Penn baseball started Ivy League play with a loss, but quickly worked to erase any memory of it this weekend.
After falling in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader to Brown, 8-5, the Quakers won a 3-1 pitchers duel to split the day. Less than 24 hours later, the Red and Blue were back at Meiklejohn Stadium, working their way to a sweep over Yale with 3-2 and 19-3 decisions.
In the weekend’s opening contest, Penn (10-12, 3-1 Ivy) found itself down early after the Bears (7-13, 1-3) tacked on three second-inning runs. The deficit would have been sizable on its own, but Brown wasn’t done yet. An RBI double from Bears' sophomore Sam Grigo was followed by a single from junior Josh Huntley to plate another in the third — quickly making it 5-0.
Heading into the bottom of the fourth down 6-0, the young Quakers’ squad could have taken a loss in hand and begun focusing on the latter contest of the day. They didn’t. Freshman Sean Phelan started the inning off with a solo home run, followed by an RBI triple from freshman Matt O’Neill a few batters later. Freshman Matt Tola plated O’Neill to make it 6-3 and the Red and Blue were right back in the ballgame.
An RBI single from Phelan made it 6-4 in the fifth, but that was the closest Penn would get. A two-run double for the Bears made it 8-4 and, though O’Neill hit home another run in the seventh, there wasn’t enough time to make it all the way back.
“The way the league’s set up, you have to get over it pretty quickly because you’re going to play four on the weekend,” Penn coach John Yurkow said.
The Quakers did just that.
Following the 8-5 defeat, the Red and Blue pitching took over. Working six scoreless innings, junior pitcher Gabe Kleiman allowed just four hits. But he would need some offense for the win. Although the game entered the bottom of the sixth scoreless, O’Neill provided the offensive spark Penn needed, breaking the tie with an RBI double.
Two more runs followed that inning, and the Red and Blue eventually took the 3-0 lead into the ninth. Freshman Jake Nelson entered to close things out. Although he found himself in some early trouble — allowing one run to score and the tying run to make its way to second — a game-ending double play sealed the deal — and the Quakers’ first Ivy win.
“If you’re going to win a championship, you’re going to have to win close games,” Yurkow said. “That’s what it comes down to. And we did that.”
Yet the weekend was not done, as the Bulldogs (6-17-1, 2-2) took their turn visiting University City. The Elis took an early lead on Sunday, as sophomore Billy Lescher conceded two runs in the second inning.
From there, Lescher was in total control. Working a complete game — albeit seven innings because of the doubleheader — Yale couldn’t score another run, striking out 10 times in the process.
Thanks to Lescher’s lockdown performance, Penn needed just three runs to log its second straight win. That’s exactly what they got.
A solo shot from senior Ryan Mincher got the Quakers on the board in the second before Tola’s two-run single with two strikes on him in the fourth made it 3-2. And that’s where things stood three innings later as the Red and Blue took home the win.
Not ready to rest on their laurels, the Quakers came out firing in the weekend’s final contest. Back-to-back home runs from senior Gary Tesch and junior Tim Graul started things off, followed a few innings later by a two-run homer from Mincher and a three-run blast from senior Matt Greskoff. It was quickly 8-0, and the Red and Blue didn’t look back.
“We were more consistent today,” Yurkow noted. “We cut down on the strikeouts, did a good job with two strikes. Their arms got some balls up in the strike zone and we made them pay.”
When junior pitcher Mike Reitcheck left the mound in the seventh, his squad held a 12-1 advantage, and the game had long been all but over. A few more insurance runs in the eighth were capped off by a grand slam from Tesch to make it 19-3 before Penn mercifully and quickly closed out the ninth.
“One of the things we preach to our team is that you’ve got to win every series,” Yurkow said.
“If you can get three out of four every weekend then, at the end of the year, you’re going to be in great shape.”
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