue that success on this upcoming road trip.
"It's very important to get the season off to a good start and it'll be good to finally be outside as we've been practicing in the bubble the entire winter," sophomore starting pitcher Mitchell Holcomb said.
Despite losing three players to the pros, Penn has retained most of its starting lineup from last season, which has boosted the chemistry within the locker room and on the field.
"[Our chemistry] has definitely helped defensively and that will be one of our strengths this season," Yurkow said.
Spring break brings its own challenges. Penn will play eight games in 10 days, all on the road. That stretch can be challenging for newer players, but the Quakers hope the preparations over the winter have been enough to prepare them.
"Our returning guys are used to having the spring break trip as our first few series to start the season," junior third baseman Matt McGeagh said. "We just need to help the freshmen prepare to play that many games in that many days and really focus on each game, but we've had a good bubble season and I think we're ready for the challenge."
However, the Red and Blue have limited depth on the mound this season, having lost their top three starters from 2017 to graduation and top reliever Billy Lescher to the MLB Draft.
"We have some young kids that threw innings for us last year as freshmen that we have been grooming for larger roles, and those guys have done a good job of stepping into place," Yurkow said.
One of those young kids in the rotation is Mitchell Holcomb, who was recently named the pitcher of the week for both the Ivy League and the Big 5 after tossing five scoreless innings in the season opener, allowing only two hits and striking out nine.
"I was happy to do it for the ball club and hopefully I can have a good season and continue that momentum going forward," Holcomb said.
Holcomb has professional-sized shoes to fill, but the early indications suggest that he is ready for the challenge.
"We had a pretty star-studded cast of starters in our rotation last year and I got the chance to learn from them and I hope that I can follow in their footsteps," Holcomb said.
As the remainder of the rotation better adjusts to their larger roles, the coaching staff will continue to structure and modify their game plan.
"By the end of the spring trip, I'm hopeful that we'll have a good idea of how the rotation will be and what we'll do matchup-wise in the bullpen this season," Yurkow said. "We have to make sure we stay healthy because definitely don’t have as much depth as we had last year on the mound."
Perhaps the greatest loss for the Quakers this season comes at the plate, however.
Penn is forced to play this season without former outfielder and 2016 Ivy Player of the Year, Tim Graul, who graduated following last season. The Quakers now face the challenge of making up for Graul's offensive production, as he maintained a remarkable .371 batting average and .600 slugging percentage a year ago.
Through it all, the players remain confident in themselves and those around them.
"We're definitely comfortable with one another and you can rely on whoever's behind or in front of you in the lineup to come through if you don’t get the job done," McGeagh said.
The Red and Blue look to take that team-first mentality into their upcoming trip as they look ahead to the long road back to the Ivy League Championship Series.
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