Plymouth Meeting, Pa. - Head Coach John Cole spent the last few days stressing to his team the importance of getting off to a good start against a team like Villanova, a big squad with power hitters littered throughout the line-up. Instead, it was the Quakers who provided the offensive punch on Wednesday afternoon, taking some early shots from the Wildcats then firing back with three straight two-run innings on their way to a 6-3 triumph, the team's first win over Villanova since 2009. Connor Cuff picked up his first collegiate win and improves to 1-1, going the final four innings and striking out eight. Penn moves to 5-8 while Villanova falls to 13-9 on the year.
Villanova took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second as Tyler Sciacca hit a one-out single to center for the game's first hit. The Wildcat shortstop then stole second and moved to third on a failed pick-off attempt before scoring on a Brandon Carr base hit to right.
Brandon Engelhardt led off the top of the third inning with a triple that soared over the head of the right fielder. Needing some sort of ball hit to the outfield to score the speedy sophomore, Villanova starter JB Kole buckled down and retired Greg Zebrack and Ryan Deitrich on infield pop-ups before striking out Rick Brebner to end the threat, keeping the Quakers off the board.
After reliever Jeff Courter retired Penn in order in the top of the fourth, the Wildcats struck again in the bottom half of the inning as a single, catcher's interference and two walks allowed one Villanova run to score, extending the Wildcats out to a 2-0 lead.
The Penn offense began to find some traction in the fifth inning. Zebrack picked up the second Quaker hit of the game in the fifth inning with a two-out triple to right-center but Courter escaped by striking out Spencer Branigan. But working his third inning of relief in the sixth, the Villanova freshman wasn't quite so fortunate.
Deitrich started the sixth with yet another triple to move into scoring position with no outs. After Courter induced a foul out to third from Brebner, he walked DerekVigoa and watched both runners advance on a slow hopper from pinch-hitter James Mraz to Sciacca, who had no play but to go to first for the out. With the lead cut to 2-1 and Vigoa on second, Austin Bossart went with an outside pitch and dumped it into right field, scoring Vigoa who was moving on contact.
The Red and Blue kept the momentum going into the bottom half of the inning with Cuff entering to pitch. The freshman sat Villanova down in order and got the hot Quaker bats back up to the plate quickly. With one down in the seventh, Branigan poked a ball into left-center for a single. Though the Wildcats would get the second out with no advancement, Brebner then brought Branigan all the way around to score with a triple - Penn's fourth of the game - to put the Quakers on top for the first time at 3-2. After a pitching change, Vigoa laid down a near-perfect bunt towards third with the infield playing back, beating the throw to first and scoring Brebner to go up 4-2.
Cuff's most important inning of work was still to come. The Wildcats roared back in the bottom of the seventh, using two singles and a walk to load the bases with no one out. Pinch-hitter Adam Nelson connected on the first pitch of his at-bat with a fly ball to left field, scoring Matt Fleishman from third and cutting the Penn lead in half at 4-3. Cuff's second base on balls of the inning re-loaded the bases but the freshman took advantage of the bottom of the Villanova order, getting out of the inning with a liner to center followed by a game-changing strikeout on a 3-2 count, the third and final time in the game that Penn would escape a bases-loaded situation.
Granted somewhat of a reprieve, the Red and Blue took full advantage by scoring twice more in the eighth inning. Kyle Toomey took first on a walk, and then moved into scoring position by stealing second. After Engelhardt walked to put runners on first and second, Zebrack hit what at first glance appeared to be an inning-ending double play ball to the Sciacca at short, but the throw to first was into the dirt and unable to be picked up, bringing Toomey around to make it 5-3. Branigan would compound the error with a double to the gap in right-center, scoring Zebrack for a 6-3 lead. Cuff handled it from there, sitting down the final six Villanova batters of the game in order, with four of those coming on strikeouts.
Branigan and Vigoa each had two hits to pace the Quaker attack. Zebrack was 1-for-4 but reached base three times and had a successful stolen base on each trip, bringing his season total to seven.
Penn returns to Meiklejohn Stadium on Saturday with a doubleheader against the Lafayette Leopards beginning at 12 p.m. The Quakers will continue their weekend with a second doubleheader on Sunday, this time at Lafayette, before welcoming Villanova in on Tuesday to "The Meik" for the opening game of the Liberty Bell Classic.