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PHILADELPHIA - The University of Pennsylvania baseball team (8-6) won four out of five games last week and look to keep up their solid play of late with a 3 p.m. meeting against the Villanova Wildcats on Wednesday at Meiklejohn Stadium. In two meetings between the squads in 2012, the Quakers nabbed a 6-3 win on the road before taking the opener of the Liberty Bell Classic at home one week later by a score of 11-4.
Last Time Out
Despite a virus that affected a large portion of the team, Penn took three of four from George Washington in a home-and-home series over the weekend. With weather changing the schedule and forcing the Quakers to open on the road on Saturday, the pitching staff buckled down with Connor Cuff and Jeff McGarry leading the charge. Cuff threw six complete innings in the seven-run contest, limiting GW to only one run in a 2-1 win. Ronnie Glenn came in and picked up the save. The Quakers' offense awoke in the second game and opened up a large lead in the middle innings, taking the pressure off McGarry, who went eight innings and held the Colonials in check in a 9-2 victory.
Back home at Meiklejohn Stadium on Sunday for the first time this season, Penn was sloppy in the first three innings of the opener, giving up six runs - only one of them earned - and falling behind 6-0. The Quakers made a game of it with four runs in the third and fourth innings but couldn't complete the comeback, falling 6-4 in the seven-inning contest. The offense bounced back in the second game, establishing a 4-0 lead on GW after four innings. From there, the defense picked up the slack, turning a pair of important double plays to keep the Colonials at bay. The second double play of the game came with the go-ahead run at the plate in the ninth inning, ending the threat and giving Penn a 6-4 win.
One of Penn's biggest advantages this season has come once runners have reached base. The Quakers are an amazing 30-34 in stolen bases, a conversion rate of over 88 percent. On the flip side, opponents have only stolen 12 bases in 23 attempts this season. In 13 starts behind the plate, catcher Austin Bossart has personally thrown out 11 runners while giving up just 10 steals.
Nearing the Century Mark
After senior Spencer Branigan hit the 100 career hits plateau on Penn's Spring Break trip in early March, junior Brandon Engelhardt looks poised to be the latest addition to the club. Engelhardt had five hits last week and now sits at 95 for his career with the Red and Blue. In Penn's latest contest, the speedy outfielder tied a career high with three hits - a single, double and triple - and knocked in three runs to help the Quakers down George Washington, 6-4. Hitting .356 for the year, Engelhardt ranks third on the team in that category while leading the team with 10 RBI.
On Lock Down
Pat Bet was the unlucky recipient of the loss in Sunday's 6-4 defeat to George Washington, largely due to three early Penn errors that helped the Colonials to score five of their six runs. Despite giving up seven hits in four innings of action, Bet is holding opposing hitters to a mere .184 batting average in his four appearances. That includes three no-hit innings at William & Mary, a perfect inning at Towson, and six shutout innings with just two hits at Duke.
The relative inexperience at some of the field positions was a question mark coming into this season, but if anything, Penn's defense has shown dramatic improvement in 2013. The Quakers have a team fielding percentage of .956 so far, a year ago at this time that number stood at .940. In addition, Penn has turned 18 double plays in 14 games, an average of 1.29 per contest that ranks sixth in the nation, a figure not far behind BYU, the national leader in the category at 1.47 per game.
The Wildcats enter Wednesday's game at 5-12, though four of those losses have come against ACC squads - North Carolina State and Florida State - ranked in the top 10 nationally. Senior second baseman Tyler Sciacca is the leader of an offense that has struggled in the first month of the season. Even with Sciacca's .354 average, Villanova is hitting only .228 as a team and strikes out nearly 10 times per game.
Matt Meurer has been the starter for the Wildcats in their last two mid-week contests. The junior has made seven appearances on the season and has a 1-4 record with an ERA of 6.11. With both teams likely to make use of their bullpens, look for Matt Longfield (0-1, 0.00 ERA in eight appearances) and Chris Haggarty (1-0, 0.69 ERA in eight appearances) to possibly play a role as the game moves along.