Mastering Change-up After Seeing No Action in Debut Season, PHS Alum Delany Emerged as Key Reliever for Penn Baseball
PROVIDING RELIEF: Tommy Delany fires a pitch this spring in his sophomore season for the University of Pennsylvania baseball team. Former Princeton High standout Delany emerged as a key relief pitcher this spring for the Quakers as they went 34-16, rolling to the Ivy League title and upsets of Auburn and Samford in the NCAA regional before falling twice to Southern Mississippi to get knocked out of the double-elimination competition. Delany went 1-1 with two saves in 18 appearances, striking out 35 in 30 innings with 14 walks and a 5.10 ERA. He is currently pitching for the Pittsfield (Mass.) Suns in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) of New England. (Photo by Mike Nance, provided courtesy of Penn Athletics)
By Bill Alden
Mastering his change-up pitch helped Tommy Delany change his fortunes this spring in his sophomore season for the University of Pennsylvania baseball team.
After not getting into one game as a freshman, Delany, a former Princeton High standout, emerged as a key performer out of the bullpen for the Quakers. They went 34-16, rolling to the Ivy League title and upsets of Auburn and Samford in the NCAA regional before falling twice to Southern Mississippi to get knocked out of the double-elimination competition.
“I found out that my changeup was my best pitch; this year I probably threw it 75 percent of the time,” said the 6’0, 160-pound Delany, who went 1-1 with two saves in 18 appearances, striking out 35 in 30 innings with 14 walks and a 5.10 ERA. “It was crazy — my coach liked it too, obviously. Basically I worked on my changeup as much as I could. This year, the game plan was just get ahead with the changeup and then throw fastballs and sliders whenever I needed to.”
Delany put in a lot of work over the years to earn a chance to pitch for the Quakers.
“I have always been into baseball, I knew from a young age that I would want to play as long as I could,” said Delany. “My parents were really helpful in keeping me on track, making sure that I could play baseball at the best school I could go to. That was really helpful with the Ivy League process. I considered pretty much all of the high academic schools where I could play baseball.”
Initially, Delany wasn’t sure he would get a shot at Penn, believing that he wasn’t big enough to fit in with a physically imposing squad after seeing them play Villanova as a PHS freshman. But some big mound efforts from Delany drew the interest of the Quaker program and he committed at the end of his sophomore year.
“I got really lucky that I had Penn come in and offer,” said Delany. “I had a really good showcase and they called me and everything worked out. I visited the school, I loved the campus. I loved being in Philly, it is an awesome place to be.”
Delany acknowledges that he didn’t love how things went his freshman year as he never saw the mound in game action.
“My freshman year was kind of rough, it is such a big adjustment going from high school to college,” said Delany. “In high school, you are the guy. You come to accept that you will go out there and you will do well every single time and you are extremely confident in yourself. Then you go to college and you have 20 other pitchers who were better than you and you have to pitch against these hitters who have been facing college pitching. It is a really big adjustment. I didn’t play at all. I sat, and watched and learned.”
That patience paid off as Delany realized that the changeup could be his go-to pitch and the ticket to success at the college level.
“I had to find what I was good at,” said Delany. “I had to maximize my potential in the areas that I was really good at and then focus on the other thing afterwards just so I could find the spot in the bullpen rotation that I had this year.”
Pitching for the Trenton Generals of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League (ACBL) last summer helped Delany develop his potential.
“They were good enough to give me a starting rotation spot,” said Delany. “I got like 30 innings last summer, which was really helpful for me. Going into college, you don’t face any college batting. That summer, you face all of those guys who have been hitting all year, facing college kids and competing. It is really helpful to face those guys as much as you possibly can.”
With that experience under his belt, Delany was primed for his Penn debut when he took the mound at Nicholls State on March 7.
“Going out there and finally reaching that goal of throwing for the first time in college was incredible,” said Delany, who came out of the bullpen to pitch 1.2 innings, striking out one and giving up one run on three hits. “I felt the nerves. I was pretty much shaking on the mound but it went well for my first outing and I was really happy. All of my friends were supporting me; the coaches were really happy for me, so it was awesome.”
A week later, Delany experienced a breakthrough when he earned the first win of his career as Penn defeated Villanova 15-5.
“The main thing I remember about that game was striking out four guys in an inning — I had never done it my entire life,” said Delany, who held Villanova hitless in 1.2 innings with five strikeouts. “I think the game against Villanova was really the turning point for me at Penn. I had done well there and I did pretty well against Nicholls State. After that game, coach was saying ‘be ready for the weekend.’ Playing on the weekend is the key in the Ivy League because you are playing against the conference teams and it is a much bigger game scenario. You need to win every game that you can — the weekend is the big deal. It was just awesome to hear my coach say ‘be ready for the weekend’ because I knew I finally got to the point where they trusted me.”
One of the highlight weekends for Delany this spring came when he had a Princeton homecoming on April 8. Delany went four innings in a 10-5 win over the Tigers, picking up a save as he struck out five and gave up two runs on three hits.
“It was awesome going against Princeton, it is my hometown team,” said Delany. “It was tough to do it. I was always rooting for Princeton, but you have to do what you’ve got to do when you are playing for Penn. It was also fun to play against Jason Ramirez (former PHS teammate), so I saw him. I could kind of show it off a little bit.”
Coming down the stretch, Penn showed off as it went 18-4 in its last 22 regular season games.
“You know that everyone behind you has that winning mentality where they are like, ‘Oh my God we are going to win this game no matter what,’” said Delany. “We know that we are better than the other team and we are going to show it. That helps you when you are playing against teams that you know are going to give you a good fight.”
The Quakers kept rolling as they hosted the Ivy postseason tournament. Penn was dominant in the double-elimination competition, topping Columbia 10-6, defeating Harvard 10-7, and then routing Princeton 16-3 to win the title.
v“I got in against Columbia; it was my third time throwing against them and I was just trying to go in there and throw strikes because we were up by a lot,” said Delany. “I was in that situation a few other times throughout the year and usually throwing strikes when you are up by a lot is the right thing to do. I was just trying to do that. Coming in against Princeton in the championship was incredible because last year I didn’t even have the possibility to throw at all. Being in the actual championship game was incredible. I was so happy and it felt really good.”
Penn was sent to the Auburn regional in the NCAA tournament and stunned host Auburn 6-3 in 11 innings to start the weekend. It was the first win for an Ivy team over an SEC foe in the NCAA tournament. The Quakers then edged Samford 5-4 to make the final round of the double-elimination competition. Southern Mississippi ended Penn’s magical run, topping the Quakers 11-2 and 11-7 to make the super regional.
Delany got into the first game against Southern Mississippi and took the loss, giving up two run in 1.1 innings.
“That was really, really cool because it was the regional championship,” said Delany. “Just being able to throw in those two championships was a dream come true, it really was. Southern Miss was a great lineup, I have to give them credit, they didn’t really have a hole. Throughout the games they showed that they could put together great at-bats no matter what the score was or what the situation was. I give them a lot of credit.”
In reflecting on how things came together for him this spring, Delany saw it as a matter of making the most of opportunity.
“I think experience leads to improvement; learning how to throw to different hitters and different parts of the lineup and in different situations is really crucial to the growth of a pitcher in general,” said Delany. “For me, the first few outings were not shaky, but I was just trying to get into my groove. Once I got into the groove, I knew exactly what I needed to do when. It was really important for me to come into different situations and know what I had to do. It was really easy throwing strikes and being able to trust everybody behind me. It is just really easy to pitch when you know your defense is going to make every play behind you.”
Looking ahead, Delany believes he has found a good situation with his relief role.
“I love coming out of the bullpen, I really like coming in when it is a close game and you know you need to do well,” said Delany, who has pitched this summer for the Pittsfield Suns in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) of New England, making four appearances with one save and 1.58 ERA with five strikeouts in 5.2 innings.
“I like that pressure. I think going forward, I am going to stay in the same role. I am probably going to be a long relief kind of guy. I am going into this season preparing for that, but if anything changes, I am willing to adapt.”