Baseball Faces Showdown with Princeton This Weekend

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The University of Pennsylvania baseball team (19-11, 5-3 Ivy) jumps back into Ivy League play this weekend, hosting the Princeton Tigers (8-20, 5-3 Ivy) in a four-game series at Meiklejohn Stadium that will loom large for both teams in the bunched-up Gehrig Division race. Both sets of doubleheaders will get started at 12 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Sunday is Youth Day at “The Meik,” with the Phillie Phanatic making an appearance from 12-1 p.m., and free soda and hot dogs for all youth baseball players in attendance. Tickets will be passed out at the gate to all theLittle Leaguersin the stadium, with the chance to come down onto the field for in-between inning contests and compete for prizes.

If you can’t make it to the game, Saturday’s doubleheader will have live streaming video courtesy of the Penn Sports Network. Sunday’s games will once again be an audio broadcast.

Last Time Out
Penn was held in check for five innings by La Salle starter Matt Williams on Wednesday, but hit the Explorer bullpen hard, powering its way to a 5-3 win at Hank DeVincent Field. Ryan Deitrich’s two-run homer gave Penn a brief lead at 2-1 in the top of the sixth inning. After the Explorers tied the game in the bottom half, the Quakers tagged La Salle for two more runs in the top of the seventh, a rally kick-started by a lead-off triple from Austin Bossart. Bossart was back at it in the eighth inning, collecting his first career home run with an inside the park job that bounced away from the La Salle centerfielder in the deepest part of the field’s spacious dimensions and allowed him to score standing up. The Explorers loaded the bases with two down in the ninth, but Ronnie Glenn induced a game-ending popout to shortstop Ryan Mincher to nab his seventh save of the season.

Fully Stocked
One big reason for Penn’s turnaround this season has been the pitching depth and quality that the Quakers have been able to utilize throughout the season. Eight different pitchers – three starters and five out of the bullpen – have put together ERAs of less than 4.00 on the year. Dan Gautieri has been the ace of the Penn staff. He enters this weekend’s action at 5-0 and with an ERA of 1.38 that ranks second in the Ivy League. Not far behind him is John Beasley. In his senior season, Beasley has made 12 appearances out of the bullpen and put together a 1.45 ERA in 18.2 innings.

Risk vs. Reward
An important battle will be waged on the basepaths this weekend, with Penn and its 51 stolen bases this season going up against a side that doesn’t run as often as the Quakers, but have the highest success rate of steals within the Ivy League. Princeton has racked up 23 steals in 27 attempts on the year, giving them a stolen base on 85.2 percent of its opportunities. By comparison, Penn has converted at an 82.3 percent rate (51-of-62). It will be up to the Quaker pitching staff and Bossart to keep the Tigers close to the bag. The Johnny Bench Award Watch List nominee has thrown out 18 of 40 runners who have tried to steal on him this year.

Upwardly Mobile
Deitrich continues to climb in the national rankings, released Thursday by the NCAA. The Penn senior outfielder has now risen to fourth in the nation in batting average at .456, trailing only Clayton Brown of Campbell (.459), Michael Katz of William & Mary (.461) and Chad Prain of Georgia State (.474). The numbers only get more impressive in terms of on-base percentage. Deitrich now ranks second in Division I, reaching base at a .559 clip, two-hundredths of a point behind Virginia’s Mike Papi (.561).

In Pursuit of 20 Wins
In 134 years of Penn baseball, 24 teams have amassed at least 20 wins in a season (granted, 33 of those seasons didn’t even feature a 20-game schedule). The feat was last accomplished by the Quakers in 2010, a season in which the Red and Blue finished 21-20 and in second place in the Lou Gehrig Division. At 19-11 this season, the 2013 edition of the Penn Quakers are looking to become the next squad to etch their names onto that list. If the team can reach 20 wins this weekend, they would become the fastest team to 20 wins by calendar date since the 1989 team that won its 20th game of the season on April 12, part of a 20-4 start to the year by the team that set a school record with 29 wins.

About Princeton
The Tigers enter the weekend on the heels of a 9-7 victory over Monmouth to improve to 8-20 overall. Like many teams in the Ivy League, their record can be a bit misleading. Princeton didn’t have a home game this season until its conference opener against Yale, and has lost games to teams such as Maryland, Stetson and No. 1 North Carolina. The Tigers have a strong batting order, especially at the top where Alec Keller –a first-team All-Ivy selection a year ago – leads the team with a .344 average along with five doubles and three home runs. Following close behind him is Danny Hoy, who has put together a .323 average with seven doubles and a pair of homers. He’s also converted nine of 10 stolen base opportunities this season. Providing just a bit more punch to the Princeton attack is Mike Ford. A second-team All-Ivy pick a year ago, Ford is hitting at a .306 clip with seven doubles and three home runs, and has nearly twice the RBI of anyone else on the team with 25 this season.

Ford will see double duty on the mound, as he currently leads the team with a 3-0 record and an ERA of 1.12 in six starts this year. Though he’s been credited with two losses in 2013, Zak Hermans has put together another great season and comes in at 2-2 with a 1.78 ERA after being named last season’s Ivy League Pitcher of the Year. Kevin Link will also get a start for Princeton, with a fourth starter to be determined as the weekend progresses. Link enters the fray at 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA. If Penn can get past the starting rotation, things could be looking up for the Quakers. Cameron Mingo (0-3, 2.93 ERA) is the most reliable reliever for the Tigers, but he might be in line for a start. Behind him, no reliever on the team has an ERA of less than 6.00.