NEW YORK — Going into the final weekend of the season versus Columbia, Penn baseball had to be pretty much perfect if they hoped to gain a game on Princeton and earn a berth in the elusive Ivy Championship Series.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. The Red and Blue dropped three of four while their rivals to the North did the opposite, sending the Tigers to conference’s three-game title showdown versus Dartmouth next weekend.
The Quakers’ fate was sealed Friday afternoon, when Princeton swept its doubleheader versus Cornell and the Red and Blue (19-22, 10-10 Ivy) dropped a pair at home. Thus, Saturday’s pair of games at Columbia (a split) was simply a formality.
“Yesterday, I told the guys, since they’ve put so much time in, to just play for each other,” Penn coach John Yurkow said following Saturday’s games. “They did a good job of doing that today. We swung the bats well.”
The weekend started off with a 4-2 Columbia (17-24, 10-10) win Friday. Junior Penn starter Jake Cousins allowed an eye-popping eight walks over 5.2 innings, but managed to keep the game somewhat close, surrendering just the four earned runs. The offense, however, couldn’t produce much more than a pair of doubles from freshman catcher Matt O’Neill.
In the second game, Penn jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead after an RBI single from Tim Graul. However, the Quaker offense would stop there, as a Robb Paller home run and stellar pitching from three different arms gave Columbia a 3-1 victory.
The second Princeton victory of the day went final about an hour the game concluded, meaning that the Quakers, following Friday’s play, were an impossibly-distant three games out of the Division lead.
However, when the series shifted to Spuyten Duyvil on Saturday, the Red and Blue responded with an impressive 7-4 victory in game one. A three-RBI day from junior catcher Tim Graul (which featured a long home run to left) fueled a 7-0 Penn lead going into the seventh and final frame. Junior lefty Mike Reitcheck lost his shutout by surrendering four runs in the final half-inning, but managed to secure the complete-game victory.
“He’s such a tough kid, today I thought he had great fastball command,” Yurkow said of the southpaw. “We really needed that. We scored early and got a good pitching performance; it was a good win.”
Penn was not so lucky in the second game of the day. Starter Billy Lescher was knocked around, surrendering seven runs (five earned) over 2.2 innings. Though the bullpen and offense kept things close, the Red and Blue closed out 2016 with a 9-8 loss.
Graul picked up two more RBI in a 2-for-5 performance. The defending Ivy and Big 5 player of the week thus finished the season leading the Ancient Eight in home runs and RBI.
“A couple of weeks ago, I tried to stop talking about it, because I thought I was going to jinx him,” Yurkow said. “Whenever he came up in an RBI situation, he drove the ball. Tim had a great year.”
Saturday represented the final game for Penn’s seniors – a class that includes notables such as right fielder Matt Greskoff, shortstop Ryan Mincher, and speedy centerfielder/leadoff man Gary Tesch.
“Off the field, you just have to look at the way they represented themselves. They did everything the right way,” Yurkow said of his 2016 graduates. “They were really mature kids, great at practice – they were just kids you wanted to be around.”
Despite those losses, the 2017 Quakers will return much of their core, including Graul, O’Neill, first baseman Sean Phelan and the entire starting pitching rotation.
So, while this season ended with a thud, the Red and Blue have plenty of reason for optimism as they face the long offseason ahead.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.