This weekend, Penn baseball Grauled Cornell.
Fueled by an offensive explosion from junior catcher Tim Graul, the Red and Blue took three out of four games from the Big Red over the weekend to move one game behind Princeton, who narrowly maintained its lead in the Lou Gehrig division with a 10-6 Ivy record.
Though they will still need to rely on Tiger losses, Penn (18-19, 9-7 Ivy) is within striking distance in the division as it heads into a season-ending four-game set versus Columbia next weekend.
The Quakers started the weekend off in top-notch form Saturday, scoring early and often in a 13-2 game one rout. After a majestic home run by freshman Matt O’Neill and a two-run single by Graul fueled a 5-1 Penn lead after four, the Red and Blue struck for eight runs in the fifth. The first 10 hitters for the Quakers reached base in the frame, and every member of the lineup scored except for shortstop Ryan Mincher.
“Well, they say hitting is contagious,” Penn coach John Yurkow said. “We’ve really put some good swings on balls … and obviously Timmy Graul is unbelievable. He’s on fire right now.”
Meanwhile, junior hard-throwing righty Jake Cousins fanned 11 over six innings, the highest single-game strikeout total of any Penn pitcher this season.
In Saturday’s second game, the Quakers dropped their only contest of the series. After scoring twice in the game’s first inning and taking a 3-1 lead into the final third of the game, Cornell (13-19, 6-10) scored twice in the top of the seventh to tie things up.
Then, Graul, in one of his seven extra-base hits of the weekend, mashed a high, long homer to left to put the Quakers up 4-3. That lead was short-lived as Cornell responded back with four runs in the eighth to pick up a 7-4 win.
When the teams met back at Meiklejohn Stadium on Sunday, the first game belonged to Penn lefty Mike Reitcheck. The junior — who had been suffering through a down year after leading the Ivy League in earned run average a year ago — was in impeccable form, allowing just one run over nine innings.
“His fastball command has been better these last two or three outings,” Yurkow said. “But the one thing you know about Mike is he’s gonna compete. He’s a really tough kid.”
Reitcheck kept things tied at one as the game moved through the seven regulation innings and into extras. Senior right-hander Mitch Holtz took over in the top of the 10th and allowed a run on a Mark Fraser single, forcing the Quakers to have to tie in the bottom of the frame.
And tie they did. Freshman designated hitter Matt O’Neill led off the frame with a double, setting the frame for Graul, who followed up with a double of his own to knot things at two.
“It was really nice to come back in a game and show a little fight,” the Ivy Leader in home runs and RBI said. “I got a nice pitch to hit and just turned on it.”
The Quakers then proceeded to load the bases and pick up a 3-2 walk-off win when freshman Chris Robasco — entering the game off the bench — was hit by a pitch.
“We’ll take it,” Yurkow said with a smile.
And in the series’ final game, the Quakers unleashed their second offensive explosion in four games. Graul was joined by the double play duo of shortstop Ryan Mincher and second baseman Matt Tola in collecting four hits as the Red and Blue scored in every inning but the third en route to a 16-5 blowout win.
Now, for the third consecutive year, the Quakers will head into the final weekend of the season with their Ivy hopes hanging in the balance. Penn will play Columbia four times — two at home on Friday followed by two in New York on Saturday — while the Tigers will face off versus Cornell.
And though Princeton still controls its own destiny as the division leader, it will be at a momentum disadvantage after dropping three of four this weekend to Columbia and seeing its division lead shrink from three games to just one.
“We just have to carry this through to this weekend,” Yurkow said.
“If we continue to play the way we’re playing, we’ll definitely be in good shape.”
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