If only Penn could play Lafayette every game.
After a disappointing 2-9 start to the season, Penn baseball has rattled off seven straight wins, thanks in large part to a five-game stretch against the Leopards.
Tuesday’s 9-8 win was technically not a part of the previous four-game weekend series, but part of Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell Classic, a tournament pitting local universities against each other with the chance to play at the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park.
The Quakers (9-9) got one step closer to that goal thanks to a massive first inning and some bend-don’t-break defense.
The opening frame began with a leadoff single from junior centerfielder Andrew Murnane that extended his hit streak to seven games. A hit parade followed from there; the next six batters reached base. The highlight of the hit train was sophomore Matt McGeagh’s first of two doubles; a two RBI shot that made it 4-0. When the dust settled, Penn held a 6-0 lead and still managed to strand two runners in scoring position. Murnane was one of them – after his opening single, he hit a two out double to set the table for freshman Chris Adams who couldn’t take advantage.
The offensive production in the first inning, totaling six runs and seven hits on 11 plate appearances, would be all the Quakers would get until the fifth.
In the meantime, Lafayette (2-23) fought back, posting a four-run inning of their own in the second and putting a fifth across in the third, chasing Penn starter Mitchell Holcomb in the process. The rest of the game was a series of close calls, as Lafayette came a swing away from taking the lead in the fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings.
In the end, the Quaker bullpen held, getting some clutch outs to escape jams and keep the win streak alive. Junior reliever Billy Lescher (1-1) had perhaps the narrowest of escapes, coming on in a tie game with one out and the bases loaded in the fifth and forcing an inning-ending double play. Sophomore Grant Guillory narrowly avoided surrendering the lead in a similar bases loaded jam in the eighth but managed to force an inning-ending line out.
“Winning five straight against Lafayette was obviously huge for us going into Dartmouth and Harvard,” McGeagh said. “We’re taking it one game at a time right now. Obviously as we get into conference play, those are the only games that really matter for us.”
Conference play begins this weekend with doubleheaders against perennial powerhouses Dartmouth and Harvard. The good news is these four games are at Meikeljohn Stadium, where the Quakers are 5-0 this year.
The weekend will be a good test for the Red and Blue in determining how serious their conference title aspirations are. Dartmouth and Harvard are the two likeliest teams to win the Ivy League’s Red Rolfe division. Dartmouth leads the conference in team batting average (.306) and has one of the league’s best bullpens, led by senior closer Chris Burkholder. Both Penn and Dartmouth are extremely balanced and veteran teams with good pitching and consistent batting.
It will be interesting to see how Penn coach John Yurkow will handle his pitching staff.
A day after the Dartmouth doubleheader, Penn hosts a dangerous Harvard team. The Crimson boast arguably the best batter in the Ivy League in freshman Patrick Robinson, who leads the conference with a ridiculous .426 batting average. Robinson is also second in the league in RBIs.
This weekend will likely set the tone for Penn’s season, and they are in perfect position to take advantage, even if they don’t get to play Lafayette again.