PHILADELPHIA - The Penn baseball team opens its 2012 campaign on Friday at the Bright House Invitational, hosted by Stetson University. A Friday night opener at 7 p.m. against the host Hatters, ranked just outside the Top 25 in many national polls and #1 in the College Baseball Daily Mid-Major Poll, begins a challenging three-day stretch for the Quakers. They complete the round-robin tournament facing Georgia State on Saturday at 1 p.m., and Southern Illinois on Sunday at 11 a.m.
The 2012 edition of the Quakers will rely on a combination of veteran leadership and an infusion of young talent after the graduation of many key performers. Around the diamond, five of the nine starting position players return, while three of the five starting pitchers return to the hill once again.
The Quakers are coming off a second place finish in the Ivy League's Gehrig Division behind the eventual Ancient Eight champion, Princeton. They capped the year at 19-21, which included a 10-10 mark in Ivy League play. Though the season ended sooner than hoped for, the Quakers still led the Ivies with five first-team All-Ivy selections, two of which - Greg Zebrack and Spencer Branigan - return to the Red and Blue this season.
Among the field positions, Branigan (.296 BA, .528 SLG, .378 OBP, 7 HR) and Zebrack (.336 BA, .596 SLG, .449 OBP, 7 HR, 9 SB) will lead a balanced attack of speed and power while senior Derek Vigoa (.306 BA, 24 RBI) and sophomores Brandon Engelhardt (.299 BA, 8 SB), Kyle Toomey and Rick Brebner (.985 fielding percentage in 263 chances) all will be major contributors. Freshmen Ronnie Glenn and Matt McKinnon, junior Ryan Deitrich and senior James Mraz (missed 2011 due to injury, made 23 starts in 2010) all will be in the mix for playing time as well.
After the graduation of MLB draft pick (29th Round, Philadelphia Phillies) and Ivy League Pitcher of the Year Paul Cusick, head coach John Cole will rely on another pro prospect to lead the rotation. Vince Voiro (4-5, 4.28 ERA, 61.0 IP, 57 SO, 24 W), a 47th round draft pick of the San Diego Padres, is Penn's ace and will combine with a pair of freshmen - Connor Cuff and Dan Gautieri - along with sophomore Matt Gotschall and junior John Beasley to compete for this year's Ivy League title.
Completing Penn's battery is freshman Austin Bossart who steps in to assume the catching responsibilities vacated by the graduation of last year's All-Ivy catcher, Will Davis. Also available behind the dish is Vigoa, who has filled a number of positional roles throughout his Quaker career, including stops at shortstop, second base and on the mound.
Penn returns all of its key contributors out of the bullpen from last year, including Cody Thomson (team leader in wins with 5), Alex Ott (tied with Thomson for the program appearances record by a freshman with 17), Mike Zuppe and Pat Brennan. In addition, Penn may use Glenn in a late-inning role.
Following the Action
Live stats from the Bright House Invitational will be available here, while Stetson will offer streaming video of Friday night's game between the Quakers and Hatters for a one-time fee of $7.95. The Georgia State and Southern Illinois games will not be streamed. Follow @pennbaseball for in-game tweets throughout the weekend and all season long.
Stetson has jumped out to a 7-1 start to its season and doesn't lack for offense, circling the bases at a 9.6 runs per game clip. The Hatters come into the weekend slugging at a .412 rate, led by Mitchel Brennan's .591 in the category, but are not afraid to take some pitches, drawing 50 walks on the season already. Kurt Schluter will be the man Penn takes its cuts against on Friday night. Schluter went 5.1 innings last Friday against the Central Michigan Chippewas, giving up seven hits and two earned runs while striking out six and walking three. Reliever Cameron Griffin picked up the win that night with 2.2 innings of scoreless work.
About Georgia State
Saturday's opponent, the Georgia State Panthers, stand at 5-4 after a 4-1 midweek loss to USC-Upstate. They will open the Bright House Invitational with a 1 p.m. game against Southern Illinois on Friday. The Panthers sport just a .257 batting average as a team, but have kept opponent's bats ice cold as well, allowing them to hit only .234. One player bucking the trend for Georgia State is outfielder Jonathan Kolowich, who has slugged .655 while starting all nine games, picking up five doubles and a round-tripper in the process. Justin Malone is slated to start on the hill Saturday. The senior right-hander has thus far pitched just two innings on the year, but was dominant in his appearances, giving up no hits while striking out four.
About Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois will come into the weekend at 4-4 after a 14-7 loss to Belmont on Wednesday evening. Though they snatched a win in an early-season shootout over North Florida by a score of 16-12, all three of the Salukis' other wins have come while giving up three runs or less. On the flip side, opponents have brought a combined 40 runs across in the four SIU losses. Junior 1B Chris Serritella has gotten off to a torrid start, hitting .438 with five doubles, a triple and two home runs while also showing a good eye, earning nine free passes. Nathan Dorris is the likely starter on Sunday for Southern Illinois. A 6-3 southpaw, Dorris has started 2-0 with a 3.65 ERA and a WHIP of 1.46 in 12.1 innings of work.
Following the Bright House Invitational, Penn moves on to Winter Haven to take part in the Russ Matt Tournament. The Quakers will play five games in six days, taking on fellow snowbirds in Bowling Green, Northeastern, Western Michigan, Fairfield and North Dakota State before coming home to Philadelphia for the home opener against Temple on March 14 at 3 p.m.