For the second straight year, Penn baseball controls its own destiny with a four-game series against the Columbia Lions on the horizon.
Princeton may have been the team in the opposite dugout this weekend, but for the Quakers, keeping pace with Columbia has been the chief concern as the race for the Lou Gehrig Division championship continues to gain steam.
Tied atop the standings heading into the weekend the Red and Blue couldn’t afford less than a sweep against a struggling Princeton squad.
The Quakers did their part. They dominated the Tigers in all four games, taking the series by a combined score of 21-5.
In Saturday’s first game, Penn (22-12, 16-2 Ivy) smacked seven doubles, half of its total hits for the game. After a subpar performance at the plate on Wednesday against NYIT, senior Mitch Montaldo emerged as a catalyst for Penn’s offense against Princeton (6-31, 3-15 Ivy).
In fact, the veteran’s performance in the first two games was enough to move him from the fifth slot in the order to third. The star shortstop smacked six extra-base hits over the weekend, including five doubles and one home run.
“We had a couple midweek games this week, and I wasn’t swinging too well ... so I worked hard in practice Thursday and Friday,” Montaldo said. “I got off to a good start on Saturday, and that just kept me through the weekend. “
While the offense was firing on all cylinders over Fling weekend, the starting pitchers threw up consistent zeros. All four starting pitchers went at least seven innings and none gave up more than three runs.
On Saturday, sophomore Mike Reitcheck stole the show, going eight innings without letting one runner cross the plate. Senior Connor Cuff was impeccable as well, holding down the fort in the series finale while allowing four hits and no runs over seven innings.
Cuff — one of the senior anchors in the rotation — displayed the resolve that the Quakers will need in their upcoming series with Columbia. With the squad tired after three games in under 36 hours, he remained stellar when the bats went silent.
The fourth game was the closest as Penn won 2-0, yet neither of those run came until after Cuff threw his final pitch of the afternoon.
Sunday afternoon’s game was by far an anomaly for the Quakers at the plate. It was the only contest in which they scored fewer than five runs all weekend.
However, the difference in the game stemmed from upperclassmen stepping up, most notably Cuff, Montaldo and junior Matt Greskoff, who smacked a solo home run in the seventh to break the 0-0 tie.
“I was hoping we would be in this position going into the last weekend. What more could you ask for to settle the division crown?” Coach John Yurkow said.
The entire team stressed the importance of keeping the momentum going into next weekend as it hoped to record a different result than when it fell to Columbia in a one-game playoff to decide the Gehrig Division winner at the end of 2014.
And Montaldo noted that this weekend games had a much different feel, despite Princeton’s subpar record.
“It was huge,” Montaldo said on completing the sweep. “Every game is like a playoff series to us. It’s fun. This is what we have been playing for all year.
“We’ve been looking forward towards next weekend since the end of last season, so we’ve been waiting all year for it. We’re ready to go, everyone’s going to be pumped and we are ready to come away with the victories.”
After falling just short of the division crown last year, it’s safe to say the squad is excited to get another shot.
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