By NICK TRICOME | Contributor
March 4 2015, 2:00 PM EDT.
Penn’s season was over, and Jeff McGarry was in shock.
The Quakers lost 4-0 to Columbia in a one-game playoff to decide the Ivy League Gehrig Division, ending a 2014 run that saw them finish with a 24-17, with a 15-5 Ivy League record.
The results were the team’s best in some time, but the hope was for a better ending.
“We don’t want to feel that way again,” McGarry said. “It was depressing my first two years here, just not even being in the race. But when you come that close and you don’t finish, and the seniors are balling their eyes out…”
It was a feeling the first baseman described as being “absolutely shocked,” and now a senior himself, he wants to do anything he can to avoid that feeling.
The team as a whole is using last year’s season-ending loss as motivation, and with a wealth of key players returning, the expectations are higher for 2015.
“Our goal is an Ivy League Championship, and last year we fell short,” second-year coach John Yurkow said. “I think it’s safe to say that every year from here on out, as long as I’m head coach that is going to be our main goal.”
McGarry hit a team-leading .316 last season, with a .382 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage. He started all 41 games for the Quakers after a summer assignment in California, and strong play at first in the fall transitioned him from a pitcher into a hitter for his junior campaign.
McGarry will be hitting in the three hole, Yurkow said, while playing a majority of the season at first.
Also returning to the lineup is senior catcher Austin Bossart (.297/.397/.430), who also will be slotted in the middle of the lineup, and is a player that makes thing easier on the defensive side.
“One of the best catch and throw guys I’ve ever had,” Yurkow said. “He’s the quarterback of the defense back there, so it’s nice not having to worry about the running game.”
Senior outfielders Paul Cotler (.286/.375/.571) and Connor Betbeze (.214/.362/.321) and senior infielder Matt McKinnon (.279/.338/.382) are also names that Yurkow said are probable to take on a larger role and see more at-bats in 2015.
The rotation, meanwhile, has been left intact. Left-hander Ronnie Glenn (5-2, 3.46 ERA) and right-hander Connor Cuff (5-3, 1.77 ERA) return as seniors to fill out the one and two spots, with sophomore right-hander Jake Cousins (4-0, 1.59 ERA) slotted as the third starter. Sophomore left-hander Mike Reitcheck will be the fourth starter during league play after earning five saves in the closing role last season.
“We’re just another year older,” Cuff, who pitched 66 innings in 10 starts last year, said. “A lot of guys who were big contributors last year just got another year under their belt and progressed. Our lineup should be really good. We have a very potent offense coming in this year, as well as four really good starters like Ronnie Glenn, Jay Cousins and Mike Reitcheck, who our all going to be big contributors as well as myself included, trying to hold down a strong pitching staff and a strong starting rotation.”
Penn’s 2014 campaign got off to a rocky start, with the team dropping nine of its first 11 games, but went on a tear the rest of the way, going on an 11-game win streak at one point from late March into early April.
“We were still trying to figure out some roles so we were kind of learning on the fly a little bit with our bullpen and a couple of positions,” Yurkow said.
“We just lost a bunch of one-run games,” Yurkow said. “You’re trying to change everything and guys are kind of looking around. We really didn’t know how to win early in the year.”
It took time last season, but with a majority of the team returning, the hope is that last year’s lessons won’t have to be re-learned.
“We were hanging in early, things were close and right there for us to win,” he added. “But we really didn’t know how to figure it out, whereas the year went on, we started to figure it out and that is why coming into this season guys are extremely excited, because we got everybody back and that’s a nice thing to have.”
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