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Freshman right-handed pitcher John Cerwinski pitches against a Villanova batter on March 15 for his first collegiate start. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Renovated field. New turf. Fresh chalk. A Philadelphia-on-Philadelphia matchup. The scene was set for Penn baseball’s 2023 home opener, and the Quakers surely delivered.

Following 11 games on the road to open the season, the Quakers (6-6) finally had their chance to play at home on the newly renovated Tommy Lasorda Field at Meiklejohn Stadium. On Wednesday, the team lived up to the hype, crushing the Villanova Wildcats (1-14) in a 15-5 victory.

The dominant victory saw Penn’s offensive momentum take the team to new heights. Senior catcher Jackson Appel went 4-4, freshman infielder Ryan Taylor finished 3-3, and all but one of the starting nine recorded at least one hit.

“We did a lot better [job of] taking pitches, which led to more walks,” Appel said. “Those more walks helped us score more runs. Our bats have been getting hot lately — just love to see it, especially in front of all the fans.”

Freshman right-handed pitcher John Cerwinski was on the mound for his first collegiate start. A week prior, he recorded a win after a 2.1 inning appearance against Nicholls State in which he allowed two runs. Cerwinski faced his fair share of troubles in the first — giving up a single on his first pitch, then a walk. But the rookie then retired the next three Wildcat batters to strand the two runners on base. The second inning wouldn’t go as smoothly, though.

Back-to-back grounders scored a pair of runners, putting Villanova up 2-0. The Wildcats jumping out to lead the game first definitely shook the Quakers, who expected the Villanova team — which entered the game collectively hitting .204 — to not be an offensive threat.

But the Quakers wasted no time to respond. A double from Taylor scored a runner, then a scorching single to the right side by senior outfielder Seth Werchan scored another to even the game at two runs apiece. A subsequent walk prompted an early Villanova pitching change — what would be the first of eight.

Following the rocky second inning, Cerwinski really seemed to find his groove. The movement on his pitches had the Wildcats chasing and whiffing after late breaks; he blanked Villanova in the third and fourth.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil The dugout reacts to a successful play by the outfielders during the game against Villanova on March 15.

Coach John Yurkow replaced Cerwinski in the fifth with freshman right-handed pitcher Jake Moss, but the Wildcats were quick to rattle him. The game had been quiet since the second inning until former Quaker Craig Larsen awakened the Wildcat offense with a one-run single. Another Wildcat followed suit, hitting a one-run double to put Villanova up 4-2. 

Moss only mustered one out before Yurkow pulled him, sending sophomore left-handed pitcher Marshall Mott to take his place on the mound. Villanova had the chance to blow the game wide open with bases loaded and only one out. But as seen all season, the Quaker bullpen showcased their exceptional situational pitching to get Penn out of the jam. Now, the Quakers found themselves in the same predicament they were in during the second: playing catch-up. 

Penn did more than even the game, though. The Red and Blue nearly batted around the order three times in a 10-run sixth inning that included six singles, two doubles, and a triple — forcing the appearance of four Villanova pitchers.

“We’re not striking out as much,” Yurkow said. “That was our Achilles’ heel for a while. It’s just important that we put more balls in play on two strikes, and we did a good job of doing that today.”

Sitting at a comfortable seven-run lead, all that was left for Penn was to close it out. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Tommy Delany did such that. Coming on in relief during the sixth, Delany threw a shutout frame and struck out all five batters he faced before the Quakers tacked on three more runs in the seventh — forcing a mercy rule finish with a final score of 15-5.

Aside from the Quaker bats heating up, Wednesday’s game was also a testament to Penn’s improved pitching performances — as seen from Cerwinski and Delany. The Quakers' pitchers, especially those from the bullpen, have started to trust their stuff more according to Yurkow. He still hopes to see more of his starting pitchers go the distance before Ivy play rolls around.

“Everyone came into this midweek game expecting a win,” Taylor said. “We are still adjusting to the new faces and stuff, but creating a chemistry in the team is definitely going to help us work together better before we get to conference play. Today’s win is great for morale and momentum.”

With momentum from Wednesday’s win and a home crowd cheering the team on, Penn baseball looks to pick up its third series win this weekend as it welcomes UMass for a three-game series.