Penn baseball had a wild first weekend of Ivy League play.
The Quakers split a doubleheader against Dartmouth on Sunday, winning 4-3 on Sunday before falling to the Big Green by the same score in the day’s second game. The Red and Blue (7-9, 3-1 Ivy) then walked off twice against Harvard to sweep Monday’s twin bill.
“Let’s put it this way: If I had hair, I’d be pulling it out,” the bald coach John Yurkow said while laughing about the weekend’s many nailbiters. One run decided each of the four games.
Penn’s ace, senior pitcher Connor Cuff, went the distance in the first game against Dartmouth (4-16, 2-2), pitching seven innings while giving up three runs and striking out six. It was not vintage Cuff, but it was enough to keep the Quakers close.
A home run by junior right fielder Jonah Campbell and RBIs by junior designated hitter Matt Greskoff and senior left fielder Connor Betbeze brought the game to the bottom of the seventh inning tied 3-3. After Campbell singled and later advanced to second base, junior center fielder Gary Tesch stepped to the plate.
“I was just trying to get myself in a good count to hit, get a good pitch to hit,” said Tesch of his strategy in the at-bat. “I was looking for a fastball.”
Tesch singled, and an awkward bounce caught the Dartmouth right fielder by surprise as he fumbled the ball, allowing Campbell to score to give Penn the walk-off victory.
“[The pitcher] gave me a good pitch to hit, I put it in play, and it had a fortunate bounce,” Tesch said.
The second game would not bounce Penn’s way, however. After RBIs by senior catcher Austin Bossart and senior first baseman Matt McKinnon staked Penn out to a 2-0 lead, the bullpen squandered a scoreless seven innings by sophomore pitcher Mike Reitcheck, as two relievers combined to give up four runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
Penn would get its momentum back, however, in their first game against the Crimson (10-12, 0-4) on Monday with a fantastic start by senior pitcher Ronnie Glenn. After giving up a run in the first inning, Glenn proceeded to reel off eight scoreless innings, striking out five along the way to save the bullpen in what would become an extra-inning game.
“That’s a little higher pitch count than my arm’s used to,” Glenn said, laughing. “But that’s what we condition for. I’ll work hard this week to get my body ready for next week, that’s for sure.”
Penn managed to squeeze across one run in the fourth inning off of a Bossart single, but that was all they could manage until the ninth in what shaped up to be a pitchers’ duel.
The game stretched into the ninth inning of what was originally intended to be a seven-inning game. Junior second baseman Ryan Mincher walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth, and after advancing to third base, Betbeze drove him in for the walk-off win.
That was just part of a banner weekend for Betbeze, who batted a torrid .615 (8-for-13) in this weekend’s action.
“I’ve been a lot more aggressive early in the count, trying to get fastballs when they’re attacking me with fastballs,” Betbeze, who entered this weekend hitless in 11 at-bats, said.
Betbeze began the weekend batting seventh, but he later moved all the way to the leadoff spot by the end of Monday. That’s a place where Yurkow would like to keep him.
“I’d really like to lead Connor [Betbeze] off,” Yurkow said. “I’d like to move everybody else back in the lineup. I’d love to have him at the top of the order.”
The Quakers again took the field for their final game on Monday afternoon. Tied 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth, Bossart doubled to drive in Tesch, giving Penn a 3-2 lead.
However, an error by senior shortstop Mitch Montaldo in the top of the ninth would cost the Quakers, as that runner came around to score, tying the game to send it to the bottom of the ninth.
With McKinnon on third, Tesch stepped up to the plate with the chance to play the hero once again. He did not disappoint.
Tesch singled, driving McKinnon over to third base. And, like the previous day, Penn found a stroke of good luck when Harvard’s left fielder fumbled the ball, allowing McKinnon to score to give Penn the win.
“You know, [pressure situations] just don’t really bother me too much,” Tesch said. “It’s just another at-bat.”
Penn’s many close games were stressful for all who watched, including the team’s coaching staff.
“I was joking around with the guys, saying, ‘Guys, you know, you can win a game by more than five runs, so I don’t have to bite my fingernails off,’” Yurkow said.
However, he isn’t complaining about the results.
“This team’s starting to show some toughness late in games,” Yurkow said, “And really, if you’re going to be in championships, you’ve got to find a way to be in close games. You’ve got to find a way to win them.”
The Quakers certainly did that against two tough Ivy League opponents.
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