Although the season is winding down for Penn baseball, the league is still wide open.
With a dozen Ivy matchups remaining, only two games separate the first and last place teams in the Lou Gehrig Division standings of the Ancient Eight.
Penn sits in the bottom position, tied with Columbia at 5-3. Cornell, at 7-1, is alone at the top, for now. As Penn coach John Cole said of the tight race, “Anything can happen in this league.”
Cole explained how the Ancient Eight is different from many other Division I baseball conferences, as Ivy teams play four games in two doubleheaders per weekend, where most other programs play one game, one opponent at a time.
As a result, “Teams can either really get on a roll, or things can go sour. It’s hard to stop or start the momentum either way a lot of the time,” Cole said. “Sometimes it’s harder to get a split than it is to win two.”
Perhaps no team has felt the brunt of this momentum swing more than the Quakers. The Red and Blue got off to a 3-1 start in conference play, sweeping Yale and splitting with Brown at home on opening weekend. To Penn’s credit, it bounced back from a 12-2 loss to the Bears in the first game to win the second, 7-5.
It seemed as if the Red and Blue had all the pieces together, especially with a midweek 9-4 win over La Salle that earned them a berth in the championship game of the Liberty Bell Classic. But in a typical Ivy turn of events, things went suddenly sour for the surging Quakers.
In the next weekend of conference play, they fell twice to Dartmouth, which leads the Red Rolfe Division of the Ancient Eight at 4-4 and is 8-14 overall.
But the following day in Boston, Penn picked up two wins against Harvard to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot. The Quakers put up 15 runs and limited the Crimson to five.
This weekend is crucial, Cole said, as Penn faces four games at Princeton.
“Every game is critical at this point. We can’t fall back any further behind Cornell if we want to stay in it.”
Cole identified strengths in each of the teams Penn will face to close out the season, and the challenges the Quakers will need to overcome against each one.
“Cornell is swinging the bat really well, Princeton has great depth in their pitching staff and Columbia is just plain scrappy,” he said.
But the Red and Blue are not without their strengths too, and no team can count out the Quakers just yet.
“Our best games are when we can create chaos,” Cole said. “We do really well when we can get the other team off-balance and put pressure on them.”
With the individual strengths and weaknesses of each Ivy team, the question, Cole said, is which team can get into the game first, and who can stop the other team from doing what it does best.
“In this sport, you beat yourself more than the other team beats you,” Cole said. “If you can limit the mistakes, eliminate the giveaways, like walks and hit-by-pitches and errors, then you can win.”
But before taking on the Tigers, the Quakers will have an opportunity Wednesday afternoon to beat La Salle (15-16) for the second time in eight days.
First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Meiklejohn Stadium.