One step backward, three steps forward.
After dropping its first Ivy contest of the 2014 season and splitting two games on Saturday, Penn baseball responded in emphatic fashion on Sunday, capturing another two wins against Lou Gehrig Division-rival Cornell.
Entering this weekend’s four-game series with the Big Red (15-14, 6-6 Ivy), the Quakers had won 14 of their past 16 contests, including their first eight games in Ivy play.
But facing Cornell’s star sophomore lefty Michael Byrne in the series opener, Penn’s momentum came to a grinding halt as the Big Red rolled to a 9-0 win.
The second-year southpaw limited the Red and Blue (19-12, 11-1) to five hits and notched eight strikeouts in six innings. Though the Quakers remained within striking distance for most of the game, junior pitcher Dan Gautieri was tagged for five runs in five and one-third innings.
But the Red and Blue rebounded in the second game on Saturday as rookie pitcher Jake Cousins stifled Cornell’s offense. After giving up a run in the first inning, Cousins settled down, holding the Big Red to five hits in five and two-thirds innings of work.
“Jake has been great for us this season,” coach John Yurkow said. “At that point [on Saturday], the series really could have gone either way. We had to have that game, and he came out with a great fastball, and he gave us a chance to win it.”
Penn’s bats gave Cousins plenty of support, as junior Jeff McGarry went 3-for-5 with a double and a run batted in. Sophomore second baseman Mike Vilardo had two hits, while sophomore shortstop Ryan Mincher and junior third baseman Mitch Montaldo each added two RBI to help the Quakers notch the 11-2 win.
“I was really proud of the way we bounced back,” Yurkow said. “In the first game, we were really sloppy, and we came back and responded [in the second game], and we were able to carry that momentum into [Sunday].”
With that momentum in tow, the Quakers wasted no time striking against the Big Red in Sunday’s first matchup. After junior pitcher Connor Cuff retired Cornell’s first three batters, senior outfielder Brandon Engelhardt led off with a triple and subsequently scored on sophomore catcher Austin Bossart’s RBI single.
“Brandon Engelhardt really got us going. First pitch he smokes a triple,” Yurkow said. “And we barreled up some balls early, and we could just feel the energy in the dugout. We got up on them, and we could just feel the momentum all day.”
Though the Red and Blue scored in each of the first three innings of Sunday’s early game, Cornell’s Brent Jones matched Cuff in a pitcher’s duel for five-plus innings. Jones held the Quakers to four hits, but four Big Red errors didn’t do the junior any favors.
Still, despite Cornell’s sloppiness, the Big Red had a chance to tie the game in the fifth inning.
With runners on first and second, JD Whetsel notched a base hit up the middle. As left fielder Jordan Winawer rounded third and attempted to score, Engelhardt gunned a throw from center to nail the runner at the plate, helping the Quakers preserve their one-run lead.
“To be honest, when that ball first got hit, I didn’t think [Brandon] was going to have a chance,” Yurkow said. “I didn’t think we’d get him, but Brandon came up and made a perfect throw, and that was a huge momentum shift.”
Cuff finished off the complete game two innings later, giving Penn a 4-2 win while picking up his fourth win of the season.
In the series finale, the Red and Blue wasted no time, picking up where they left off earlier in the afternoon. The Quakers rattled Cornell’s Paul Balestrieri early, scoring six runs in the first three innings on their way to a 9-2 victory.
Senior Rick Brebner went 3-for-4 with an RBI while Mincher and sophomore Matt Greskoff combined for six additional RBI.
Though junior Ronnie Glenn had runners on first and second base in each of the first four innings, he managed to escape unscathed, delivering six shutout innings while allowing only six hits.
With its first four-game weekend series out of the way, Penn now turns its attention to its final nonconference game of the season against University of the Sciences on Tuesday before heading to Princeton for four games next weekend.