Penn baseball knew it would be in for its greatest test of the season this weekend against an evenly matched opponent in Columbia.
The Quakers took the field on Saturday tied for first place in the Ivy League’s Lou Gehrig Division, hoping to clinch the title by winning at least three out of the four games. Instead, the Red and Blue split the series with the Lions — Penn won the first game of doubleheaders on both Saturday and Sunday, while Columbia took the nightcap each day.
“We always know it’s going to be a dogfight with us and Columbia, especially these past two years,” senior catcher Austin Bossart said. “We’re going in excited all the time.”
The series began at Columbia’s Satow Stadium in New York. Bossart staked the Quakers (22-14, 16-4 Ivy) to an early lead, hitting a solo home run in the first inning. Senior pitcher Ronnie Glenn surrendered that lead in the third, however, when Columbia strung together a series of singles to take a 2-1 lead.
But Penn answered back in the fifth, scoring two runs on the back of a triple by junior outfielder Matt Greskoff and a double by senior shortstop Mitch Montaldo, before making it 4-2 in the sixth.
In the seventh, Glenn allowed a solo home run to Lions third baseman David Vandercook, but that was all he would give up as the burly right-hander finished off the final three batters for his fifth complete-game victory of the year.
“He’s been awesome,” coach John Yurkow said of Glenn’s durability.
Sophomore pitcher Mike Reitcheck — starting Saturday’s second game — delivered an even better performance, pitching eight innings while allowing only one run. However, that run was all Columbia (25-14, 16-4) needed. Despite garnering 10 hits — including five doubles — Penn could not get a run across the plate, leaving nine men on base en route to a 1-0 loss.
“I think there was a little over-trying,” Yurkow said of the team’s failure to score. “A little pressing. Guys were trying to do too much with runners in scoring position. We did hit some balls hard, and [Columbia] made some plays. It’s crazy how you had these two high-scoring teams, and [Saturday’s] games were so low scoring.
“Good pitching beats good hitting any day of the week.”
Back at Meiklejohn Stadium on Sunday, Penn celebrated its 10 graduating seniors before taking the field for the day’s first game.
Sophomore pitcher Jake Cousins got to work immediately against the Lions, tallying five strikeouts in the first four innings. Cousins garnered six total punch-outs in seven innings, while allowing only one hit. Montaldo provided the big blow for the Quakers in their 2-0 victory with a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
“Mitch has been huge,” Yurkow said. “It’s nice to know that if we need a couple runs, he can pop one out and get a rally going pretty quick.”
The streak of great performances by the Red and Blue pitchers came to an end in Sunday’s second game, as senior Connor Cuff was unable to make it out of the first inning. Cuff began the game inauspiciously by hitting Columbia’s leadoff batter with a pitch. He would go on to allow a single, a sacrifice fly, another hit batsman and then a two-run double before he was removed from the game.
“You could tell pretty early on that his command wasn’t there,” Yurkow said of Cuff. “He was a little erratic. He just didn’t have it.
“We had the bullpen rested, and I think if you have that opportunity, you just have to use all of your guys.”
Yurkow went to his bullpen early, which he has not often been forced to do in a season where his starting pitchers have tossed ten complete games.
“It’s been a while,” Yurkow said. “Lucky for us, Ronnie and Mike went deep into games on Saturday. That gave us the chance to hang in there and compete today.”
Down in an early 3-0 hole, the Quakers did not go quietly and answered with a run in the second. The game proved to be a tug-of-war between the two teams, as Penn tied it up with runs in the third in a bizarre sequence of events that included a catcher’s interference, a hit batsman and walk — the latter two of which came with the bases loaded — to force in two runs.
Penn took the lead in the fourth inning on a Bossart home run before ceding it again in the fifth inning. The score was tied at six by the seventh inning, which was how it remained through the ninth to force extra innings.
Columbia notched two runs in the top of the tenth inning and, despite a late two-out rally in which the Quakers got runners to second and third, they could not come up with a big hit, and fell 8-6.
“If we got a hit here or there in the seventh or eighth, it could have been a different outcome,” Yurkow said. “There were some mixed emotions. We felt like we could have won the series, but they were well-played games. There weren’t too many errors and the pitchers threw strikes. It was very good college baseball.”
Now, the Quakers will play a one-game playoff next week to decide the Gehrig Division.
“We would’ve liked to have won the series, but we still have a shot,” Yurkow said. “I like our chances going up there for next weekend. We’ll be well-rested, and we’ll see what happens.”
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