After a surprisingly successful season, Penn baseball finally met its match Saturday against Columbia and David Speer.
The Quakers fell, 4-0, to defending Ivy League champion Columbia (25-15, 16-5 Ivy) at home on Saturday in a one-game playoff with an Ivy League Championship Series birth at stake.
It was a rather somber way to go out, as the Quakers’ (24-17, 15-6 Ivy) performance was utterly devoid of what characterized their surprise season.
There was no commanding performance from junior pitcher Connor Cuff and no offensive surges from their deep lineup – the Penn bats did not even have their usual livening walk-up music (to rile up their dugout and fans).
In a pitching dual which pitted aces Cuff and Speer against each other for the second time in a week, the Columbia lefty got the best of Cuff and the Red and Blue once again.
After giving up a single to the first batter he faced, Speer proved to be an imposing force on the mound, mixing pitches and locating masterfully to keep the Quakers’ potent offense off the board in his complete nine innings of work.
Speer’s sixth win of the season was his third straight shutout and featured nine strikeouts.
Cuff, on the other hand, was once again not his usual self on the mound.
The righty was by no means shelled by the Lions offense, but his characteristic command wasn’t all the way there, illustrated by his four hit batters.
Following a scoreless first two innings, Columbia stuck first, using some small ball to get on the board.
After designated hitter John Kinne singled and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, left fielder Robb Paller drove an RBI single up the middle, making the score 1-0 in favor of Columbia.
The Quakers offense would again go quietly in the third, in which Speer posted his fifth strikeout of the day.
And just as it looked like Cuff was settling in, the righty gave up a no-doubt home run driven well over the right field fence by Nick Maguire with two outs in the top of the fourth.
It was just the second deep ball Cuff had let up all season.
Cuff, again showing limited command, hit his third batter of the day before getting an inning-ending strikeout.
Desperate for runs, the Penn bats started to make some noise in the fourth. Lions leftfielder Rob Paller had other ideas, however.
After sophomore Matt Greskoff was hit by a pitch, sophomore second baseman Mike Vilardo roped a ball to deep right that was snagged by Paller – the second impressive play by a Columbia outfielder on the day.
Junior third baseman Mitch Montaldo then roped a Speer offering to the same vicinity, only this time the ball made it well over the head of Paller.
Running from first, Greskoff was waved home by coach John Yurkow, who was looking to be aggressive given the scarcity of available runs against Speer. Penn’s hopes to get on the board would be thwarted, however, as Paller came up throwing and delivered a strike to catcher Mike Fischer, good enough to retire Greskoff with ease.
Both offenses would go quietly in the fifth before Columbia threatened once again.
Cuff had gotten away with hitting three batters in the early going, but his lack of command caught up with him in the top of the sixth.
After hitting Mike Fischer with a pitch, Cuff gave up a double to Nick Maguire which put runners on second and third.
An uncharacteristic balk from Cuff followed by a single from Jordan Serena gave the Lions two more runs to make the score 4-0.
Lefty Ronnie Glenn, making his second relief appearance of the year, replaced Cuff on the mound with two out in the sixth.
Glenn hit the first batter he faced to continue the plunking trend and further anger the Columbia faithful, but a diving stab at first base by junior Jeff McGarry got Glenn out of the inning.
Glenn, who has been impressive of late, did his part to keep the Quakers in the game. The lefty pitched three and one-third innings of one-hit, no-run ball, but it simply wasn’t the Quakers’ day at the plate.
A Penn spark in the bottom of the ninth provided by a two-out Vilardo double failed to materialize, and the 4-0 score held as the final.
Although the Quakers fell short of their goal of an Ivy League championship, the upstart club proved they could compete with the best in the Ancient Eight this season, and should have another legitimate chance at the title next season.