yurkow

After a tough end in year one, coach John Yurkow can lead Penn past Columbia for an Ivy title in 2015

Photo: Courtesy of Penn Athletics

Exactly one year ago today, Penn baseball stood tied atop the Lou Gehrig Division heading into a four-game series against Columbia.

Some outside the program viewed the team’s success as unexpected, shocking even. In coach John Yurkow’s first year at the helm, Penn wasn’t supposed to make a run.

But to the members of the team, it was no surprise. Even throughout the up-and-down season, one that saw the Quakers open 0-6 before rebounding with an 11-game winning streak, the squad never questioned its ability to compete with the best.

However, after splitting the series with the Lions, the Quakers fell 4-0 in a one-game playoff. Cue heartbreak reminiscent of what Texas Rangers fans experienced in 2011 (clearly, I’m still not over it).

Flash forward to 2015 and the parallels are undeniable.

After sweeping Princeton last weekend, the Red and Blue again stand tied atop the Lou Gehrig Division heading into a four-game series against Columbia — a series that will in effect yield an Ivy League champion just as it did a year ago.

The series could and quite possibly will turn into a five-game series if the two teams split this weekend’s matchups as both the Lions and the Quakers try to secure the elusive third win necessary to clinch the division.

Although winning this series would by no means ensure the Quakers their first Ancient Eight crown in 20 years, Columbia remains the most formidable opponent en route to the title. The winner of the series will take on the champion from the much less competitive Red Rolfe Division for the conference title.

Despite the similar circumstances in 2014 and 2015, history is not destined to repeat itself. This year, the Quakers have an opportunity for redemption, and they need to take advantage of it.

In fact, this game might just be one of the most important games Penn baseball has played in recent memory — not only for the players, for coach John Yurkow and for reputation but also for pride.

From day one of the 2015 season, Yurkow has preached an attitude of confidence and excellence to his players, telling them to write their goal of being Ivy League champs in their rooms or somewhere they could see it every day.

This new culture has set the expectations high, and — after last year’s defeat — another loss at the hands of the Lions would be difficult for the team to overcome mentally in the coming years.

However, a few key things suggest that the Quakers won’t merely repeat last year’s performance.

For starters, last year, Columbia had perhaps the best player in the Ivy League — pitching phenom David Speer. The southpaw almost singlehandedly notched two key victories for the Lions against Penn, keeping the Quakers scoreless for 14 innings and striking out 16.

With Speer now in the Cleveland Indians minor league system, the Red and Blue certainly have a greater opportunity to capitalize offensively, and if the solid pitching rotation brings its best stuff to the mound, the Quakers will be in a good position to reverse their fortunes.

Last year, heading into the Columbia games, coach Yurkow said of the Lions, “They’re a good club. But we’ve got a good club too. The only thing that’s different is that we haven’t been there.”

This year, there is no excuse. Penn has been there. To be the best and to prove they belong at the top, the Quakers must beat the best when it counts ... or else risk being cast as the team that could never quite get it done.

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