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Baseball loses a wild one to 'Nova

(03/31/99 10:00am)

Penn came back from a 7-1 deficit to take a 10-9 lead in the seventh before falling in the bottom of the ninth. Talk about comebacks. The Penn baseball team rallied from a 7-1 deficit with nine runs in the sixth and seventh innings last night against Villanova, but its great effort ended up being for naught. Why? Because the Wildcats, the home team in this first-round matchup of the Liberty Bell Classic at Veteran's Stadium, scored two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat a resilient Penn squad, 11-10. "The bottom line was we didn't close it," Penn coach Bob Seddon said. "It's a shame. We did some good things, but it's a sin because we had them and we let it get away. "It was a sloppy game but we did battle back and we did hit the ball good. It was an exciting game to watch." If you like action with your baseball, this was not a game to miss. The highlights and lowlights -- three home runs and five passed balls by the Wildcats, seven two-out runs in the late innings by the Quakers and 12 walks, eight hit batsmen and six errors between the two squads -- were astounding. Add to that a two-out, game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth. Just another evening at a major league ballpark. Villanova arrived late to the Vet because its 8-7 win over Wagner yesterday afternoon also was not decided until the final frame. But the Wildcats did not miss a beat. Hardly sluggish, 'Nova (13-12-1) scored in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings to build a 7-1 lead. Three errors and several defensive lapses marred an otherwise strong start by Penn's John Dolan and put the Quakers (5-12) in a hole before they could get their offense in sync. But then the Quakers erupted. The sixth inning saw Penn put a "4" spot on the board to cut the lead to 7-5, thanks to two-out RBI hits by sophomore Travis Putnam and junior Kevin McCabe. "I think our team is really good at keeping our focus when we're down," said freshman Will Clark, whose double kept the two-out rally alive. "It wasn't surprising -- we were expecting to come back and we knew we could play with them." Villanova, however, would not allow the Quakers to "play with them" just yet. The first two pitches of the bottom of the sixth saw home runs off the bats of Wildcats sluggers Matt Longo and Rob Cafiero. It was the second home run of the evening for Cafiero, the Wildcats freshman clean-up hitter -- a particularly bitter pill for Penn to swallow. "Cafiero was my big recruit last year," Seddon said. "He got deferred on early decision and then he got a 'likely letter' in February but the parents were upset over the fact that he was deferred, and he chose Villanova over Penn -- so you can see what it cost us. "If he had been accepted here on early decision, he would have been hitting the bombs for us." But Penn hurler Brian Burket recorded two strikeouts to pull out of a jam later in the inning and prevent further damage. Then the fun began. The Quakers recorded two quick outs to start the top of the seventh but proceeded to put the next eight runners on base. Three huge doubles drove two 'Nova pitchers to the showers, and the Quakers suddenly found themselves up -- both on the scoreboard and on the top step of the dugout cheering every new at-bat. Sophomore Jim Mullen reached base for the third time with Penn's biggest hit -- a ground-rule double to left-center that scored Putnam and gave the Quakers their first lead, 10-9. "I definitely like to be in that position," Mullen said. Modest to the end, the third baseman said, "It was nothing special -- their pitcher gave me a fastball up and I hit it." But then it was the Wildcats' turn. The eighth inning featured a heated argument between Seddon and an umpire who reversed a call against Penn, but junior hurler Anthony Napolitano got out of a bases-loaded jam without allowing a run. Unfortunately for the Quakers, he couldn't do it two innings in a row. Two walks and a hit batsman loaded the bases with two outs in the final inning. Still on top and with a chance to close out the game, the little-used Napolitano hit the next batter to tie the score. With both crowds cheering on, Wildcats senior John Picone lined a single to left for the improbable victory. "Early on, we were swinging the bats a little bit," Villanova coach George Bennett said. "But in the end they helped us with the walks. We were lucky, we won our other game the same way -- we were given a gift twice." As the Quakers sat dejected after a game they could have and should have won, it was difficult for them to see Villanova celebrating -- both for Bennett's 400th career victory and for the chance to face Temple in the semifinals of the Classic. The Quakers now must move on as well. Penn faces Lafayette at home at 3 p.m. today on Bower Field.

Baseball has date with Cats at the Vet

(03/30/99 10:00am)

The Quakers will try to put it all together tonight against Villanova in the Liberty Bell Classic at Beterans Stadium. The day after the end of the college basketball season, two of the most storied members of the Big 5 square off. In baseball, that is. Tonight, it will be captain Glen Ambrosius -- and not the more readily recognizable Michael Jordan -- leading a youthful Penn squad when the Quakers (5-11) take on Villanova (8-11-1) at 7 p.m. in the Liberty Bell Classic on the artificial turf at Veterans Stadium. Penn comes into the game still in development. The Quakers split four games with Columbia last weekend, losing two close ones that could have easily gone either way. Nonetheless, the team is aware of what could happen if it can put it all together. "Just thinking about the way we played [this weekend], it's encouraging in some ways -- our pitching was really good, which is always a good sign," Ambrosius said. "I think if we can shore up our defense a little bit, and our pitching stays consistent, we can win a lot of games." Penn entered last year's matchup with Villanova as the model of consistency, coming in off a four-game sweep of the Lions. But then the Quakers ran into the wall that was the Wildcats. "Last year [Villanova] hit us around a little bit, and before you knew it we were in a big hole," said Ambrosius, a senior shortstop. "We came back a little bit and scored some runs, but by that time it was too late." A 12-run barrage in the top of the first inning put the '98 Quakers at a deficit from which they could not recover. The 15-6 loss sent Penn reeling, beginning an eight-game Quakers losing streak. "Villanova is a strong team and a tough draw," said Penn coach Bob Seddon, who is in his 29th year at the helm of the Quakers. "They annihilated us last year." The challenge for Penn is to not let this happen again. The Quakers need to show up in their entirety if they are going to beat 'Nova and get momentum for future Ivy games. At times in '99, the offense -- which is averaging 10 hits a contest -- has led the way. Jeff Gregorio, Chris May, Kevin McCabe, Anthony Napolitano and Ambrosius all had multiple-hit games in last weekend's wins. But more recently, dominating starting pitching has led the Penn charge -- the squad's ERA has dropped by over two runs a game in the last two weeks. Unfortunately, the team has generally been unable to put good pitching and good hitting together with solid defense into one nicely-wrapped package. "Our Achilles heel so far is our infield defense," Seddon said. "It's a focus thing [and] as a group we have to shore up." The Quakers have been focused for the majority of the team's seven games back on the East Coast and just a handful of miscues stood between Penn and wins in six of its last seven, instead of only four. "We just need to get back out there and play," Quakers third baseman Jim Mullen said. The sophomore added that Penn's defensive lapses were "nothing we can't correct." Against Villanova, the Quakers will get the chance to both "get back out there" and to "correct" their mistakes. The Wildcats, who lost their first seven, have played strong of late -- including a Sunday sweep of St. John's and a win over a St. Joseph's team that beat Penn 6-2. Strangely, the Wildcats face Wagner at home at 3:30 p.m. this afternoon before making the short journey to the Vet for the evening's main event. Along with centerfielder Mike Perate, sophomore All-Big East selection Matt Longo heads up a 'Nova contingent that Ambrosius regards as "always a solid hitting club." "Our infield will be strong with Matt Longo [at] second base," Wildcats coach George Bennett told Villanova sports information. "Matt hit .393 [last season] and can probably hit even better this year." Add to this the fact that the Quakers will be pitching by committee and things could get interesting. "No one will pitch very much in this game," Seddon said. The coach named junior John Dolan, sophomore Brian Burket -- who gave up one run in an inning of relief against the Wildcats a year ago -- and freshman Dan Fitzgerald as likely hurlers. But if the Quakers can hit the way they have demonstrated, this game may be a reversal of the past. And while the Quakers recorded 10 extra-base hits in the Columbia double-headers, that number may be significantly increased due to the faster artificial turf at the Vet. This leaves the proverbial door open for Quakers sluggers such as Ambrosius, Gregorio, rightfielder Ron Rolph and first baseman Russ Farscht -- among others -- to make a statement in a big way. If the Quakers can string together nine innings of good hitting and contain the Wildcats on the other side of the ball, another Big 5 victory may be headed back to this side of the city -- in baseball, that is.

Baseball splits series with Lions

(03/29/99 10:00am)

The Penn baseball team split home-and-home twinbills with Gehrig rival Columbia. The Penn baseball team went into a pair of doubleheaders this past weekend against Columbia with high expectations. After all, the Quakers (5-11, 2-2 Ivy League) swept the Lions (6-9, 2-2) in all four games in '98, winning each time by at least nine runs. Add to that the Quakers' strong hitting in recent wins over UMBC and Lehigh and a great opening to the Ivy season seemed likely. But despite an amazing weekend by the Penn pitching staff, periodic lapses on defense and at the plate did in the Quakers -- as Columbia snuck away with two one-run victories and a split of the weekend's four games. Penn won Saturday's nightcap and Sunday's opener by 6-2 and 7-4 margins but missed opportunities in the other outings and dropped difficult 4-3 and 2-1 decisions. "No question -- the two losses could have gone either way," Penn coach Bob Seddon said. "I thought we could have done better. [Yesterday's] loss was a heartbreaker -- Columbia won it in the last at-bat after we tied it with two outs in the seventh." Despite four home runs by four different Quakers over the two-day span, the story of the weekend was clearly Penn's starting pitching. The young staff came through with a weekend ERA of 2.00 -- lowering its '99 average by over 1 1/2 runs in the process. "Our pitching is much better this year," Seddon said of a staff that includes five freshmen. "There's no question that we're building on something special here." Penn sophomore Matt Hepler started Saturday off on the right foot, allowing four hits in six innings in the Ivy opener. But four errors behind Hepler and eight Penn runners stranded on the basepaths enabled the Lions to pull out an unlikely 4-3 road victory. The turning point of this game came in the sixth. In the top half, a poor bouncing throw back to the infield allowed Lions senior Hawkeye Wayne to alertly take second base after he singled. Two batters later, Wayne scored the game's winning run on what otherwise might have been a harmless single. In the bottom of the inning, with the tying run on second and one out, Lions hurler Bill Brunner struck out two consecutive Quakers to end the threat. Although the first came on a questionable check-swing that got the crowd and bench irate -- and reminiscing about the brawl that occurred at the '98 games -- it was not enough to spur Penn to a comeback. "We were disappointed with the way we played in the first game on Saturday -- we basically threw that game away," said Quakers sophomore third baseman Jim Mullen, who countered two hits with two errors in the loss. "But in the second game we were able to put together some hits and have a big inning early." And Penn bounced back in Saturday's second game in a big way. Five runs in the bottom of the first gave the Quakers an early cushion on their way to a 6-2 victory. A home run by captain Glen Ambrosius, two hits apiece by Anthony Napolitano and Kevin McCabe and four stolen bases paved the way to the 'W'. Penn's Mike Mattern, who continues to impress in his freshman campaign, worked out of a first-inning jam to pick up his fourth win of '99. His five-hit, six-strikeout effort was the first of three Quakers' complete games on the weekend. Yesterday, Penn traveled away from the confines of pitcher-friendly Bower Field to Columbia's Coakley Field, trying to carry over the momentum from its win to end the first day. In the opener, the Quakers got what they needed on the mound again -- this time from junior Sean McDonald. The righthander worked his way out of his only tough inning of the day -- the fourth -- by striking out the side en route to his first win of '99. Powered by home runs from Jeff Gregorio, Ralph Vasami and Chris May, the Quakers put a five-spot on the scoreboard again -- this time in the third frame of the 7-4 win. Penn's 12 hits meant the Quakers left just six runners on and thankfully offset two more Quakers miscues on defense. In the nightcap, freshman Mark Lacarenza was strong -- the fourth straight Penn starter to give up a meager two earned runs in the series. Unfortunately, while Lacarenza was silencing the Lions, Penn was also stymied by Lions starter Ryan Kiernan and Brunner in relief -- falling 2-1 in extra innings. But the Quakers did not fall easily, putting together three of their five hits in the seventh and final inning to tie -- and almost take the lead. In the eighth, though, the Lions were able to knock home a run on what Seddon called a "seeing-eye" single, handing Lacarenza a fiercely contested 'W'. "This is a young team that has to learn to win two games in a day," Seddon said. "That's what I told them after the games today. But they played well and they played hard the entire weekend."

Baseball comes back to beat Lehigh

(03/24/99 10:00am)

The Penn baseball team used a five-run seventh inning explosion to turn a 3-2 deficit into its second straight win. Good things come to those who wait. So it was for the Penn baseball team yesterday at Bower Field. After suffering through six strong innings by Lehigh's starting pitcher, good things finally came when the Quakers found their way into the visitor's bullpen. Powered by eight runs in its final two at-bats, Penn pulled out its second 'W' in a row -- a come-from behind 10-6 win. "We were down one run at that point and we kind of sensed that the end was coming near," Penn senior Russ Farscht said of his team's 3-2 deficit heading into the seventh inning. "So it was good to score [several runs] and get some clutch hits with two outs. "We have a really good hitting squad, and our pitching is improving, so we're really coming together here." Yesterday's game started off on the right foot for the Quakers -- and for sophomore Jim Mullen in particular. The third baseman started a 5-4-3 double play to keep Lehigh (3-12) scoreless in the top of the first, then planted the second pitch he saw over the left field wall to lead off the bottom of the inning. The 340-foot blast, Mullen's second on the year, gave the Quakers (3-8) a quick 1-0 lead. "In California, we got behind early, so we wanted a good quick opening -- and we were able to get ahead of Lehigh [like we wanted] today," Mullen said. "In the last two games, we've really started to put some hits together and get the runners in." After Mullen's home run, however, the Quakers were unable to put hits together and tally another score for what seemed like an eternity. The first five innings saw the Quakers get plenty of chances, but the home team stranded seven men and struggled to get the hit needed to drive in the second run. Lehigh starter Dave Cerminaro, meanwhile, was in the midst of a solid outing on the mound. He gave up nine of Penn's 15 total hits on the day but worked his way out of one-out jams in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. "We were on the ball and we knew it was just a matter of time before it started going our way," Quakers senior captain Glen Ambrosius said. "We weren't letting what happened at the plate affect the other aspects of our game -- our pitching really kept us in it." On the other side of the field, Penn starter Matt Hepler matched him, throwing three strong innings and allowing only one run while striking out three. Sophomore Brian Burket relieved Hepler and also pitched well, striking out five in three innings. However, the first of the three walks Burket allowed came back to haunt him on a Lehigh dinger over the left field fence. The visitors caught a break when an outfield collision allowed a Mountain Hawks run to score on a shallow sacrifice fly in the third. Then, the two-out, two-run home run off Burket by Lehigh leftfielder Jared Gordon gave the visitors a 3-1 lead in the fourth. The score stayed this way for several frames and it appeared Penn might be limited to a quiet day at the plate. But looks proved to be deceiving as the Quakers would score nine runs in the final three innings. Farscht took the first pitch from Cerminaro in the sixth and hit a bullet down the right field line for his first home run of the season. "It was nice to get that first one -- it is always the toughest of the year," Farscht said. The first baseman should know -- he hit six in '98, including one against Lehigh. Overall Farscht had a stellar day, reaching base five times and recording four hits, three runs and two RBIs. "Russ looked confident at the plate today," Penn assistant coach Bill Wagner said. "His home run left the park before the [crosswind] could do anything about it. He had a couple of clutch hits -- including one with two outs." This particular clutch hit was one of many for the Quakers during their game-breaking seventh inning. Lehigh had removed Cerminaro before this frame, and Penn wasted no time jumping on the Lehigh bullpen. In an inning that seemed to stretch forever, the Quakers sent 10 men to the plate, five of whom came around to score. The Mountain Hawks shuffled through four relievers like a deck of cards, trying to find someone capable of slamming the door shut. "In retrospect, looking back, [Cerminaro] should have stayed in," Lehigh coach Sean Leary said. "He was pitching very well, but we took him out because we have our league games coming up this weekend. "And then we brought in the next two relievers, and they both had trouble finding the plate." Ambrosius, Ronald Rolph, Farscht, Anthony Napolitano and Mullen were all there to drive the ball into the outfield when Lehigh's hurlers could find the plate. The last four notched an assortment of big hits with two outs. Three other Quakers gladly accepted free passes from the suddenly erratic Lehigh staff and when all was said and done, Penn led 7-3. The next Quakers at-bat saw the team net three more runs that would prove necessary in the win. With two outs, an errant throw to first by Lehigh third baseman Anthony Piccola allowed Penn catcher Jeff Gregorio to score. Three batters later, Gordon -- his team's hero to that point with a double and a home run -- dropped a fly ball off the bat of Penn's Jeremy McDowell, allowing the Quakers' ninth and 10th runs to score. "We're averaging about three errors a game and we had three today which cost us about three or four unearned runs," Leary said. Three Quakers runs in the eighth proved fortuitous as freshman Mike Mattern nearly gave fans ulcers in closing out the final three innings. In spite of a three-run, three-walk and three-wild-pitch effort, Mattern battled back to strike out the side in the ninth to pick up his third win. Mattern was helped, no doubt, by the Quakers strong infield play. Ambrosius started a critical double play by catching a line drive and throwing to Napolitano at second base to double up the Lehigh runner. "We beat a team I thought we were better than," Penn coach Bob Seddon said. "And I think the same thing should happen the rest of this week, personally." The Quakers will find out soon enough, as the team travels to St. Joseph's for a 3 p.m. game this afternoon. The Hawks (9-9-1) and the Quakers played to a rare tie in last year's meeting, when the game was called due to darkness. With Penn likely to use two freshmen -- Mark Lacerenza and Will Clark -- on the mound on the road today, it will be up to the Quakers to prove they can hang with the Hawks and pick up their third straight win.

Baseball's back home

(03/23/99 10:00am)

The Penn baseball team plays its home opener this afternoon against Lehigh at Bower Field. After an unusual and unexpected four-day layoff, the Penn baseball team resumes play this afternoon with its home opener at 3 p.m. against Lehigh at Bower Field. The Quakers (2-8) had originally scheduled seven games between their return from a spring break tournament in Fresno, Calif., and this Saturday's Ivy opener. But Coppin State decided before the season that it could not conform with new NCAA bat size rules, so last Saturday's doubleheader was scratched. Then, Mother Nature threw the Quakers a curveball, as rain washed out another twinbill on Sunday at Mount St. Mary's. This leaves the Quakers with only two games -- today against Lehigh and tomorrow at St. Joseph's -- before their "real" season begins. This layoff has not allowed Penn to acclimate itself to outdoor play and presents a number of pesky problems for the team. "This just backs up the whole pitching staff," Quakers pitching coach Bill Wagner said. "We're going to have to pitch three kids on Tuesday and three kids on Wednesday and they're going to have to pitch on three days' rest this weekend." Quakers sophomore Matt Hepler will get the start today on the mound and freshman Mike Mattern and sophomore Brian Burket will also see several innings on the hill. This plan is designed to limit the number of innings that each pitcher throws today and tomorrow, allowing them to pitch again in their two Ivy doubleheaders this weekend. This is Hepler's third start. The sophomore is 0-1 with an 8.00 ERA that was inflated by tough California competition. The righthander has already picked off two baserunners in '99. While both Hepler and Burket have yet to pitch on the East Coast, Mattern looked strong in a six-inning relief stint in Thursday's 10-4 win at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. That outing saw a strong display at the plate, as the Quakers notched 13 hits -- six for extra bases -- and converted two-out opportunities early and often. Playing on a large home field that is 410 feet to dead center and is still damp from weekend rain, home runs and doubles into the gaps may be few and far between. Junior catcher Jeff Gregorio leads Penn with a .387 batting average. Seniors Russ Farscht and Glen Ambrosius are also leading by example, with 23 hits and 14 RBIs between the two. The Quakers have had their ups and downs at the plate, recording 10 hits on five separate occasions but also striking out almost 2 1/2 times more frequently than they walk. "We want to play every day so it's unfortunate that it rained this weekend," said Farscht, who hit a home run in last year's 10-6 win over Lehigh. "We haven't found our groove yet. But that's why [the Major Leagues] play 162 games a year. We really just need to get out there and see some pitching every day." The Mountain Hawks (3-11) started their season off on the right foot but have lost their last 10 in a row. Despite returning eight starters, the visitors have not been able to put it all together in their recent swoon. "Defense. And offense," said Mountain Hawks assistant coach Chris Querns, when asked what were the major factors in his team's slide. "We're still working out some kinks?EI expect that it'll be a tough game." If Lehigh's hitters have anything to say about it, this will be a "tough game." The Mountain Hawks are led by senior centerfielder Keith Treonze, a two-time first-team All-Patriot League selection. Treonze is hitting over .300 in '99 and he and senior second baseman Dan Spisak are Lehigh's offensive leaders. As of yesterday, Lehigh's coaching staff remained unsure of who would get the start on the hill. The Quakers staff, however, has a feeling that the visitors may throw junior righthander Chris Frey, who is probably Lehigh's top hurler. But Penn's primary focus remains on preparing for its upcoming Ivy slate. "We have two games Saturday at home and my feeling is that against Lehigh we have to get the pieces together for Columbia," Wagner said.

Big hits give Baseball 'W'

(03/19/99 10:00am)

BALTIMORE -- Maybe it was just the gusting wind that blew their fly balls a little further. Maybe it was just a little bit of luck left over from St. Patrick's Day. But it was probably just the plain determination of the Penn baseball team. Whatever forces were at work yesterday at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, the Quakers (2-8) came away happy, pulling out of a six-game tailspin with an impressive 10-4 beating of the Retrievers (4-6). "We did everything well today," Penn coach Bob Seddon said. "We fielded and we made the plays, we hit the ball real well, and we got ahead in the game -- which we hadn't done at all [before this game]." All nine Penn starters recorded a hit by the sixth inning and eight notched RBIs as well. But the most impressive offensive numbers posted by the Quakers were two and one -- the number of home runs the Quakers hit in the win, and the number of runs given up by freshman Mike Mattern in six innings of relief. The turning point in the game came in the third and fourth innings. Though the Quakers led 5-3 going into the bottom of the third, they'd seen the home team put a "3" on the scoreboard in the second to temporarily take a 3-2 lead. Penn needed a stop. Enter Mattern. "I wasn't expecting to come in that early in the game," Mattern said. "[Starter] Sean [McDonald] was supposed to go six or seven so I had to get ready pretty quick, and I did my best." The freshman's "best" promptly mowed down the Retrievers in order in the third, and Mattern was quickly on his way to his second win. The hurler allowed only one run while recording 10 ground ball outs. "Mattern picked up after the second inning and pitched very, very well," Seddon said. But would the Quakers remain content with their two-run lead? That question was answered when Quakers junior leftfielder Kevin McCabe stepped into the batters box to lead off the top of the fourth. All McCabe did was take an offering from Retrievers junior Tom Bloom and deposit it beyond the left field fence for his first collegiate home run. The blast, which chased the UMBC starter from the game, surprised his coach, his teammates and himself. "I owe him a dinner," Seddon said happily. "I said [to McCabe], 'If you ever hit a home run in four years, I'll gladly buy you a dinner.'" "It felt good," McCabe said. "[Seddon] gives me a lot of crap for that. It's not my game and I obviously don't go up their trying to hit home runs. "But it happened today." McCabe's first career home run couldn't have "happened" at a better time, opening the floodgates for the Quakers' second-straight three-run inning, and giving Mattern a five-run cushion to work with. "It's always nice to pitch with a lead, especially when the lead is more than two or three runs," Mattern said. "It lets you pitch your game. You're in control and you don't have to worry about making mistakes as much." Against a young Retrievers squad, Mattern performed like a veteran. "Seven out of our nine hitters are first-year Division I performers," Retrievers coach John Jancuska said. "And until the kids learn and adjust, they'll struggle a little bit? when they face decent college pitching. "They walked a few batters and allowed us to get a few things going? but it's hard for us to score a lot of runs when we have a lot of young kids." On the other side of the ball, the Quakers seemed just as comfortable at bat. Sophomore third basemen Jim Mullen added a two-run blast in the sixth. Four Quakers found the gap for doubles, led by senior shortstop Glen Ambrosius with two. And sophomore Ronald Rolph recorded a stolen base to go with his two hits. Despite striking out nine times, Penn was able to pull the ball, hit the other way and execute the hit-and-run seemingly at will. "You get a bunch of hits together like that and things go right for you, and you're going to have success," McCabe said. "We just had a couple innings where we rolled -- and we had a nice two-out rally." But the major difference between yesterday's win and last week's play in California was definitely the improved pitching and defense. Quakers hurlers McDonald, Mattern and John Dolan struck out 10, gave up only one two-out hit and didn't let the Retrievers hit fly balls up into the tricky wind. "I throw a lot of breaking balls for out pitches," Mattern said. "I try to get people out on their front foot and then get the guys to hit it on the ground." Penn also turned a bases-loaded double play to get out of a second-inning jam and fended off the Retrievers attempts to bunt all afternoon. "There's three things you've got to do in baseball -- hit, field and pitch.," Seddon said. "We pitched, we fielded and we hit. Can't lose. That's the bottom line -- that's why we won."

Baseball hopes to turn around ship at UMBC

(03/18/99 10:00am)

In its first contest of the season not played in California, the Penn baseball team travels to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County for the schools' first-ever meeting at 3 p.m. today. "This game will be very competitive," Penn coach Bob Seddon said. "[UMBC] has beaten a couple of good programs? and it's their home field." The Quakers (1-8) ran into a slew of strong teams last week at the Pepsi-Johnny Quick Classic in Fresno, Calif., and come into today's game on a six-game losing streak. "We know we have to play better," senior shortstop Glen Ambrosius said. "We were a little disappointed at the end of our trip, but at this point we just have to flush what happened away. Hopefully we can just get out there and make the plays." Ambrosius and junior catcher Jeff Gregorio have contributed 11 hits apiece, and both have homered this year. Ambrosius, who said he is "seeing the ball very well," also has eight RBIs. Averaging 10 hits per game, the Quakers have a viable offense. Seddon stressed, however, that Penn needs to be more consistent with its defense and pitching. Penn has committed 32 errors in nine games. But these miscues, mostly throwing errors, should be reduced as the squad sees more action outdoors. "When you're indoors, all the hops are true and there are no intangibles," junior leftfielder Jeremy McDowell said. "We just need to get back to fundamentals." Junior Sean McDonald will get the start on the mound for the Quakers. The righthander was 4-2 in '98 and leads the staff in strikeouts this year but has already absorbed three losses. No matter who is pitching, though, Penn needs to cut down on its one walk per inning average. Against UMBC (3-5), the Quakers staff will be tested by Retrievers senior catcher Steve Tomshack. First-team All-Southern Conference in '98, Tomshack brings back a bat that hit for a .407 average with 17 home runs. UMBC dropped its first five games but has now won its last three. The Retrievers' strong staff has yet to give up more than seven runs in a game. Today is the Retrievers third game in as many days, however, and the Quakers may be able to capitalize if they can force the UMBC hurlers to throw a lot of pitches. "We don't know a lot about them, so we'll just have to wait and see [if three games in three days helps or hurts them]," McDowell said. "We just need to prove we can win --Eit doesn't really matter who we beat right now."

M. Lax flies up the rankings with wins over top opponents

(03/16/99 10:00am)

While most of the campus was free of all worries and cares during its spring break, the Penn men's lacrosse team was hard at work, winning two of its three games to move up to No. 15 in the nation. "I'm relatively pleased with our performance," Quakers coach Marc Van Arsdale said. "We're playing welland we're capable of becoming very good. Overall we're not in bad shape." "Not in bad shape" would seem to be an understatement regarding the play of the Quakers (2-1). After a week which saw the team outshoot all three of its opponents and punish No. 16 North Carolina, 14-7, on the road, the Quakers are standing tall. This is a vast improvement for a squad that was 1-3 after spring break in '98. "We're a long way ahead of where we were last year," said junior attacker Pete Janney, the Quakers leading scorer. "We have good chemistry, and our attitude is a lot different -- we're concentrating on the next game and not looking too far ahead." Early on in the season-opener against Bucknell (2-1), the Quakers came out sluggish and seemed destined to repeat their 11-8 loss to the Bison in '98. After three quarters, the Quakers found themselves down 7-5. But the Quakers showed the 600-plus fans in attendance that they had little reason to worry, tallying 6 goals in the fourth quarter to pull out an 11-8 win. Led by four goals from Janney -- two in the final quarter -- and three more from sophomore attacker Todd Minerely, five Quakers found the net in the victory. "In the fourth quarter we started to gel a little bit more," senior midfielder Jeff Zuckerman said. "We extended our defense out more, caused some turnovers, and got the ball up the field quicker [for our shots]." Three days later, the Quakers didn't wait until the final period to start their barrage, outscoring No. 16 North Carolina 4-1 in the first quarter en route to a 14-7 win. Quakers freshman attacker Peter Scott opened the scoring one minute into the game and the visitors never looked back. "Going into Carolina, we had that hungry feeling," Zuckerman said. "And we were able to match up really well against them." Zuckerman notched three goals in this contest and Janney paced the Quakers attack with four for the second consecutive game, despite being marked by a returning All-American. Sophomore Jeff Sonke netted two goals for the Tar Heels (4-2) but Penn senior goaltender Matt Schroeder held the home team to just one goal in both the first and fourth quarters, recording 16 saves on the day. "[North Carolina] was clearly the best game that we played," Van Arsdale said. "It was an important win for both the program and the players." Saturday, the Quakers' quest to remain unbeaten looked very promising at the half against No. 11 Navy. Penn led 7-5 at the half but the Midshipmen were unphased -- the visitors erupted for four unanswered third-period goals on the way to a 12-8 win. Midshipman attacker Adam Borcz scored twice in the critical third period; his second goal gave Navy a 9-7 lead with only eight seconds remaining in the quarter. Behind 11 second-half saves by goalie Mickey Jarboe, Navy denied the Quakers an undefeated week. "The Navy goalie came up big in the second half and we didn't shoot the ball as well [as in the first half]," Zuckerman said. Despite the less-than-perfect ending to an impressive first week, the Quakers are content with where they stand. Eight Quakers have netted goals and the team has now gained experience against two Top 25 foes. "A lot of middies are stepping up -- people like Mark Kleinknecht, Bart Hacking and Alex Rouse are coming in and scoring goals," Janney said. "[Now] other teams can't key in on one or two of our attackers." This will be put to the test when the Quakers host St. Joseph's (1-1) tonight at 7 p.m. on Franklin Field. The Quakers beat their crosstown rivals last year 18-9. "St. Joseph's is looking to come in and pull off an upset, kind of like we were trying to do last week," Van Arsdale said.

M. Lax starts off its season with a few tough foes

(03/05/99 10:00am)

Two of the Penn men's lacrosse team's three opponents are ranked. The Penn men's lacrosse team is ready to play ball. Need proof? Ask anyone who knows that the Quakers are returning seven starters and are ranked No. 25 in the latest Face-Off poll. Or ask anyone that saw the team play even with No. 12 Hobart for three-quarters of their preseason scrimmage -- they'll tell you that the team definitely wants to get this season up and underway. While their classmates begin their break in the Jamaican sun, the Quakers (4-9, 1-5 Ivy League in '98) usher in their "free" week in the cold West Philadelphia air, starting their season at noon tomorrow on Franklin Field against Bucknell (6-8 in '98). "I think that this weekend we're going to be very ready to play," Quakers coach Marc Van Arsdale said. "Everybody is very excited that we have a large group of seniors for the first time in my tenure here and I feel like they have a certain resolve to put their best stuff out on the field. I'm sure they're looking forward to [Bucknell] with a lot of anticipation." The Quakers are led into battle by senior co-captains Matt Schroeder and Ziggy Majumdar. Both are three-year starters -- Majumdar as the team's top defenseman and Schroeder as the goalkeeper who finished 15th nationally in save percentage (.598) a year ago. "I think we've played pretty well in terms of the team defensive side of things," Van Arsdale said of the Quakers scrimmages with Towson and Hobart. "As a group, we're covering up for each other pretty well back there. I would expect our goaltending to be very good this year -- Matt Schroeder is practically a four-year starter in net." The Quakers 'D' will face a test right off of the bat as the Bison are led by second-team All-Patriot League selection Ed Joffe, who notched 20 goals and 12 assists last season. The Bison return eight starters from the team that defeated Penn 11-8 a year ago -- a loss the Red and Blue have not forgotten. "Last year's loss was a low point where we were a little tired from our road games and we kind of overlooked them," Schroeder said. "But it's not something that is going to happen again. Guys are definitely going to be a little more up for this than Bucknell games in the past." A key to keeping up with Joffe and the Bison tomorrow may lie in the Quakers' offensive half of the field. After losing all-time leading goal-scorer John Ward to graduation, the Red and Blue's scoring punch is now spread more evenly among several players. "I think the big difference this year is that we're able to move the ball a lot better," junior Pete Janney said. "It's more of a balanced, team offense than I've ever seen it here -- we're able to get everyone involved more." Janney, a second-team All-Ivy attacker last year and Ivy Rookie of the Year two seasons ago, brings back a hot stick that netted 29 goals and 16 assists in '98. Sophomore Todd Minerley packs a punch on the attack as well, tallying 21 goals and 23 assists in his freshman campaign. Senior Jeff Zuckerman, an honorable mention All-Ivy selection, added 22 scores from his midfield position last season. "Yes, [Janney, Zuckerman and Minerley] are the ones that need to be the lead characters for us," Van Arsdale said. "But it's also important for us to develop some other threats, so that they just don't get concentrated on. A couple of seniors, Bart Hacking and Mark Kleinknecht, are starting to assert themselves in the midfield, and they are two guys that we're going to count on for a lot." Three days after their home opener, the Quakers travel to Chapel Hill, N.C., to face the No. 9 Tar Heels on Tuesday. North Carolina (2-0 in '99, 7-7 in '98) has played well so far this year. Senior midfielder Brett Kohart notched three goals and three assists in UNC's 12-11 win over No. 17 Butler. The Quakers did not face North Carolina last season, but may have added incentive in this one as well -- the Tar Heels schedule refers to the Red and Blue as "Penn State." Following their short soiree in warmer climates, the Quakers return home for their third game of the break on Saturday, March 13 at 1 p.m., hosting No. 14 Navy. Much like with Bucknell, the Quakers dropped a close one to the Midshipmen (0-1 in '99, 7-6 in '98) a year ago, 12-11. This season's Quakers contingent, though, sees the distinct possibility of their being able to pull out these types of close matches. "It isn't really revenge, it's more about if we go out and play our game and do what we need to do," Janney said of the rematches of a year ago. "It's always great to open up at home? and to get a win at home [tomorrow] would be great to set the tone for the rest of the year."

M. Hoops is three wins from title

(02/26/99 10:00am)

The Penn men's basketball team looks to move two steps closer to an Ivy title with wins over Columbia and Cornell. The signs on Locust Walk yesterday said it all: "Three wins and we're in." Brushing off a non-conference loss to Villanova on Tuesday night, the Ivy-leading Penn men's basketball team (18-5, 10-1 Ivy League) once again turns its attention to league foes, trying to pick up the first of these 'W's against Columbia (10-14, 5-7) tonight at 7 p.m. at the Palestra. This weekend means a great deal to the Red and Blue -- it marks the last two home games of the 1998-99 season for the team and the first time in three years that the Quakers control their own postseason destiny at this point in the season. In addition, this will be the last home game for Quakers seniors Paul Romanczuk, Jed Ryan, Mike Sullivan and Brendan Cody. A special celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Quakers' '78-79 Final Four team will take place at halftime of tomorrow's Cornell game. "It's going to be a great weekend," tri-captain Romanczuk said. "It's my last two games at home so it's going to mean a lot. And it's also big because it's two big games for us. "We need two wins -- two solid wins -- going into the last game at Princeton. So it's a big weekend on a lot of different fronts." Although the Quakers defeated both Columbia, 67-51, and Cornell, 86-62, on the road earlier this year, the team still needs to focus itself on sweeping its sixth consecutive Ivy weekend and not getting caught looking ahead to Tuesday and beyond. "I think Penn and Princeton might be kind of looking beyond this weekend for next Tuesday's matchup," said Lions senior forward Justin Namolik, who is second on the team with 11.2 points per game. "So we're just going to go in there and work hard and try to make a game out of it -- for both of them." Both New York schools swept Ivy cellar-dwellers Yale and Brown last weekend and came in upbeat, healthy and without any pressure to win -- the dire opposite of the Quakers. The Penn front line took a huge hit when Geoff Owens fractured his jaw against Dartmouth, and although the 6'11" junior will play this weekend, his durability over consecutive nights remains a big question mark for the man whom his teammates affectionately call "Big." Seeing significant minutes again on the front line, as a result, will be Josh Sanger. Although the 6'8" sophomore forward brings three fewer inches and a smaller repertoire of offensive moves to the table than Owens, Sanger did net six points and four rebounds in 22 minutes at Ithaca four weeks ago. Combined with Romanczuk -- fresh off a double-double at 'Nova -- the Quakers will remain tough to beat inside. Against Columbia, though, the Quakers may run into trouble with another aspect of their game -- turnovers and the man-to-man press. "I think [Columbia] may press us because if you look at the Princeton tape and Tuesday night, we had a couple of problems with the press," Quakers point guard Michael Jordan said. "I just have to come back and get the ball because I feel I can go past my guy and then draw somebody else and pass it off. I can't let people take me out of the game." Lions senior Gary Raimondo, in addition to leading his team in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage, is also No. 1 in the league at 2.5 steals per game. Namolik and senior point guard Abe Yasser are also in the top six in the Ivies in this category, as the Lions average the most steals in the Ivies -- nine per game. This doesn't bode well for a Quakers squad which has turned the ball over 45 times in its last three outings. Tomorrow night -- the final home game and "Senior Night" at the Palestra -- the Quakers face a Cornell (11-13, 6-6) team that is entrenched in fourth place in the league. Critical to the Big Red's game is the interior combination of senior Jeffrion Aubry and junior Keirian Brown. Aubry, the Ivy leader in rejections with 62, and Brown, who scored 44 points in two games last weekend, are eager to improve upon their showing against the Quakers the first time around. That night saw the two Big Red big men combine for seven points and seven rebounds against nine fouls and five turnovers. Still, these two are the main reason the Big Red lead the Ivies at 34 rebounds per game and are one of only two Ivy teams to top the Quakers in the battle of the boards in '98-99. Cornell coach Scott Thompson, though, does not see his team's efforts on the glass to be much of an indication of strong play or possible victory. "The reason we have so many rebounds," Thompson said, "is because we've missed so many shots so far this year. We do have some guys that work hard for rebounds but [in the end] we're just going to have to make some baskets. We expect some tough games this weekend." The Big Red have a far more balanced attack than the Lions do, with sophomore small forward Ray Mercedes, freshman point guard Wallace Prather and Aubry all averaging between 10 and 14 points per contest. Fueled by the recent success of Keirian Brown, the Big Red have won five of their last six games. The Quakers, however, are easily as balanced as both of their New York opponents. Getting consistency out of this balanced offense, though, is another thing. Quakers junior shooting guard Matt Langel, who shot an astounding 13-for-20 in last weekend's sweep, shot only 1-for-10 against Villanova. Filling the hole, though, was senior Frank Brown, who came off the bench to net 14 points and 8 boards after not leaving the pine at Harvard. This weekend, from which Penn could emerge guaranteed a share of the Ivy crown, has the potential to bring the most excitement to campus since the goalposts came down. And just like the Ivy title, tickets are still up for grabs -- and the team would appreciate all the support it gets this weekend. "Big games. Big games. Must win," Jordan reiterated. "It's good to be back home, playing in front of the Palestra and the crazy fans -- it should be two great games."

Badminton wins another title

(02/24/99 10:00am)

Every college seems to have a team that year in and year out dominates its competition in the shadows, its members competing day in and day out without fan recognition or support. Here at Penn, that unknown team may just be the club badminton team. This past Sunday at the Northeast Collegiate Badminton Championship at nearby Swarthmore College, Penn's squad successfully defended its team title, winning the championship for the third consecutive year. "I'm very pleased by our results at regionals," Penn junior and team president Ahmad Zadli said. "We did real well and we're retaining the same team for next year." With 32 college teams coming from as far away as New England and Virginia, this is always one of the largest competitions in the country. Penn seemed to be at a disadvantage, entering the meet as a club team with no coach being forced to face varsity opponents. But the Penn contingent advanced to the finals of eight of the 10 different singles, doubles and mixed doubles brackets, winning three. "Our performance was excellent --Ewe showed strength in all areas," senior and former team president Alekh Dalal said. "The Northeast region has a lot of good teams, and for Penn to be one of the best ones in that region, means that we're at least very, very good, if not to say that we're one of the top teams." Dalal combined with sophomore Sanjeev Mohan to take the men's A doubles title. The senior also reached the finals in men's A singles as the No. 2 seed. Senior Olivia Koentjoro duplicated Dalal's two-class dominance, advancing to the finals of women's A singles as the No. 4 seed and combining with classmate Karen Yiu, a former Daily Pennsylvanian photo editor, to reach the women's B doubles finals. In addition, Penn's Alexandria Wu and Ricky Liswin also won their classes, while Adrian Chiu and Ting Fair Ng advanced to the finals of their event. As it showed on the court this past Sunday, the badminton team, like many club sports here at Penn, has a lot of talent and a lot of desire. And at the same time, like many club sports here at Penn, it is not afforded much money or space to work with. During the school year, there is only room for 12 players to practice when the team meets twice a week in Weightman Gym and due to travel and budgetary constraints, this year's squad only took part in one competition before this weekend. But the continued success of the Penn contingent comes as little surprise to its members. In fact, several are international students who have been playing badminton -- the most popular sport in their home countries -- since before they were 10 years old. "The thing is, in America, badminton is viewed as something that you play in your backyard," said Dalal, who competed on badminton circuits in his native Belgium before coming to Penn. "It's hard for me to think of the sport as something that people play in their backyard -- much the way that people here think [it is hard to think of] as being a competitive sport." Despite not playing to much, if any, student recognition, and despite not being a member of any official conference, the badminton team has a history of strong finishes. At the New England Collegiate Championships last April, Penn handily defeated host Harvard and 11 other schools to take the team championship. Impressed? Maybe you should be. A close-knit group, the badminton team epitomizes what a club sport is meant to be -- combining strong collegiate-level players with beginners, success with learning and, most importantly, those who love to play badminton with an outlet for their talent.

M. Hoops in control atop Ivy League

(02/22/99 10:00am)

The Quakers went on a shooting spree to which their foes had no answer. HANOVER, N.H. -- The Penn men's basketball team can shoot well. Really well. After two Ivy League road victories this past weekend saw the Quakers shoot 55 percent from the field, including 18-for-39 (46 percent) from three-point range, that much is without question. Friday night at Harvard, after a slow start and a turnover-plagued first half, the Quakers found themselves down six at the break. So what were the Quakers to do to remedy this situation? Nothing less than shoot 71 percent from the field in the second half -- including 13-for-15 from inside the three-point arc. "We wanted to come out tonight and show [Penn] that we are capable of competing with them [and] I think we did a good job in the first half," Crimson senior guard Tim Hill said. "But in the second half we just didn't shoot the ball well and they shot the ball incredibly." In the game's final 15 minutes, the Quakers scored on 18 of their 25 possessions, erasing an 11-point Crimson lead en route to an 81-76 victory. The most crucial Red and Blue basket during this stretch, like so many others this season, came from behind the arc. Down by one with only 90 seconds remaining on the game clock, Quakers junior guard Matt Langel got an open look from 24 feet out. Langel drained his 33rd trey of the season to put the Ivy leaders ahead to stay, 73-71. At Dartmouth less than 24 hours later, from the same spot on a different court, Langel got the ball with barely a second left before the half. Once again, the Quakers junior had an open look, and once again he drained a 24-footer, increasing the visitors' lead to 15 as they headed off the court. "Coming off of last weekend, when they didn't go down like they did this weekend, it was good to get some open looks," Langel said. "Feeding off of [Michael Jordan's] penetrations and getting some of those open shots and getting some good screens from our big guys was good. Fortunately they went down this weekend." On the road trip, Langel put in 6-of-11 from downtown and notched 33 points, looking as if he was comfortably in his zone. At times this season, however, this sort of perimeter success has almost been expected of Langel -- the nation's sixth-best three-point gunner a year ago -- and his sharpshooting Quakers teammates. And there is no question they can shoot. The Quakers lead the Ivies in three-point percentage at 40 percent, and currently check in at No. 10 in the nation in that category -- one spot ahead of No. 1 Duke. Five different Quakers made two or more three-pointers and three different Quakers shot at least 65 percent on the two-game trip. The rest of the league knows this and yet still can't seem to figure out a way to stop the Quakers' balanced scoring attack. The Quakers shooting has gotten to the point that Big Green coach Dave Faucher, for one, was not even surprised by the Red and Blue's 51 percent success rate from the field in his team's 82-49 "humbling" two nights ago. "How about this -- [Penn] shot their average," Faucher said. "In Ivy League games, they're shooting 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from three. And that's after 11 games. They shoot the ball well game in and game out. "They can all shoot. All of them -- Jordan, [Jed] Ryan and Langel -- drill it. So if you're late at all, you're in trouble." As one looks up and down the Quakers' lineup, it's clear that the team's shooting this year has been excellent -- both from behind the arc and in the paint. Quakers senior forward Paul Romanczuk leads the Ivies at 60 percent shooting from the field and junior center Geoff Owens is not far behind at a 58 percent clip of his own. So when this inside duo can combine for 49 points on only 29 shots as they did against Harvard and Dartmouth, their always dangerous teammates on the perimeter are given that extra little space to go to work outside. Against Dartmouth, the Quakers hit 11-of-24 three-pointers and were able to hit six of these long-range shots when it mattered most -- a 45-8 run that effectively sealed the victory. "We obviously made some [key] shots in that middle stretch of the game -- we just couldn't seem to miss any shots," Quakers coach Fran Dunphy said. "It's a wonderful sight to see when you're able to make shots like that."

Ivy roller coaster runs through Hanover

(02/18/99 10:00am)

As individual records fall, the Penn men's basketball team finds itself controlling its own Ivy League destiny. The last eight days have been a roller-coaster ride for the Penn men's basketball team. A loss to Princeton temporarily dropped the Quakers to second place in the Ivy League, but a Princeton loss in double overtime at Yale restored the Quakers to a tie with their Old Nassau rivals for the top spot in the standings. With only five Ivy games and Big 5 foe Villanova remaining on their schedule, the Quakers' destiny is squarely back in their own hands -- a position of power and self-determination unfamiliar to most currently on the Penn roster. Nonetheless, the team is not looking very far ahead. "All we can look at is the opportunity we have this weekend to play Harvard and Dartmouth and do the very best we can, and hopefully our destiny will remain right where it is -- right in our own hands," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. The Quakers' players, echoing this view, are clearly relieved by the most recent turn of events. "All year we've just been taking it one game at a time and it rings true now more than ever," junior center Geoff Owens said. "But it's definitely a good feeling to know that we don't have to rely on what other teams do [to find out where we stand]." · This weekend will once again see the Quakers facing a streaking Dartmouth squad. Last weekend, Dartmouth swept both Cornell and Columbia for the second time this season. At 8-2 in the Ancient Eight, the Big Green are one of only three teams still alive and competing for the league title. Although this is a far cry from the Big Green's seventh-place performance last year, it remains to be seen how the team holds up during the stretch since it has not won an Ivy crown since the Eisenhower administration. · Milestones have been falling faster than goalposts this season for the Quakers. Earlier this year, in Penn's win over Drexel at the Palestra, senior forward Paul Romanczuk became the 26th player in Red and Blue history to top the 1,000 point plateau. Then Saturday, in the first half of the win over Yale, Quakers junior guard Michael Jordan became the 27th. "It's a great honor and accomplishment," Jordan said. The tri-captain added that he was happy to have reached the milestone quicker at Penn than he had at Abington Friends High School -- when much anticipation had preceded the netting of his 1,000 point early in his senior year. Up next for Jordan? By tallying only two more assists, Jordan can reach 300 for his career -- and become only the sixth player in Penn history to reach this magic number. · Not to be outdone by his classmate and roommate, junior center Owens is on pace to set some records of his own this season. With five blocks in the two wins last weekend, Owens now has 43 for the year. This puts him in third place in the Quakers single-season record book, behind only Hassan Duncombe with 51 and Tim Krug with 48. With six games remaining, it's within the realm of possibilities for Owens to break Duncombe's 10-year-old mark. But the 6'11" junior continues to walk a delicate line between aggressively stopping the big men of the other Ivy squads and keeping himself out of foul trouble. "Foul trouble is definitely a concern for me," said Owens, who averages over three fouls a game. "But I don't try to block everything -- just what I know I can block." · Also entering the record books is Quakers senior forward Jed Ryan. The tri-captain hit seven three-pointers against Yale -- matching the third-highest single-game total in Quakers history. Just as importantly, the 23 points scored by Ryan against the Elis represent a career-high for the three-year starter. "In year's past, I've always had decent offensive games against Yale," Ryan said. "It was surprising to get that many shots, and that many shots that went in. "I'm not sure if it was bad defense or just the fact that sometimes your shot feels like the basket is an ocean -- and that's kind of how it felt the other night." · Individual records and single-game marks aside, though, every game from here on out is critical for Penn. "We're going to Harvard Friday night and do what we have to do at Harvard and then go up to Dartmouth," Ryan said. "Dartmouth is playing real well but we're ready for them. We're getting focused, and we're playing well right now. Heading into their final road trip of the season with their destiny back in their own hands, the Quakers are excited, prepared and determined to notch their fifth Ivy weekend sweep of the year.

Quakers feel agony of defeat

(02/10/99 10:00am)

"What the hell just happened here?" That was all Princeton senior guard Brian Earl could say to senior teammate Gabe Lewullis after the Tigers completed an improbable comeback from a 24-point halftime deficit to win 50-49 last night in front of a sold-out crowd at the Palestra. In a game that was surreal both in its on-court scoring and its in-the-stands excitement, the only word that can be used to describe the evening is "unbelievable." "We just succumbed to the pressure a little bit," a dejected Penn head coach Fran Dunphy said after the game. "I feel badly for our guys. In the second half we just didn't finish out what we had started." Horror, confusion, sadness, depression and outright shock was how the Quakers faithful left the storied Palestra. "This was the worst thing I've ever seen," said two Quakers fans as they sat in the stands in disbelief with their hands folded behind their heads. In contrast to Penn's obvious lack of post-game celebration, though, pregame hype around campus was immeasurable for the first of Penn's two basketball games of the year against archrival Princeton. Hours before tip-off, die-hard Quakers fans took to the usual task of adorning their bodies with red and blue "P"s. Some had even taken the entrepreneurial route, designing their own "Romanczuk 3:16" shirts and paperboard cut-out "Dunphy heads on a stick." "I'm pumped about this game," said sophomore class President Ray Valerio, sporting a colored scalp and chest. "The feeling that I have right now is ineffable. I love it, I love it to be here and I hope the crowd is into it." An hour before tipoff, tension already filled the air. The first Quakers' fans into the arena -- replete with flowing wigs and abundant energy -- made a grand entrance to the first row of Section 115, setting the mood for an evening that is played out every year. Spirits were still high as the game began --Ethe hometown fans had no clue of the heartbreak that awaited them. "There's nothing else in the basketball season [besides the Penn-Princeton game]," 1964 College graduate Rush Smith said. "It'll be a very close game. I think Penn should win, but it won't be easy." And Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, a Penn alumnus and ardent Penn basketball fan, also chipped in with his thoughts before the game. "It's more than just an ordinary basketball game," Rendell said. "[It's] two schools with great basketball traditions, who have respect for each other's programs, and also have a good healthy hatred for each other." Tigers fans, replete in Snapple-sponsored "Jadwin Jungle" T-shirts, took up their position in the Palestra, determined to do their best to help their team extend its 35-game Ivy winning streak. And on the other side of the arena, Quakers fans stood and screamed at the top of their lungs right from the opening tap. The fans exploded with each basket as the home team followed a Tiger three-pointer with an astounding 29 consecutive points. Holding the hated Tigers scoreless for over 13 minutes and opening a 26-point lead was what the campus had dreamed about all season. If ever the campus was unified behind the basketball team, it was when the Palestra crowd began chanting, "You have three points" in the midst of the Quakers' devastating first-half run, and then gave Princeton a standing ovation when the Tigers scored their fourth point on a free throw after their extended drought. For Princetonians with no foreknowledge of the amazing second half that their team would have, the first 20 minutes were too much to bear. "We're leaving -- this is kind of embarrassing," an unidentified Tigers junior said on the way out at halftime. "We definitely didn't expect it to be this kind of game." Paper airplanes could be seen fluttering down from the heights of the Palestra as Michael Jordan hit a three-pointer to put the Quakers up 40-13 with under 15 minutes left. All was well in West Philadelphia --Ehey, how can a team with just nine points in the first half expect a miraculous come-from-behind victory? "I love this game, this is the greatest game," College freshman Matt Gioffre said. "They're pulling closer, but they don't have time to come back. We're all hyped up, and we have a great defense, and we're going to play strong." But despite every effort by the home-town fans, the tide turned. The northeast corner of the stadium, which had previously been dormant, erupted as the Tigers suddenly poured in basket after basket as the game clock waned down. Quakers faithful that had screamed in joy now screamed in anger and fear, as a 27-point lead slipped to 15, then to 10 and finally to three with just over three minutes to play. With 2:14 left, Princeton leapfrogged ahead of the Quakers to take a 50-49 lead. And then it was over. The stunned Palestra crowd slumped into their seats as the Tigers, and not their beloved Quakers, stormed the court as the buzzer sounded. In shock, Penn fans looked quizzically at one another, swearing under their breath as they realized that the scoreboard actually did read Tigers 50, Quakers 49. But on the other side of the court, wonder and joyful amazement took hold, as Tigers fans too were shocked at the furious Princeton comeback. "I almost went home," said Richard Earl, uncle of Tigers senior co-captain Brian Earl. "But I never give up on Brian. We were screaming our bloody heads off up here. It was a terrific comeback -- I've never seen a comeback like it in college ball."

Penn versus Princeton: Round 1 at the Palestra

(02/09/99 10:00am)

The Penn men's basketball team hosts rival Princeton in a Palestra showdown of Ivy unbeatens. It's time. For the fans of the Penn men's basketball team, no other introduction to tonight's 7:30 p.m. matchup with Ivy League co-leader Princeton is needed. A quest that began two and a half months ago for the Quakers -- to win the Ivy League and reach the post-season for the first time in four years -- has finally reached its first critical juncture, P-Day: Princeton at Penn in the Palestra. "A major part of the season is tomorrow night," Quakers junior point guard Michael Jordan said. "We want to go to the tournament and we know that the road to the tournament goes through Princeton, because they're the defending champs, and we have to go out and beat them." The Tigers have taken the last five from the Quakers, including two in a row at the Palestra. But if the Quakers' season finale last year -- a 78-72 overtime loss to then No. 8 Princeton -- is any indication, tonight's game should be a long, close and especially loud fight to the death. "[The Penn fans] are right on top of you. That is what you play basketball for," Tigers senior guard Brian Earl said. "You can really tell if you are a basketball player if you can win in [the Palestra]." The Quakers (14-3, 6-0 Ivy League), undefeated in '99 and riding an 11 game winning streak, are determined not to let the Tigers come into their home court and steal a victory again. But the Tigers (15-4, 6-0) are on a 10 game roll of their own, they are also undefeated since the New Year, and they have not lost in 34 Ivy contests under coach Bill Carmody. "That's amazing," Penn junior guard Matt Langel said when informed of Carmody's perfect Ivy mark. "But hopefully there will be a loss for him as of tomorrow night." As always, this game has Ivy title implications -- the two 'P's have accounted for 27 of the Ivy League's last 29 NCAA appearances. The relative ease with which these two have run through the Ivies in '99 is staggering. The Tigers have upended their Ivy foes by 17.5 points per game; the Quakers by 19.0 per contest. "We've had an outstanding start to the season, no question about it," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "We want to finish up as strongly as we can, and Princeton is a team we need to beat -- there's no question about it. We need this game badly." The two squads meeting tonight at the Palestra bear little resemblance to the teams that faced off last March 3. The Tigers lost three All-Ivy starters to graduation; those slots are now filled by two freshman and a sophomore. Yet Princeton is still led by two All-Ivy selections in Earl and senior forward Gabe Lewullis. Each are three-year starters, averaging 15 points and 38 minutes per game. The Tigers have been bolstered by the strong play of their center, four-time Ivy Rookie of the Week Chris Young -- who averages 10.6 points and 1.8 blocks per game. In addition, Tigers reserve forward Mason Rocca exploded for 25 points Saturday against Harvard. Still, the hallmark of the Tigers' play is an almost painful slowed-down approach to the game -- allowing a measly 50.2 points a night that leads the nation. On the other side of the court, the Quakers have the highest scoring offense in the conference at 70.5 points per game, and lead the Ivies in three-point percentage at 38.3 percent. Impressively, in each of Penn's last five wins, every starter has scored at least eight points. Senior tri-captain Jed Ryan has been a catalyst during this period, hitting 15-of-30 three-pointers in those victories. "They're all experienced, they're a great shooting team, they defend well, and they're not greedy," Carmody said. "Both teams are playing well and are relatively healthy." But all is not well in West Philadelphia. Senior power forward Paul Romanczuk was injured coming down from a rebound late in the second half of the Harvard game and needed six stitches to close a gash over his left eye. While Romanczuk will start, his Horace Grant-like goggles may limit the range of his court vision. The Tigers are inexperienced inside, though, and two Tigers freshmen will be faced with the heavy responsibility of guarding the Quakers' Owens and Romanczuk -- who each shoot better than 56 percent. Tonight is the ultimate test for the top two basketball programs in the Ivies -- the winner remains undefeated and in the driver's seat to the NCAAs, while the loser is relegated to playing catch-up. "It's a big game, it'll be packed, it'll be loud, and to me it's really something to look forward to," Langel said.

Buth could be tough to stop Friday

(02/04/99 10:00am)

Dartmouth sophomore Greg Buth comes to the Palestra as the third leading scorer in the Ivy League. Greg who? When the Dartmouth men's basketball team invades the Palestra tomorrow evening, Penn fans will most likely focus their heckling on Big Green junior Shaun Gee -- a returning first-team All-Ivy selection -- and sophomore Ian McGinnis, the nation's leading rebounder. But both of these returning starters are likely to be usurped by a relative unknown -- shooting guard Greg Buth. After starting only six games last season, Buth was not expected to have much of an impact in November. In '97-'98, he averaged only 5.6 points -- hardly All-Ivy numbers. Flash forward three months. Already having earned Ivy Player of the Week honors once this season, Buth is averaging 17.1 points per game. The sophomore is in the top five in the Ivies in scoring, steals, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage and leads Ancient Eight guards in field-goal percentage. This is quite a leap for a 19-year-old who was off the court for half the summer while rehabbing the second operation on his left knee in under a year. "I see a major, major improved player from last year to this year," Big Green coach Dave Faucher said. "If there was two words that would describe [Buth], they'd probably be 'hard work.' He obviously paid attention to getting better in the off-season, and he's reaping the benefits, and so are we, right now." The Big Green, picked to finish in the lower half of the Ivies in most preseason polls, come into the Palestra in the unfamiliar position of first place -- due in no small part to the play of the all-time leading scorer at Minnesota's Edina High School. A sharpshooter by nature, Buth has taken the Ivies by storm over the past 2 1/2 months. The Big Green sophomore is shooting 46 percent from behind the arc -- 2 percent better than the Quakers' own gunner, junior Matt Langel. And most impressively, Buth is shooting 49 percent from the field -- a staggering number considering the bulk of his shots come from 20 feet away. "One of my strengths has always been shooting," Buth said. "And this year I've just been able to get a lot of open shots, and I've been able to knock 'em down." The Quakers, ever so quick to understand the quirks of their upcoming opponents, agree. "[Buth's] a guy that you cannot let get his feet set and catch and shoot," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "He's done a terrific job of responding to getting into the right spot and as soon as he catches the ball, the thing can be in the air -- and most times in the basket. He's somebody we have to pay attention to all the time." Earlier this year, some teams allowed the unproven Buth some space to work. But after seeing Buth drop 29 points on New Hampshire, 20 in Dartmouth's Ivy-opening win at Harvard, and 16 on 4-for-7 from behind the arc against North Carolina, it's unlikely that the Quakers will do the same. "It's fantastic, his improvement," Dunphy said. "All we're going to say [is] that we can't leave Greg Buth open." Facing both Penn and Princeton this weekend, it's up to Buth, then, to continue to prove that he can play with the best in the league. "I think Buth has done terrific in Ivy play," Faucher said. "But the [Penn] players are going to see his picture in The [Daily] Pennsylvanian and they're going to tack it up on the wall, and they're going to say, 'we've got to take him out.' So every game will be a challenge." Langel has been assigned the task of keeping the Big Green sophomore from running rampant tomorrow night. "He's a shooter, and he likes to shoot the ball coming off screens and coming off the dribble," Langel said. "Most of the film that I watched, he was coming off screens and they were looking to get him the ball more than he was creating his own shot. But he's able to get his own shot if need be." The inexperienced Big Green knew before the season that they would need one of the older players to strap the team on his back and point them in the right direction. And they found this in Buth. "Definitely without any seniors, you need some underclassmen to step in and take on some larger roles on the team -- whether it's in scoring or leadership or any other respects," Buth said. "And that's definitely what guys like me and Ian [McGinnis] and Shaun [Gee]? have to come in and do this year." So tomorrow night, the Big Green -- in the midst of a six-game Ivy run and a six-game overall winning streak to boot -- take on the Quakers as one of the more unlikely challengers for the Ivy crown. And to no small end, Dartmouth has Buth to thank for it.

Ivy stretch run begins on road for M. Hoops

(01/29/99 10:00am)

Penn plays its first of five straight Ivy weekends as it hits the road to face Cornell and Columbia. Now the real fun begins. Big Five and non-conference games aside, the Penn men's basketball team's real season begins this weekend as the Quakers travel across New York State to take on Cornell and Columbia in the first two of its 12 remaining Ivy League matchups. The last time the Quakers (10-3, 2-0 Ivy League) traveled to Ithaca, NY, they were dealt a wrenching 73-70 overtime loss by the Big Red (6-10, 1-3) on the final Ivy weekend of a year ago. That defeat saw the Quakers out-rebounded 48 to 25 by the Big Red and suffering eight blocks at the very active hands of the home team. "I think it's on everyone's mind, what happened last year," Quakers junior tri-captain Michael Jordan said. "I think we would have had a shot to go to the NIT if we'd have won that game, and we kind of blew it. And just the way that they celebrated after they beat us, with their band [storming] the court, it's on everybody's mind." Against Cornell, the Quakers seek to extend their current winning streak to eight -- which would be their longest in four years. But despite the fact that his team has taken two straight from the Quakers in Ithaca, Big Red coach Scott Thompson is not quick to call an end to the Quakers current streak. "We are so inconsistent it's hard to know which team is going to show up here," Thompson said. "And we know that whenever we play them, we've got our hands full." In tonight's key matchup, Big Red center Jeffrion Aubry clashes with Quakers junior center Geoff Owens under the hoop. The 6'11" Cornell senior leads the Ivies in blocks, having recorded 40 blocks -- 2.5 per game -- in '98-'99. But taking nothing for granted, Aubry expects the 6'11" Owens -- second in the Ivies in rejections with 27, or 2.1 per game -- to be a worthy adversary. "I remember Geoff from my sophomore year. He's a big guy who can move and block shots and he's long and athletic," Aubry said. "I haven't seen him play since then, but I've heard through people who have seen him play during the summer that he's worked a lot and he's gotten a lot better. Obviously it's going to be a tough matchup." Big Red sophomore forward Ray Mercedes, who averaged 17.5 points in the two meetings of a year ago, bolsters Cornell's inside attack with a team-high 13.1 points per game. The return of senior forward Frank Brown after two games out with a stomach virus should help counter Mercedes and bolster the Quakers scoring from the forward position. Following tonight's meeting with Cornell -- which will be televised live on DirecTV -- the Quakers head to the Big Apple to tame the Columbia Lions (7-9, 2-2). The Quakers have not lost to the Lions in their last 12 meetings, but against the league's third-best defense, strange things are bound to happen. Lions coach Armond Hill -- a four-year assistant to former Princeton coach Pete Carrill -- has modeled his team's slowed-down tempo after the Tigers -- allowing but 64 points per night. The Quakers are 1-3 this year when they don't reach that number. "Although the philosophy might be the same, its not necessarily the same -- we cannot run the Princeton offense because we don't have the Princeton players," Hill said. The Lions, not folding by any means, are led into battle by Second-Team All-Ivy selection Gary Raimondo. The senior guard leads the Ivies with 2.44 steals per game, and also leads the Lions with 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds. The 6'2" do-everything Raimondo, though, believes that having four starters back is more a key to success than his play alone. "With a senior point guard, and two senior forwards -- it's kind of like we know each other well enough where our options are unlimited," Raimondo said. For the Quakers, this is their first true road trip of '98-'99, and it is by no means an easy one. Two arenas half-a-state apart, combined with two styles of play -- Cornell tops in the Ivies in rebounding, Columbia tops in steals -- half-a-world apart, present an early Ivy test for the Penn team. "[Coach Dunphy] has actually put some of Columbia's sets in during the week and some of Cornell's sets in too, so we're working on both teams throughout the week," Romanczuk said. "They're both good teams, and we know we've got to look to play our best basketball here in the Ivy League." Over the next two nights, the Quakers need to fight off the sluggishness that back-to-back road games inherently brings, and play their best basketball if they are to extend their winning steak and plant themselves firmly atop the Ivy standings.

Streaking M. Hoops looks to Ivy play

(01/27/99 10:00am)

The Penn men's basketball team is concentrating on maintaining a consistent level of early second-half play. One-half of the way through its 26-game schedule, the Penn men's basketball team (10-3) is sitting pretty in the midst of its best start in four years. Undefeated in both Ivy League (2-0) and Big 5 (3-0) play, the Quakers have improved by five games over their standing at this juncture last season and are currently riding a seven-game win streak. "I would think that we were pretty successful," Quakers coach Fran Dunphy said when asked how he might have reacted in November had he been told of his team's forthcoming success in the '98-'99 season. "As I look back on it, I don't know that we've played our best yet, and I think that's the most encouraging thing," Dunphy added. "But to win some of the games we have, I'm pleased with that. We have, obviously, a long way to go, and hopefully we can continue to get some victories." Dunphy's players, seconding his views, are happy with what they've accomplished so far, while also agreeing that more work is in order for the second half of the year. "For the team, I think we're pretty happy, especially with the way we've been playing lately," junior center Geoff Owens said. "We had a couple of losses at the beginning of the year that we'd like to forget about, but the way we're playing now -- we've won seven in a row -- we're happy with that. And we're happy to get on a roll like this to go into the Ivies." · The Quakers, now in the midst of a seven-day layoff, remain undefeated since the beginning of the new year. The last time a Penn team won more than seven straight was four years ago, in the 1994-95 season, when the Quakers won eight in a row en route to an undefeated Ivy season. · One key aspect that the Quakers must focus on in their remaining 13 games -- 12 Ivy matchups and a Big 5 game at Villanova -- is maintaining a consistent high level of play early in the second half. "We haven't figured out how to put it away," Owens said. "[If we could] just keep the run going for a little bit longer, or just get a couple of more shots? it seems like we're maybe a steal and a layup away from [putting the game away]." At times during their recent winning streak -- as in the Brown and St. Joseph's games -- the Quakers have come out of the 15-minute intermission strong and increased their leads and put the game away. But in closer matchups against Yale and Drexel, Penn seemed flat and allowed a statistically weaker opponent to cut into the lead and get back into the game. "We work on every possession every day," Dunphy said. "The Yale game, we weren't playing a lot of games [back-to-back] then. And the Drexel game? I knew they were going to guard us pretty well and pretty hard. But you always work on those lapses during the course of the game and you don't want to have any mental lapses [that let the other team back in]." · With a basket late in the first half of the Drexel win last Thursday, Quakers senior forward Paul Romanczuk became just the 26th player in Penn history to surpass the 1,000 point plateau. Quakers junior guard Michael Jordan, with 918 points, looks to be the next Penn player in line to surpass that historic figure. · Of special interest for the Quakers this weekend is the play of senior Frank Brown. The forward, who had been averaging 6.1 points per game and was shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc through the first 11 games this season, missed the last two games with a stomach ailment. Now fully recuperated and ready to play, he will see action against Cornell and Columbia for the first time since his freshman campaign three years ago. · This weekend's swing through the state of New York represents the first time during the 1998-99 season that the Quakers play an official away game outside the state of Pennsylvania. The ECAC Holiday Festival in the neutral Madison Square Garden aside, the Quakers have played only three games outside the confines of the Palestra this season -- falling at Penn State in December and defeating Lafayette and 19th Street foe La Salle earlier this month. · If the drive of senior tri-captain Jed Ryan -- meticulously mopping the floor of the Weightman Hall gym before practice on Monday afternoon -- is any indication, the Quakers are fully ready to plunge into the heart of their upcoming Ivy schedule.

St. Joe's has no answer for Penn's guards

(01/19/99 10:00am)

Michael Jordan, Matt Langel and Lamar Plummer were the catalysts on both sides of the floor last night. Their position may be termed the "back"court, but after their performance in last night's 66-58 victory over St. Joseph's, it's obvious that the Quakers guards will not be taking a "back" seat to anyone. Junior starters Matt Langel and Michael Jordan and sophomore guard Lamar Plummer were the team's three leading scorers, combining to score 41 points from the two perimeter spots. Langel and Jordan were also the Quakers' two leading rebounders with 18 between them. Defensively, the Quakers backcourt held the Hawks' three guard rotation -- sophomore N'aim Crenshaw, freshman Larry Jennings and senior Tim Brown -- to just 7-for-21 shooting, or 33.3 percent. The Hawks guards -- who apparently could not continue playing defense for as long as their mascot could continue flapping his wing -- were limited to two rebounds, a whopping 16 fewer than their cross-city counterparts. Jordan and Langel exhibited their poise and experience by leading a patient offense that was content to make the extra pass instead of taking the first available shot. The Hawks, with Penn's guards harassing their two first-year players in the backcourt, often did exactly the opposite. Among the three key players in the Quakers backcourt, the big star of the night was once again the team's on-court leader, tri-captain Jordan. The point guard -- who averaged 16 points in Big 5 wins over Temple and La Salle -- netted 21 points last night, leading all scorers. Almost more importantly, though, Jordan recorded five steals on the night that led to nine Quakers points. His defensive pressure also contributed to the Hawks' 36 percent shooting on the night. "Michael Jordan can come out and create. He has a fearlessness about him," St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli said. "We thought that in the beginning of the game that he would be hyped and kind of jumping around, and then we threw the ball to him twice in the beginning of the game." On St. Joe's second trip down the court, Jordan stepped in front of a pass by Crenshaw and raced down the court for an easy layup. Five minutes later Jordan did it again, building the Quakers lead to six. But wish as the Hawks might for a reprieve after Jordan's three first-half steals, the All-Ivy guard was not done yet. And so Jordan, in the midst of a 21-8 Penn run to open the second half, brought down the house -- as well as Hawks coach Phil Martelli's hands upon his shoulders for a 20-second timeout -- with a steal and pull-up trey to put the Quakers up 46-36 with just over 11 minutes remaining. "Jordan's three really hurt our momentum," Hawks senior forward Robert Haskins said. "[Jordan] came out and hit the three, and they had confidence. We tried to fight back from that, but things didn't really work out well." Not to be outdone by his backcourt-mate, though, shooting guard Langel kept the Hawks busy in his own right --Erecording a game- and career-high 11 rebounds. "I don't think Dennis Rodman has to worry," Langel said. "But St. Joe's crashes the boards real hard, and that's something we talked about after getting outrebounded by Colgate. Somebody had to step up and get some loose balls and some extra rebounds, so I tried to do that tonight." On the offensive end Langel was no slouch either, going 4-of-6 on the night -- including a long three-pointer with just over two minutes remaining that extended the Quakers' lead to 60-52 and effectively broke the Hawks' back. "I think that some of the threes that I took earlier were a little rushed and were a little early in the offense," Langel said. "[But] that last three, I got a good screen, and I got a good look, and it went down." Coming off of the bench early on as part of a Quakers three-guard set, sophomore guard Lamar Plummer hit for the Quakers only two three-pointers of the first half. The second of these knotted the game at 28 and ended a Hawks rally heading into halftime. "We need all eight guys really contributing greatly, because somebody is not going to play well against a team like this," Quakers coach Fran Dunphy said. "And Lamar made some key jumpers." Jordan, Langel and Plummer --showing poise down the stretch unlike the erratic play of their Hawks counterparts -- accounted for 13 of the Quakers last 17 points and hit 8-of-9 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory. So despite 19 turnovers and the frontcourt's scoring struggles, the Quakers' three-guard rotation strapped the team on its back to pull out Penn's sixth straight victory.

M. Hoops to 'Explore' new arena

(01/14/99 10:00am)

The Penn men's basketball team visits La Salle at the renovated Tom Gola Arena. They may not have the name recognition of city rivals Temple, Villanova, or St. Joseph's, but when members of the La Salle men's basketball team welcome Big 5 foe Penn for tonight's 7 p.m. matchup, rest assured the Explorers will be ready and able to make a name for themselves against the streaking Quakers. "La Salle is playing real well at home, and we expect a really tough battle," Quakers assistant coach Gil Jackson said. "Anybody in the city series is always anxious to play -- you're playing for a lot of pride and a lot of respect." Penn (6-3) has not lost in three games since the New Year, and while the team is far from ready to party like it's 1999, the Quakers feel they are ready for any challenges the Explorers (6-7) toss their way. But with a perfect 5-0 mark at the newly refurbished Tom Gola Arena -- including the program's 1,100th all-time victory on Tuesday over Atlantic 10 foe Virginia Tech -- the Explorers beg to differ. "We're felling pretty well overall. [Tech] was a big win for us, going into a Big 5 game against Penn," La Salle freshman point guard Julian Blanks said. "You've just got to protect your home turf when you play at home, and that's what we're doing." The Quakers won last year's meeting 82-64 at the Palestra and have taken seven straight in the annual series. This historical predisposition towards the 'W' column does not distract either team -- as was apparent when the Quakers snapped a 16-year losing streak to Temple back in November -- because whenever two city teams meet, records are thrown out the window. One key to whether the Quakers can make it eight straight is how well they establish a balanced attack. In Saturday's win over Brown, Quakers tri-captains Paul Romanczuk and Michael Jordan, as well as juniors Matt Langel and Geoff Owens, all netted 14 or more points apiece. Needless to say, with this number of viable options on the court at the same time, Quakers' opponents are in for some trouble defensively. "Balanced scoring? will help me out a lot," Jordan said. "Whereas teams try to key on me and take me out of the offense, and guys like [tri-captain] Jed [Ryan], Paul and [junior guard] Matt [Langel] consistently score 15 a night, then who are you going to stop? What type of game plan are you going to come up with now? Hopefully the balanced scoring will keep going on, so teams won't know how to defend us." Although the home team features junior guard Donnie Carr -- who was sixth in the nation in scoring with 23.9 points per game two years ago -- the Explorers are far from one-dimensional. Against Virginia Tech, all five starters scored in double digits, and all five Explorers starters have reached the 20-point plateau at least once this year. "On any given night, somebody can step up and get 20 for us," said Blanks, who averages 7.6 points per game. "So we just try to keep everybody involved because we've got a lot of scorers on the team? and let whatever happens, happen." Still, the Explorers are a relatively young team with two freshmen -- Blanks and Rasual Butler -- in their starting five. Inexperience can be seen in their shot selection, as the two are combining to shoot only 35 percent from the floor. Against a Quakers team that has every starter averaging at least 41 percent, shot selection is not to be overlooked. Blanks has dished out 44 assists so far in '98-'99, but has turned the ball over 44 times as well. But the Erie, Pa., native -- who faced off against the Quakers' Ryan in high school -- is on fire of late, netting 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting from downtown against the Hokies. Inside, a power struggle will likely emerge between the Quakers 6'11" Owens and the Explorers 6'7", 254-pound senior center K'Zell Wesson. The two promise to match up well -- Owens, fresh off a 14-point, nine-rebound, four-block performance against Brown, and Wesson, who came within one rebound of his ninth double-double against Virginia Tech. But if Quakers power forward Romanczuk -- who went to the line 13 times and netted 18 in last year's meeting -- can continue his high-scoring inside play of late, the Quakers may have the edge in the interior. "K'Zell Wesson is a great player inside, and they've got some very good scorers and shooters from the outside," Romanczuk said. "I just have to play aggressive, and keep plugging away, and hopefully I get to the line like I did last year and like I have been doing in recent games." Previous meetings, on-court experience and history aside, the Quakers are content to continue to work hard every day in practice, trying to remain undefeated in 1999. "We feel good about the Brown game, but we're still a little ticked off about Yale," Jordan said. "We didn't do things that we needed to do, and we know that we need a lot of work, so we're just going to get back to work, and hopefully we can sweep the week."