This Saturday, Penn baseball will have one final chance to knock off defending Ivy League Champion Columbia and return to the postseason for the first time since 2007.
After splitting their last series of the regular season with the Lions last weekend, the Quakers (24-16, 15-5 Ivy) will host the one-game playoff between the two squads because of a tiebreaker.
The clubs competed in both lopsided and tight contests when they did battle last weekend, as Friday’s doubleheader produced split scores of 6-0 and 12-4, while Saturday featured 3-2 and 5-2 ballgames.
But indicators point at a tight, low-scoring affair this weekend at Meiklejohn Stadium.
The playoff will feature Penn’s C onnor Cuff (5-2, 1.34 ERA) and Columbia’s David Speer (5-2, 2.29 ERA) on the hill, as two of the Ivy League’s most brilliant pitchers will face off for the second time in eight days.
The lefty Speer had the better outing in the Lions’ 6-0 victory in the series opener, giving up just five hits and striking out seven in a complete game win.
“[Speer’s] a great pitcher,” coach John Yurkow said. “He’s got two different breaking balls he can throw for strikes, so he can mix you up pretty good. You have to be very disciplined in the strike zone [against him].”
After setting the bar high with his remarkable command and consistency over the course of the season, Cuff’s performance against the Lions last weekend was one of his weakest, despite giving up just two earned runs.
“I’m expecting Connor to bounce back,” Yurkow said. “He’s pitched in a lot of big games and he’s a competitive kid.”
To the righty’s credit, Columbia (23-17, 15-5) likely wouldn’t have jumped out to an early 5-0 lead if not for several Penn fielding errors.
It’s those small things, as Yurkow has stressed often this year, that seasons can come down to when the teams competing are so evenly matched, as Penn and Columbia have displayed.
And while runs likely will be hard to come by on Saturday, the Gehrig Division foes will likely look to either small ball or a hot bat to produce offense.
For Columbia, the hot bat of late has been right fielder Gus Craig , who had nine hits and six RBI last weekend against the Quakers.
With his team leading .488 slugging percentage, Craig packs a punch at the bottom of the Lions’ order, and possesses power that can break games open.
“He was a real pain in the neck all weekend,” Yurkow said. “He put a lot of balls in play and found some holes. Hopefully we can keep him contained a bit better this weekend.”
On the Penn side, sophomore Matt Greskoff had a breakout weekend with a pair of huge RBI doubles — his first two of the season — and will look to extend that success on Saturday.
The Paoli, Pa. native, a lefty, did not face the southpaw Speer last Friday, but it’s likely that he will get some hacks this time around.
With those hot hitters in mind, it should be noted that once one of these teams takes a lead, they hold on to it. Neither Penn nor Columbia gave up a lead greater than one run this past weekend.
Still, regardless of who steps up in the batter’s box or which pitcher has the upper hand on Friday, only one thing matters: A win sends the victor to the Ivy League Championship Series, while a defeat sends the loser home.