Penn baseball showed some fight but ultimately could not overcome a four-run first inning from La Salle University as they lost 6-4 on Wednesday, handing the Explorers (16-11) a temporary head-to-head edge on the season.
The Quakers (3-7) were four days removed from a doubleheader with Delaware and have had to deal with an irregular schedule this season. A week without games led into a doubleheader against Delaware; they lost by a score of 0-4 in the early game and won by a score of 9-1 in the second game. Penn’s offense was powered by a four-run inning of their own in the second game, and junior righty Kevin Eaise notched his second win of the season with seven strong innings, only allowing three hits.
Penn baseball will now have six more days without games as they prepare for a Tuesday rematch against La Salle. Head coach John Yurkow acknowledged this struggle.
“It’s been all over the place, when we’ve been able to schedule games,” Yurkow said.
The proximity guidelines for scheduling opponents have also restricted the team's opponents. Wednesday’s matchup was their fifth against La Salle, and Penn will conclude its season with four matchups against them, totaling nine games against the Explorers.
On Wednesday, sophomore starting pitcher Sam Bennett was pulled in the first inning, managing to record two outs. Bennett dealt with the challenge of facing the same team that he had faced just 11 days ago. Though the Quakers won that game, Bennett gave up seven runs in two innings pitched.
“Anytime you can see a guy twice in a short amount of time, from a hitter’s perspective there is a level of comfort,” Yurkow said. “I still have a lot of confidence in him, he’s got good stuff, he’s got a good fastball. He just needs to settle in early in the game.”
Bennett, who is a transfer from University of Chicago, has not been able to get into a groove in part because of the schedule, but it should be noted that he had a strong start to begin the year, with five strikeouts through four innings pitched against a strong Villanova team (12-5).
Luckily for the Quakers, the game was not blown open after a four-inning first, with sophomore Owen Coady pitching the next 4.1 innings, and senior Brendan Bean pitching 2.1 scoreless innings.
Although the offense started the game by jumping out to a 2-0 lead, they were not able to take back the lead after La Salle added their own first-inning runs. They were able to keep the pressure on La Salle, though, coming within a run in the fourth inning.
The fourth-inning rally was powered by sophomore outfielders Seth Werchan and Cole Palis, who recorded an RBI triple and an RBI single, respectively. Palis' grounder scored Werchan, the last run of the day for the Quakers.
The offense wasn’t entirely quiet the rest of the way, but did struggle to capitalize on baserunners. One runner was left on base each inning from the fifth to the ninth, something coach Yurkow alluded to as an area for improvement.
“We’re going to continue to work hard with our situational hitting,” Yurkow said.
Situational hitting was crucial for the Quakers in the seventh inning. With a runner on second and no outs, junior catcher Andrew Hernandez managed to move the runner over to third. However, a strike out and fly out ensued, and that runner was not driven in.
“It’s just part of baseball — you try to do whatever you can to get the guy in, but sometimes things don’t go your way. I still had faith in our guys to be able to put a comeback together,” Hernandez said.
Although the seventh inning yielded a disappointing result, Hernandez discussed how the lack of runs may not have been the best indication of the offense’s performance.
“In the first inning we were finding holes, but innings three through seven, we were hitting a lot of lineouts and getting pretty good contact. It’s kinda tough sometimes, as an offense, when some guys are hitting balls really well, and they’re getting caught,” Hernandez said.
As a whole, the offense seems to be making strides as the season progresses, even with the unique scheduling. After an opening series against Villanova, in which the Quaker offense scored four runs in three games, they have been averaging six runs per game over their last seven games.
“We’ve gotten more into a groove, and certain guys have hit their stride. We just want to keep trying to hit the ball hard and see what can happen over the next couple of games,” Hernandez said.
Yurkow added that the struggles were “very apparent the first weekend [but] have gotten better.” He mentioned that, since hitting is all about “tempo and timing,” and since the batters only got about 15 live at-bats in the preseason inter-squad games — as opposed to the normal 50 — the offense was delayed in coming to life.
Now that the offense is alive for the Quakers, they look to take back the advantage in the season series against La Salle. Although La Salle won the temporary rubber match, the Quakers will look to use their experience against the familiar opponent to even up the series on Tuesday.