When the sun comes out and the weather gets warm, Penn baseball really gets going.
A schedule change provided nothing but positives for the Quakers, as they enjoyed two days of fantastic weather and a series win over Princeton (8-16, 5-4 Ivy) at the Tigers' Clarke Field. Coming off of a slew of disappointing conference outcomes, it was important for the Quakers (10-19-1, 5-6-1) to start hitting more, improve defensively, and keep the pitching consistent to pick up two key conference wins.
Originally scheduled for Sunday, but moved to Friday because of weather concerns, game one of the series began as a closely contested pitching duel. But then the Quakers' bats exploded in the sixth inning, giving them a five-run lead and keeping them in front for good.
Penn’s offense is successful when it is able to string some hits together and convert with runners on base. This is exactly what it did in the sixth inning of game one, hitting singles and doubles on the way to a six-run outburst. The pitching also showed up in game one, featuring senior Gabe Kleiman finally picking up his first win of the season.
“I feel like [Kleiman] has pitched a lot better than his record indicates,” coach John Yurkow said. “We haven’t played great defense behind him and we haven’t really given him a lot of run support.”
Improved defense was a big factor in this series and the run support was provided, albeit a little late, in the contest on Friday. The first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, however, was a different story for the Red and Blue offensively. Freshman Ben Gross delivered a complete game shutout for the Tigers, striking out seven.
“We just didn’t do a good job swinging the bats,” Yurkow said.
Sophomore Mitchell Holcomb was trying to follow in Kleiman’s footsteps and get his first win of the season, but he only lasted three and two-thirds innings, giving up three runs, before being replaced by freshman Brendan Bean. Bean tossed four and one-third shutout innings, but the damage was already done and the Quakers’ offense wasn’t able to put any runs on the board.
Both the pitching and the hitting made a complete turnaround in the second game of the doubleheader. A double by senior Daniel Halevy gave Penn its first run in what would be a five-run first inning. Accompanied by a shut-down pitching performance from sophomore pitcher Christian Scafidi, the Quakers never looked back. In the end, they beat the Tigers 10-1 while amassing an impressive 18 hits.
So what changed in between games on Saturday that provided such an offensive disparity?
“I felt like our focus was a little bit better at the plate,” Yurkow said. “The good thing after [going up by five runs] is we still kept having good at-bats, we tacked a couple more [runs] on, and we did a good job throwing strikes pitching with the lead.”
Going into the second half of the doubleheader, the pressure was on the Red and Blue to finally pick up their first conference series win. The quick scores in the first inning knocked Princeton freshman pitcher Andrew Gnazzo out of the game and allowed Scafidi to work with a comfortable lead.
“A lot of the weight is lifted off of your shoulders and it’s really easy to pitch with the lead and just be aggressive and attack the hitters,” Scafidi said.
Penn will be looking to establish a trend of improvement along with the weather. They certainly played their best series with the best weather they have seen up to this point.
“It was very refreshing, playing in that kind of weather,” Yurkow said. “Hopefully we can just keep getting better from here on out.”
The Quakers will try to stay hot this week, with a single game coming up against La Salle and a series against Cornell all being played at Meiklejohn Stadium. Penn is now 2.5 games out of an Ivy League Championship Series spot with nine conference games to go.