It’s deja vu all over again.
For the second time in as many years, Penn baseball enters the final weekend of the regular season tied with Columbia atop the Ivy League’s Lou Gehrig Division.
And for the second consecutive year, the Quakers (20-12, 14-2 Ivy) will face off with their foes from the Big Apple in a winner-take-all, four-game series.
Last season, the two teams split the four-game set, triggering a one-game playoff. As Red and Blue fans are well aware, the Lions took that game in crushing 2-0 fashion before heading on to sweep Dartmouth in the Ivy Championship Series.
“Last year, going into that series, we had never really been in that position before,” coach John Yurkow said. “Having been there last year really puts us at more of an advantage.”
This time around, the Quakers have no intention of reliving history. Though they are in exactly the same position as they were a year ago, they are objectively a much more well-rounded team.
From their pitching — their 3.34 team earned run average is nearly a full run better than any other Ivy squad — to their offense — their team average, slugging percentage and home run total all set the pace for the Ancient Eight — the Red and Blue have had few problems handling their Ivy competition.
Key to the Quakers’ success has been the continued production of established veteran stars. Senior pitchers Ronnie Glenn and Connor Cuff have been innings eaters while maintaining sub-three ERAs, while senior catcher Austin Bossart sits fourth in the Ancient Eight with a .353 batting average.
But the most impressive production has come from unexpected places. Senior outfielder Connor Betbeze has grown from a role player to the team’s everyday leadoff hitter and previously unheralded senior shortstop Mitch Montaldo has emerged as the Ivy League’s premier power hitter, leading the conference with nine home runs.
“It’s made a huge difference in our lineup,” Yurkow said. “They’re a year older, a year wiser ... With the addition of [Montaldo and Betbeze,] we’ve really balanced out our lineup.”
Sophomore lefty Mike Reitcheck has also provided an unexpected boost to the pitching staff. After going 0-2 with a 4.22 ERA in 11 relief appearances during his freshman campaign, Reitcheck has moved into the starting rotation and dominated. His 1.81 ERA and 5-1 record are both team highs.
Despite all their success thus far, the Quakers have yet to face the Lions (23-12, 14-2), who have been equally as dominant and sport an identical Ivy record.
Senior outfielder Joey Falcone has hit .344 with eight home runs to lead their offense, while fellow senior outfielder Gus Craig has chipped in with a team-high .350 average and five dingers of his own.
The Columbia pitching staff has been equally impressive, as three different members of the starting rotation sport ERAs of 2.16 or lower in Ivy play. Senior Mike Weisman has led the way, holding opposing batters to a .171 average and racking up a perfect 4-0 record against Ivy competition.
However, Yurkow is fully confident that the Penn bats can handle the Lions’ staff.
“They’re predominantly right-handed, which I like. We match up better against right-handers,” he said. “They’re really similar to us in that they don’t have that one dominant guy.”
Going into the final series of the season, it is tempting to shuffle the lineup and go with the hottest hands. However, Yurkow plans to stick with the same basic lineup he has used over the past several weeks.
“I’m not one for trying to invent things late in the season,” Yurkow said. “We’re going to stick with what’s been successful for us this year.”
That would appear to be a solid move; his lineup has passed every regular-season test with flying colors.
But now, it’s time to take the final examination.
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