Venturing into hostile territory, the Penn baseball team bent but didn’t break.
Though the Quakers (5-5) were never outplayed while visiting Towson (8-7), some late drama made Wednesday afternoon’s 5-4 win a little bit close for comfort.
At first, it looked as if Penn was going to run the Tigers out of their own ballpark.
After two quick strikeouts, Towson starter Sean Bertrand issued back-to-back walks to Ryan Deitrich and Joey Greco before hitting Austin Bossart, setting the stage for disaster.
Senior first baseman Spencer Branigan promptly dropped in a single that scored Dietrich and Greco, while freshman shortstop Ryan Mincher knocked in Bossart with a single up the middle after Bertrand had been lifted for lefty Kyle Paul.
The Quakers established control of the game before the Tigers even had a chance to swing the bat.
“We talk about it all the time: first-inning tempo, getting out, getting runs on the board and then getting a zero against them,” coach John Cole said. “It’s very, very important, especially on the road.”
The Tigers were able to respond in the bottom of the second, though, thanks to some unsightly Quakers mistakes.
With starter Pat Bet lifted after one inning, the Red and Blue gave the ball to freshman righty Brian Schwarzbach, who promptly loaded the bases by allowing a pair of one-out walks and a base hit.
After Mincher allowed a Pat Fitzgerald ground ball to go for an error and a Mike Draper groundout scored a run, the Quakers found themselves only up 3-2.
For a couple of innings, it seemed as if Schwarzbach had gotten over his early control struggles, but his wildness cost him dearly again in the bottom of the fifth.
After getting two quick outs, Schwarzbach issued his third walk of the game, this time to catcher Zach Fisher. After a wild pitch allowed him to advance to second, Fisher scored on a game-tying single by left fielder Dominic Fratantuono.
Unforced errors were the Quakers’ bugaboo all day long.
“I thought we should have had a shutout,” Cole said. “We had two errors, a hit by pitch and five walks. If you take those walks out of there, they don’t score. So, we’ve got to do a better job of cleaning up those freebies.”
The Quakers reclaimed the lead in the sixth on a groundout by Mincher, adding an insurance run in the eighth on another Mincher groundout—his third RBI of the game.
The insurance run ultimately proved invaluable.
Against sophomore closer Ronnie Glenn, the Tigers — still in shock after learning Friday that the university is cutting their baseball program — mounted a furious rally.
With runners on first and second and two out, Fratantuono ripped a single to left, scoring one man and putting the game-tying run in scoring position.
After fouling off pitch after pitch, designated hitter Kurt Wertz lifted a fly ball to center that hung up in the air, forcing freshman center fielder Gary Tesch to make a diving catch to preserve the win.
Despite the tension, Cole was happy with the way his closer stepped up late.
“Ronnie had pretty good stuff,” he said. “We made it a little too close, but they’re a good team. They’re a CAA team and a scholarship team, and anytime you’re on the road against a CAA team, it’s a good win for us.”
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