Penn baseball’s thrilling run isn’t over yet.
With the Gehrig Division title on the line, the Red and Blue split their four game series with Columbia to remain tied atop the standings and force a deciding one-game playoff next weekend.
After getting shut down 6-0 in the series opener, the Quakers (24-16, 15-5 Ivy) bounced back by taking the middle pair of games by scores of 12-4 and 3-2 before falling in the finale, 5-2.
“It’s a great series,” Penn coach John Yurkow said. “Nobody wants to give in, and that’s why we’re going to a game five.”
Game one was all Columbia (24-17, 15-5), as the Lions used a dominant pitching performance by senior lefty David Speer to grab their 15th straight victory.
The Lions were able to jump on Penn starter Connor Cuff and take advantage of several Penn miscues early to score five runs in the first three innings of the opener.
Columbia pushed a run across in each of the first two frames, then broke it open in the third with three runs to make the contest 5-0.
Speer, who went the distance with seven strikeouts for his second straight shutout, limited Penn to only three hits in the first six innings and helf the Quakers in check throughout.
A crucial game two pitted a pair of undefeated righties in Penn’s Jake Cousins and Columbia’s George Thanopoulos against each other on the mound.
Despite getting into tough situations early on, Cousins surrendered only one run in the first two innings.
In the bottom of the second, the Red and Blue found themselves with runners on second and third after a hit batter, a single and a balk.
Sophomore infielder Mike Vilardo then drove in junior first baseman Jeff McGarry to tie the game with his team leading 18th RBI in conference play before Matt McKinnon plated sophomore outfielder Matt Greskoff with a single.
But the Lions would charge right back.
An error from sophomore Ryan Mincher gave Columbia runners at first and second, which set the stage for a deep drive to right field by first baseman Nick Maguire.
The Penn miscues continued, as Matt Greskoff dropped the towering ball just short of the fence, allowing two Columbia runs to score.
The Lions threatened to take the lead on a single to right, but Greskoff bounced back by gunning down Maguire at the plate.
The Quakers quickly regained a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the third when Matt McKinnon drove in Vilardo with a RBI single.
But the big blow came from Greskoff, who more than redeemed his earlier miscue with a bases-clearing double that just made it over Jordan Serena’s head in centerfield.
Up 7-3, McKinnon kept the runs coming in the fourth with an RBI single that scored two and extended Penn’s lead to 9-3.
Freshman Mitchell Hammonds entered the game for Cousins in the fifth and gave up a run in his first inning of work before settling in and ultimately grabbing the win with five innings of relief.
The Penn bats refused to quiet down, however, as a bases-loaded double from McGarry in the bottom of the fifth gave the Red and Blue three more runs of insurance, effectively sealing the game.
“We came out with our backs up against the wall and responded really well,” Yurkow said of his team’s game two performance.
Game three proved to be the most dramatic contest of the series, with Penn holding off a seventh inning charge by the Lions to secure a 3-2 win and go ahead in the series two games to one.
The Red and Blue took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when third baseman Mitch Montaldo doubled off sophomore Kevin Roy to score Ryan Mincher.
With lefty Ronnie Glenn throwing another gem for the Quakers, Penn’s offense quieted down until the late innings.
In the sixth, Greskoff roped his second RBI double of the weekend to push the Penn lead to two and junior catcher Austin Bossart followed an inning later with a RBI single.
Looking for his first complete game of the season, Glenn gave up four singles and two runs before forcing a game-sealing groundout with the tying run on third base.
In the series’ final game, the Quakers’ bats fell quiet after giving Penn a 1-0 first-inning lead.
Penn junior pitcher Dan Gautieri gave up a run in the second and two more in the fourth before he was pulled and replaced by Cody Thompson, to whom he handed a 3-1 deficit.
Columbia responded quickly to the change, adding two more runs in the fifth to make the score 5-1.
The Red and Blue got a run back in the seventh on a grounder by Vilardo, but would score no more.
The two teams will now play a one-game playoff in the next week, with the starters presumably the same as Friday’s game one – Speer vs. Cuff. The game will be played at Penn’s Meiklejohn Stadium, but a date and time are to be determined.