Steele | Top of the lineup will be key for Penn baseball

· April 29, 2014, 8:52 pm   ·  Updated April 29, 2014, 10:54 pm

Riley Steele | DP

A staple batting leadoff for Penn baseball, senor outfielder Brandon Engelhardt will be key for the Quakers in their one-game playoff with Columbia on Saturday.


T here’s no question that Penn baseball and its counterparts from Columbia are the two most evenly matched squads in the Ivy League this year.

After all, through 18 conference games, both teams boast identical 14-4 records in Ancient Eight play. The Lions and Quakers split their four head-to-head matchups last weekend, and though Penn has one more nonconference win than Columbia, the trajectory of each team’s season mirrors the other.

At points throughout the 2014 campaign, both teams struggled mightily. Penn dropped its first six games of the season and nine of its first eleven before rebounding with 11 straight wins and an undefeated 8-0 start to Ivy play.

In the Empire State, the Lions kicked off this season with a mediocre 4-4 record through eight games before losing eight of their next nine. Yet, like the Red and Blue, Columbia bounced back down the stretch, and entered last weekend’s doubleheader on a 14-game winning streak.

The two squads’ similar paths and experiences from this season have illustrated one thing quite clearly: all roads led to Saturday’s one-game playoff at Meiklejohn Stadium, and this weekend’s contest should be a matchup for the ages.

With Connor Cuff likely to pitch for the Quakers and David Speer confirmed to take the hill for the reigning Ivy champions, Saturday’s game already resembles last weekend’s series opener significantly. And in the spirit of duplicating that win, the Lions will presumably employ a similar starting lineup to the one that teed off on Cuff for five runs in the first three innings on Friday.

With Sheer’s pure dominance and Columbia’s wins from last weekend in mind, if the Quakers hope to ride their magical season into the Ivy League Championship Series — and further into postseason play thereafter — they are going to need to count on the top half of their lineup to produce.

Everything starts for Penn with Brandon Engelhardt . In last weekend’s series opener, coach John Yurkow had the senior outfielder hitting ninth instead of his customary leadoff slot. It was the first time since March 12 against Cornell — another Penn shutout loss — that Engelhardt didn’t bat leadoff.

Between Engelhardt and junior catcher Austin Bossart who features a .391 on-base percentage, the highest mark on the team — Penn has two reliable hitters who can get on base for the heart of the squad’s lineup.

In the last three games of last weekend’s series, Engelhardt combined to go 5-for-13 with an RBI and three runs scored. Bossart also had a crucial RBI in Saturday’s first game, a win that clinched at least a share of the Gehrig Division title for the Quakers.

The middle of Penn’s lineup has been in good hands this season, as a variety of combinations of outfielders Rick Brebner and Matt Greskoff , as well as first baseman Jeff McGarry , have helped the Quakers score 212 runs this season, which is 32 more than Columbia. McGarry and Greskoff have notched .324 and .306 batting averages, respectively, to lead the team this season.

As Saturday’s matchup approaches, Penn shouldn’t be expecting Cuff to throw a shutout. The Lions lineup, led by Jordan Serena and Will Savage , is too good to be shut down entirely.

That being said, it’s impossible to expect Sheer to continue his mastery over the Quakers. Columbia may be the defending Ivy champions, but it’s time to give this Penn lineup some credit as well. There’s a reason the combined score from last weekend’s four-game set was 17-17.

Therefore, as the Red and Blue prep for the biggest game of their season, the goal should be clear: early success from the top of its lineup and Penn will be postseason bound.

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