Penn baseball had a dreadful start to its season, but the Red and Blue have finally gained some momentum, and not a moment too soon.
The visiting Quakers beat St. Joseph's 4-2 on Tuesday afternoon in the first round of the Liberty Bell Classic, giving them three consecutive victories after having lost eight of their first nine.
Penn (4-8) was led by solid pitching performances from senior Ronnie Glenn, who struck out eight while walking none in five innings of two-run, five-hit ball, and sophomore Jake Cousins, who earned his first win of the year with four scoreless innings in which he allowed just two hits and fanned two Hawks.
"They were both throwing really hard today, and they both had excellent command," Penn coach John Yurkow said of his two hurlers. "That's kind of what hurt us early in the year — Ronnie [in particular] was a little wild with his fastball command and walked some guys, but we didn't walk a guy today, and we struck 10 out."
St Joe's (7-11) jumped out to an early lead with a run against Glenn in the bottom of the first, but the Quakers quickly answered back in their next turn at-bat, tying the game on an RBI single off the bat of Ryan Mincher which plated Mitch Montaldo.
Glenn soon settled in, as did Hawks pitchers Justin Aungst and Joe Manion, keeping the scoreboard stagnant until the bottom of the fifth. But the hosts struck just after the game's midway point, as St Joe's freshman catcher Deon Stafford hit a solo shot over the wall in left-center to give his team a 2-1 edge.
Penn loaded the bases in the next inning but could not make good on the opportunity. After Cousins took the ball from Glenn and pitched a scoreless bottom of the sixth, the Red and Blue finally put up a crooked number in the top of the seventh.
Back-to-back doubles from Jeff McGarry and Matt McKinnon tied the game at two, taking Glenn off the hook and chasing St Joe's pitcher Tim McCarthy from the game. Lansing Veeder did not do better, walking pinch-hitter Connor Betbeze and surrendering a go-ahead single to Gary Tesch. Austin Bossart drove in Penn's third run of the inning with a sacrifice fly, putting the Quakers up 4-2 before Veeder finally stopped the bleeding and escaped the inning.
Now in a position to win the game, Cousins took advantage, retiring the side in order in each of the next two innings to keep Penn ahead 4-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Down to their final chance, the Hawks mustered a leadoff single off of Cousins and got the tying run aboard on a two-out error by the shortstop Montaldo. With the winning run at the plate, Cousins caught Nate Shank looking to end the ballgame and send the Quakers to the second round of the Classic.
With the early season now in the rearview mirror and Ivy League play set to kick off this weekend with doubleheaders at home against Harvard and Dartmouth, Yurkow is pleased — or perhaps relieved — to see his team on a more positive kind of streak after recently having snapped a seven-game skid.
"It's critical," Yurkow said of his team's newfound momentum. “Guys are feeling a bit better now, and we're starting to play with more confidence. It's been a big three games for us to pick up three wins like we did, so I'm hoping it rolls into this weekend."
But Tuesday's game was more than just a warm-up. After their first round win, the Quakers now await the winner of Lafayette/Villanova — Yurkow's squad will play the winner on April 7 with a chance to advance to the final of the Liberty Bell Classic and play at Citizens Bank Park.
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