One more win and the Penn baseball team will find itself playing at Citizens Bank Park.
With an 11-4 victory over Villanova in the opening game of the Liberty Bell Classic on Tuesday, the Quakers now need a win over La Salle next week to advance to the championship game, which will be played at the home of the Phillies on April 17.
Tuesday also offered the Red and Blue (8-9) their final chance for a tune-up before Ivy play. Coach John Cole said he knew the game would be key to his team’s confidence heading into the weekend’s games against Brown and Yale.
“This was a big day for us, and the guys really came to play,” Cole said. “Our freshmen were great today, our pitchers were great. I was impressed by what they accomplished.”
Villanova (14-12), which Penn defeated, 6-3, last Wednesday, ranks in the top 20 nationally in team batting average (.314, No. 19 overall), hits (281, No. 7), doubles (55, No. 7) and triples (10, No. 20).
The first inning alone would have nearly won the game for the Quakers. Sophomore leftfielder Brandon Engelhardt and senior rightfielder James Mraz both singled to lead off the inning. After Spencer Branigan reached first on a fielder’s choice (Mraz was out at second), centerfielder Greg Zebrack homered to drive in three runs, the first three of his seven RBIs on the day.
“That first inning was key for us,” Cole said. “We do better when we score first, when the aggression is there from the beginning.”
The Quakers put up another crooked number in the second, scoring twice when Mraz walked to get on base, Branigan singled and Zebrack tripled to right to bring them both home.
“I think we get ourselves in trouble when we’re passive and assume the pitches will just come to us, but today we were aggressive and we went after pitches,” Zebrack said. “I think that’s why we hit so well.”
Penn held ’Nova scoreless until the fifth inning, when the Wildcats scored two runs on two hits and an error. The Quakers answered with three more runs of insurance in the bottom half, two of which were the result of a Zebrack double to center.
Although the Wildcats scored a run each in the sixth and seventh innings, they couldn’t catch up to Penn. The Quakers scored the final run of the game in the bottom of the eighth when Mraz hit a sacrifice fly to center field, knocking in designated hitter Ryan Deitrich.
In total, the Quakers had 13 hits to the Wildcats’ six, 11 runs to their four and only one error to ’Nova’s three.
“The real season starts this weekend when we start Ivy play,” Zebrack said.
“We needed this game to prove to ourselves that we have the talent and the aggression and the ability to win.”
“We’re ready to go,” Cole echoed. “We are playing with confidence and we are playing under control.
“We’re ready for Brown and Yale.”