PHILADELPHIA – The University of Pennsylvania baseball team has played very well through much of the non-conference season. Now the Quakers (13-7) will get a chance to see how that carries over into Ivy League play. Penn hosts two doubleheaders this weekend, meeting Dartmouth (12-1) in a heavyweight clash on Saturday at 12 p.m. The Red and Blue close out the weekend against Harvard on Sunday (3-15), also beginning at 12 p.m.
Last Time Out
Matching up with Lafayette for the fifth time in five days, Penn ended its season series with the Leopards on a winning note with an 8-1 win on Wednesday afternoon from Kamine Stadium in the quarterfinals of the Liberty Bell Classic. A pair of three-run innings – one in the second and one in the seventh – proved to be the difference. Cody Thomson shut down the Leopards, limiting them to a single run over seven innings to pick up his first win of the season. John Beasley worked two scoreless innings of relief to close things out. Ryan Deitrich was 4-for-4 at the dish, improving his Ivy League-leading batting average to .459 and on-base pct. to an astounding .556. Mike Vilardo continued to drive in Quakers at every opportunity, plating two with a double to right field in the second inning.
Liberty Bell Classic
After the win over Lafayette, the Quakers move into the semifinal round of the Liberty Bell Classic, just one victory away from a return trip to Citizens Bank Park. Penn hosts Villanova (6-16) in one semifinal on Tuesday, April 2 at Meiklejohn Stadium. That game will get underway at 3 p.m. On the other side of the bracket, Temple (9-11) and Delaware (15-8) moved on to the next round and will meet at the home of the Blue Hens that same afternoon.
Seniors and tri-captains Deitrich and Spencer Branigan are doing more than just providing leadership off the field; they’re leading the Penn charge on the field as well. Deitrich leads the Ivy League with a .459 batting average and he’s not simply a table-setter either. Of his 34 hits, 10 are for extra bases, helping him to a slugging pct of .689 that ranks behind only Nick Lombardi of Dartmouth in the Ancient Eight. With 13 walks on the year as well, the right fielder has an on-base pct. (OBP) of .556, nearly 70 points ahead of second place in the league.
Second place in that category just so happens to belong to Branigan. With a batting average of .397 and an OBP of .488, he is second to Deitrich in each category in the Ivies. Counting six doubles among his 27 hits this season, Branigan is eighth in the league in slugging pct. (.485) and is one of four Quakers to drive in at least 13 runs on the year.
Pulling Double Duty
One of the biggest reasons for Penn’s quick start this season has been the improved play of Mitch Montaldo. Though he played in 35 games and made 20 starts in the field as a freshman, he struggled through growing pains at times and ended the season with a .189 batting average. This year, that average has bumped up to .271 with increases in his power numbers and stolen bases in 18 starts on the left side of the infield. Just as impressively, Montaldo has become a staple of the bullpen, making seven appearances and placing just a tick behind Dan Gautieri for the best ERA on the team (1.74 to Gautieri’s 1.73). In 10.1 innings on the mound, he has allowed only nine hits and given up just two earned runs.
More Honors for Vilardo
It was announced on Tuesday (March 26) that Vilardo was both the Big 5 and Ivy League Player of the Week. In addition, he shared Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors with RHP Sean Poppen of Harvard. In five games played, Vilardo batted .524 with five doubles and a home run to drive in six runs. He drew four walks as well, helping him reach base at a .600 clip. Once on base, he wreaked all kinds of havoc on opposing defenses, stealing a pair of bases and scoring eight runs.
Offensive fireworks could be in the offing as the top two scoring offenses in the Ivy League meet. The Big Green have jumped out to a 12-1 start to their season riding an offensive attack that hits at an Ivy-best .321 average as a team, and puts over 7.5 runs per game on the board. Though Dartmouth and Penn run 1-2 in a number of offensive categories to begin the year, one area where they differ is on the basepaths. While the Quakers have stolen 43 bases in 49 attempts, the Big Green are only 5-9 on the season. Of those five, three have come from senior outfielder Ennis Coble. Nick Lombardi is second on the team with a .386 average, but provides much of the power in the middle of the order with six doubles and team-highs with three home runs and 18 runs batted in. Nick Ruppert ranks behind only Penn’s Deitrich and Branigan with a .395 batting average.
Dartmouth doesn’t do it with just offense. The Big Green pitching staff has put together an Ivy League-best 2.87 team ERA and has four regular starters with an ERA of less than 3.00. Cole Sulser has given up only two earned runs in 18.0 innings on the hill for a 1.00 ERA and a 2-0 record. Michael Johnson (3-0, 1.89 ERA) is tied for second in the league with 23 strikeouts and has put together a strike/walk ratio of nearly 8:1. Out of the bullpen, Thomas Olson has yet to allow a run across in 7.0 innings of relief across six appearances.
A 3-15 start to the season doesn’t tell the whole story for the Crimson. At various points in March, Harvard has spent time in Virginia, South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana. So while the record to start the year may be ugly, the Crimson are nothing if not battle-hardened as they get started in the Ancient Eight. Having started every game in the outfield, Brandon Kregel has been the most consistent presence in the Harvard batting order, hitting .301 with five doubles and a pair of triples this season. Picking up spot duty in 12 games, Mike Martin is batting .353 and has collected three doubles. The Crimson are yet another team that doesn’t appear to be much of a threat to run, converting only three of 11 stolen base attempts.
Just as with the offense, the Harvard pitching rotation has taken a beating in the non-conference season. Juniors Sam Dodge and Peter Kaplan have started four times each and have a combined 0-7 record to show for it, each with an ERA above 6.00. Sean Poppen could be a possibility for the Crimson. He earned co-Rookie of the Week along with Penn’s Vilardo last week after tossing a complete game three-hitter in a win over Houston Baptist to move to 1-1 on the year and lower his ERA to a solid 3.92.