Penn baseball hit the road with high expectations for its first series of the season, but it left with mixed results.
The preseason Ivy League title favorites started off hot with a 10-7 victory over Kennesaw State, but the team saw its offense stall in a 8-1 loss the next day. The Quakers also dropped their final game of the three-game series by a score of 6-5 on a walk-off double.
The Red and Blue (1-2) won their first opening game since 2010 in an offensive shootout over the Owls (6-5). The performance was fueled by the play of reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year sophomore Josh Hood and the solid starting pitching from last year’s Ivy League Pitcher of the Year, senior Christian Scafidi. Hood went 3-6 along with a run and one RBI, while Scafidi tossed six innings with two strikeouts and zero earned runs allowed.
Though expectations are high for both Hood and the team, maintaining a level-headed approach will be key to sustained on-field success.
“I try not to pay attention to [projections] and try not to expect anything. But obviously, personally, you set the bar high for yourself. Sometimes you can be tough on yourself, but sometimes you can’t, and you just need to rely on all that you’ve learned up to this point,” Hood said.
Though Scafidi’s performance and Penn’s offense were enough to take the first game of the series, the Quakers' pitching and offense fell flat on Saturday in the team's 8-1 loss to the Owls. Senior Mitchell Holcomb started off strong before allowing five earned runs over the course of four innings.
“They were able to mix a lot of things well," Scafidi said. "They had some hard-throwing and soft-throwing righties and lefties who were able to keep our hitters on their toes and keep them off balance. The first pitcher was a hard-throwing lefty who we were able to get hits off of, but the guys out of the pen were able to throw sliders and change-ups, which are a little tougher to handle."
However, Penn was able to shake off its rusty performance and refocus for the final game of the series with a recharged offense. Junior Eduardo Malinowski came into the opener hot and was the star of the weekend. The former Freshman All-American and Ivy League Rookie of the Year finished the weekend 6-13 with three runs, six RBI, and a clutch go-ahead two-run bomb over center field to put the Quakers up, 5-3, at the top of the ninth of the final game.
Malinowski’s two-run cushion, unfortunately, wasn’t enough to secure the deciding game of the series, as the Owls quickly loaded the bases and ultimately hit a walk-off double to deep left field.
Though the Quakers ended the weekend with a tough two-game stretch, the players aren’t worried and will simply use their performance to build confidence.
“It was a great feeling to get out there for the first time. We’ve been practicing and working hard in the bubble, and it’s helped. A lot of teams have already been playing, so it was awesome to get out there, let the arm loose a little bit, and start competing in real games,” Scafidi said.
Moving forward, Penn's mindset and approach to each game will be key in rebounding from losses such as this weekend's.
“The culture of our program is great. Everyone is here to win and really loves the game of baseball and wants to go out and compete together. This weekend, I really liked our fight. We came out of the gates on Saturday and Sunday ready to fight. It’s like a blue-collar mindset, what we’re trying to call it and what we’re trying to create. We’re fighting and fighting until the last out, and that’s what we’re going to bring to the table every game.”
The Quakers will look to continue playing with ferocity over the break, as they’ll head to Florida to play a total of eight games over a nine-day stretch against Florida International, Florida Atlantic, and Stetson.