It is an exciting time in the world of Philadelphia baseball. Fresh faces are abound and are already making a significant impact on the teams they have just recently joined. Three freshmen — Tommy Courtney, Craig Larsen, and Josh Hood — are starting for Penn baseball and playing beyond their years.
“We knew they were a talented group coming in, and even though they had good [fall seasons], you’re not really sure how the spring is going to go,” coach John Yurkow said. “In these first 13 games, they’ve performed very, very well.”
Indeed, the statistics through Tuesday tell a tale of significant production from the freshman phenoms.
Hood, the starting shortstop, is batting a formidable .365, and his nine extra-base hits are tied for the team lead. Courtney, the centerfielder, sits at a .294 batting average and has committed zero errors in 13 games. Larsen is the slugger of the trio, as his four home runs — two of which are grand slams — and 19 runs batted in both lead the team. He’s also batting .340, which is impressive for a power hitter.
However, beyond their statistics, what is perhaps most impressive about the Courtney-Larsen-Hood trio — especially considering their relative youth — is that they are “always under control when they play the game,” as Yurkow put it.
“Things never seem to bother them. They’re very even-keeled type of kids. They’re really good players,” he said.
Strong mentorship from the older members of the team has been particularly helpful in easing the transition from high school to college.
“It feels like we’ve been playing with these guys for a long time now,” Hood said. “This is our first season, but the relationships have been pretty good, and we’re excited.”
That transition is not an easy one. The level of play, in every aspect, is higher in Division I than in high school. The fast balls are faster, breaking balls break harder, and the speed of the game itself is quicker. However, in spite of the differences, these freshmen have maintained their poise.
“The pitching has definitely been a little bit more difficult, and there’s still better pitching to see in the future, but other than that, it’s the still the same game we’ve been playing,” Hood said. “And that’s what you have to do: You have to keep the same mindset that you’ve had your whole life.”
The accepting, composed attitude that Courtney, Larsen, and Hood exude translated into a moderate set of expectations coming into the season. They all expressed that coming into the season, they would be willing to help out in any way — to be Swiss Army knives, placed where and when they are needed.
Needless to say, their contributions have far surpassed their own expectations.
After starting the season with three consecutive losses to UNC Greensboro, the Quakers have caught fire and now sit at a strong 9-4 record. Their 9-1 run has included some incredible highlights: a two-game sweep of No. 22 Duke in Durham, N.C., a 19-3 rout of Lafayette, and a full four-game sweep against Fairleigh Dickinson, which included wins of 18-5 and 16-2.
With success like this, it would be hard not to have fun with it — and that is exactly what the freshmen are doing.
“Losing three in a row in the first go against [UNC Greensboro] kind of put a sour taste in my mouth,” Hood said. “Now that we’re rolling, it feels like the same story over and over again like being a kid — it’s a good feeling.”
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