By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There are few college baseball teams in the country right now as hot as the Penn Quakers.
Since a 2-9 start, the Quakers have done a complete 180, winning 17 of their last 20 games. They are 11-1 in the Ivy League, that’s good for a two-game lead over second place Columbia in the Ancient 8’s Gehrig Division.
“We’ve been playing very good team baseball as of late,” Penn head coach John Yurkow tells KYW Newsradio. “We’re just hoping that we can keep it going the rest of the way.”
Even when the sledding was rough early on, Yurkow, in his first season as Penn’s head coach, still had a good feeling about this group.
“I still felt confident that this team could put together a pretty good run because we are solid in all three areas of the game,” Yurkow says. “If you were going to ask me if we’d be 11-1 in the Ivy League, I would have probably said I’m not sure about that. So I’m going to take it at this point. We’ve played very well in league play. It’s kind of nice to see a nice team effort, we’re getting contributions from everybody up and down.”
The Quakers are hitting a healthy .281 as a squad, with three regulars, junior first baseman Jeff McGarry (.345), senior outfielder Rick Brebner (.317) and sophomore second baseman Michael Vilardo (.306) hitting over .300. Brebner paces the squad with seven home runs and 28 runs batted in.
On the mound, Penn sports a very good team ERA of 3.79, with a couple of pitchers putting together really exceptional seasons. Junior right-hander Connor Cuff is 4-1 in 7 starts with a 1.33 ERA. He has thrown four complete games, and in 47.1 innings, he has 34 strikeouts and just six walks. Jake Cousins also getting it done on the mound for Penn. The freshman right-hander is 4-0 in eight games (four starts) with a miniscule 1.09 ERA.
How it works in the Ivy League is the two teams that finish first in the two divisions (Gehrig and Rolfe) then play a series for the Ancient 8 title and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The Quakers have put themselves in great position with their play to this point, but Yurkow says there is still work to do.
“To keep it simple, I think we just need to keep playing solid baseball like we have been,” Yurkow says. “I hate to use the old cliche, but it really is one game at a time. We have eight league games left and if we continue to stay balanced, pitch well and play solid defense, get our timely hits, I like our chances moving forward.”
Penn plays its final non-league game of the season on Wednesday night as they host University of the Sciences. This weekend, Penn visits Princeton for back-to-back doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday.
Listen to the entire interview with Penn baseball coach John Yurkow in this CBS Philly podcast: