As long as it took for Penn baseball to finally get back in action, it took the team a little longer to notch its first two wins.
The Quakers (2-5) played all four of their games against La Salle University (12-9) this week in front of an empty Meiklejohn Stadium. After dropping the first two contests to the Explorers, the Red and Blue took both games of Saturday’s doubleheader to split the series.
“I think the transition was a little harder than we might have expected,” freshman third baseman Wyatt Henseler said. “But we showed what we're really capable of when we have all the energy and all the right guys in the lineup.”
Penn’s bats started off hot on Thursday, with eight of nine starters recording at least one hit in the game. But La Salle’s offense was equally on a roll, and what started as a close game became a 14-7 win for the Explorers.
Seven Quakers split the job on the mound, with freshman Edward Sarti taking the loss for the Quakers in his first collegiate outing.
A two-run homer off the bat of La Salle’s Jack Cucinotta opened the scoring for the Explorers in the first inning, but the Quakers didn’t take long to rebound. Following a double from Henseler, junior Craig Larsen answered back for the Red and Blue with a two-run homer of his own in the bottom of the second.
The Explorers put up three more runs on two hits in the third. A sacrifice fly from senior Jackson Petersen scored junior Andrew Hernandez to narrow La Salle’s lead, but the Explorers tacked on another run in the fourth inning.
The Quakers scored one run on two hits in the sixth, with a single apiece from junior outfielder Tommy Courtney and senior infielder Eduardo Malinowski.
The Explorers ran away with the game in the ninth inning, capitalizing on an error, three walks, and six hits to put up eight runs. The Red and Blue went down swinging, however. Malinowski opened the bottom of the ninth with his second single of the game, and Hernandez drove him home with a home run over the left field fence. Henseler drew a walk with two outs and was brought home by a double from Larsen.
After sophomore Cole Palis lined out to right field, the Quakers' bid at a comeback was cut short, and they dropped the first game by a score of 14-7.
Junior left-hander Joe Miller started on the bump for the Quakers in Friday’s game, striking out four and giving up six hits across three innings. Junior right-hander Seth Devries tossed two innings, striking out five and giving up five hits. Senior Robby Cerulle, sophomore Ross Krakower, and freshman Danny Heinz also made appearances out of the bullpen.
The Quakers opened the scoring this time around. In the first inning, Courtney was hit by a pitch, stole second, and scored after an error from La Salle’s third baseman. Penn’s offense would go quiet until the fifth inning, when a sacrifice fly from Hernandez scored senior Kyle Cronk.
The Explorers opened the floodgates with three runs in the third and didn’t look back, adding four in the fourth and three more in the fifth. La Salle then put up four runs in the sixth inning to put their lead in the double digits.
For the second game in a row, the Explorers scored eight runs in the top of the ninth. This time, however, the Quakers’ offense was unable to get a rally going in the bottom half, and La Salle blanked the Red and Blue in the ninth inning for a final score of 22-2.
“I think we struggled,” Henseler said. “We were making a lot of silly mistakes, mental mistakes, physical mistakes. It seemed like nothing was going our way.”
The Red and Blue entered Saturday’s doubleheader determined to rebound from their pair of losses and earn the series split.
“We got to the field early, we had a full team discussion with Coach and he was basically like, ‘Look, you guys need to figure this out. At this point, there's too many mistakes going on. This needs to be on you guys,’” Henseler said. “So at that point, we just got out there. We had fun, we played loose, we played confident.”
La Salle started off hot, with a two-RBI double in the first inning and five runs off four hits in the second.
The Quakers responded by scoring two in the bottom of the second. In the third inning, a three-run double from Henseler, followed by a triple from sophomore Seth Werchan, added four to the tally. Courtney’s two-run homer and an RBI single from Hernandez capped off the seven-run inning.
Sophomore Sam Bennett started the game for the Quakers, striking out three and allowing five hits over two innings. Sophomore Brian Zeldin was on the mound in the third and ultimately earned the win for the Quakers, shutting out the Explorers over five innings pitched.
Penn notched two more runs in the fourth and kept the momentum going through the sixth. Singles from sophomore Justin Carboni and Hernandez and doubles from Henseler and Courtney helped drive in four runs.
“I'm just being as aggressive as I can,” Henseler said. “I was a little tentative at first. I still am a little bit here and there. But Coach has been really working with me to be more aggressive and trust my swing, because obviously, the more you swing, the better chance you have of getting a hit.”
While Zeldin walked one, and two Explorers were hit by pitches in the top of the seventh, he was able to get out of the inning and hold the Quakers’ lead for a final score of 15-7. Penn’s first victory of the season also brought with it the end of La Salle’s six-game win streak.
“I almost didn't know what to do at first,” Henseler said. “Being a freshman on the field, I was like, after winning, ‘What do we do?’ But it was great. Pretty cool to have my first one as a Quaker.”
The Red and Blue kept their momentum going into the second game of the afternoon. They opened the game with four runs on five hits, featuring singles from Courtney, Malinowski, Henseler, Petersen and Palis. Malinowski added to Penn’s lead with a solo home run in the second inning.
Junior Kevin Eaise pitched five innings for the Quakers, striking out seven and holding La Salle to a single hit. Senior Brendan Bean was on the mound for the sixth inning, while sophomore left-hander Owen Coady closed the final three innings.
La Salle made a comeback bid in the top of the seventh. A bases-loaded walk followed by a fielder’s choice brought two Explorers home, before Coady ended the inning with a strikeout. The Quakers’ lead narrowed even further after La Salle’s two-run homer in the top of the eighth, but Coady was able to hold the score at 5-4 to earn the save.
“It was awesome to get a group when everyone contributed today at some point, whether it was on the bench doing the books, helping the hitters out with reads, getting the pitch counts down,” Henseler said. “The coaches did a great job of putting us in a good position to succeed. In the end, the hitters took over today, the pitchers kept it close. It was a great team win today.”
The Quakers will look to build off the momentum from these two victories going into their double-header against Delaware this Wednesday.
“As much as they were big wins, there were some mistakes that we need to clean up,” Henseler said. “So, hoping for a great week of practice, and to be able to go 2-0 against Delaware next week.”