Quite literally, it’s anybody’s game. A chance at the Ivy League title is at stake for Penn baseball, and every other team in the conference.
The Quakers (18-19, 9-7 Ivy) will play a four-game series against Columbia this weekend, with Friday’s doubleheader being played at Meiklejohn Stadium and Saturday’s games to be played in New York.
Penn hasn’t won the Ivy League’s Gehrig Division since 2007. In each of the last two seasons, the Red and Blue have fallen to the Lions (13-23, 7-9) in a one-game playoff for the Gehrig Division at the end of the season. Once again, the Quakers need a strong finish against Columbia to stay alive, but with Princeton a game ahead in the standings, the Red and Blue do not control their own destiny this year.
The winners of the Gehrig and Rolfe Divisions play for the league title. In the Rolfe Division, Yale (10-6 Ivy), Harvard (8-8), Dartmouth (8-8) and Brown (6-10) are all alive with four games left to play, but the Gehrig Division winner has historically dominated the final matchup.
In the Gehrig Division, Princeton (10-6 Ivy) needs a sweep of Cornell (6-10) to unconditionally clinch the division outright. Princeton also clinches with three wins and a Penn loss, two wins and two Penn losses, or one win and exactly three Penn losses.
On the other hand, the Quakers can clinch if they win two more games against Columbia than the Tigers win against the Big Red on the weekend.
If two teams finish tied, they play one game for the division championship, so even Cornell will see another day with a sweep of Princeton and a 3-1 Columbia victory over the Red and Blue. More importantly, Penn can give itself a chance to win the title by winning just one more game than Princeton this weekend, then beating Princeton head-to-head.
All of this must make for a lot of “scoreboard watching.” But Penn coach John Yurkow is hoping his team will keep its focus on the games they’re actually playing in.
“You just gotta block [the rest] out,” he said. “If we don’t take care of our business it’s not going to matter, so we just need to play our best baseball, and hopefully Cornell will play well [against Princeton].”
However, while Penn and Columbia will be finished by the end of Saturday, Princeton’s games are Friday and Sunday.
“We could be doing some scoreboard watching on Sunday,” Yurkow laughed. “Hopefully we play really well, then we can sit back and watch the rest on TV.”
So what does Penn need to do against Columbia on Friday and Saturday to get the wins needed to put some pressure on Princeton heading into that final day?
“We’re going to have to continue to pitch well, because they do have some guys who are swinging it,” the coach said. “Hopefully we can play like we did on Sunday [in a 16-5 win] against Cornell. We got some hits with runners in scoring position, we ran the bases well, we played solid defense, so that’s going to be the recipe again. We just need to play solid baseball, aggressive baseball.”
Easier said than done. You can hear the bitterness in Yurkow’s voice as he recalls how the last two seasons ended.
“I think in years past, we’ve had some chances late to close out Columbia, and it would have put us into the championship series, and we just didn’t come through.”
The Red and Blue aren’t in an ideal spot, but Yurkow has come to grips with the fact that even a perfect performance might not be enough.
“We’ve had our opportunities, we had our crack at Princeton, and we’ve let some games get away late, so it doesn’t do to dwell on that,” Yurkow said. “We’ll just need to play our best baseball, and see where we are after that.”
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