Just keep winning.
If last weekend’s four-game sweep of Princeton wasn’t the biggest weekend of the season for Penn baseball, then maybe this one’s was. The Quakers took three of four games against Cornell, who came into the weekend in second place in the Lou Gehrig Division of the Ivy League standings.
For Penn (21-16, 11-5 Ivy), the recent success can be attributed to a variety of factors, but one stands out as most notable — the pitching.
After giving up just 12 runs in the four games last weekend, head coach John Yurkow described his pitching as “consistent” and something that “gives the team a chance to win every time they go out there.”
If he was pleased then, he must be thrilled now. Quakers hurlers allowed just four runs in the four games against Cornell (18-15, 7-9), enough for the best four-game defensive stretch of the season. Had it not been for an uncharacteristically poor offensive performance in the second game, the Red and Blue may have swept the weekend.
In game one, senior Jake Cousins took the mound and set the tone right away, tossing three hitless innings while the Quakers jumped out to a second-inning lead. That early run would turn out to be all the Red and Blue needed, as Cousins turned in a masterful performance, allowing just three hits on the day while his teammates tacked on even more runs to win the game 5-0.
With the win (the 18th of his career), Cousins moves into a tie for fifth place on Penn’s all-time wins list. Cousins also set a career best for strikeouts, fanning ten Big Red batters.
Cornell came back in game two by scoring more runs in the first inning than they had the entire first game — two. Quakers senior starter Adam Bleday, after that shaky first inning, was practically untouchable, pitching a gem in its own right. Unfortunately for Bleday and the Red and Blue, Cornell pitcher Justin Lewis was even more dominant — turning in a Cousins-esque performance by holding the Quakers to four hits and no runs. In the end, the two first-inning runs for Cornell were enough to earn a tight 2-0 victory and knot the series at 1-1 heading into Sunday.
The offensive hangover seemed to carry into Sunday’s contest at first, with Penn’s junior Gabe Kleiman and Cornell’s Tommy Morris both throwing three scoreless frames to start the game. Offensive production by Tim Graul in the fourth inning finally snapped the 13-inning scoreless streak, with the senior’s double setting up a sacrifice fly to put the Quakers up 1-0. Just as in game one, this would prove to be all Penn needed on the day. Kleiman pitched an impressive complete game shutout, and the Quakers’ Thomas Pellis blasted a three-run home run to add some insurance on a 4-0 victory.
The win was the Red and Blue’s 20th of the season, marking the third time in four seasons under Yurkow that the Quakers have reached that mark.
After that win, all heads turned to the series finale, with Cornell desperately looking to even the series while the Quakers yearned to extend their lead atop the standings. A first inning home run for Cornell off of Penn’s Mike Reitcheck gave them an early 1-0 lead, a lead that would last only two innings. Always Penn’s go-to man, Graul launched a home run of his own in the third inning, scoring two runs and reclaiming the lead 2-1. While Cornell tied the game in the bottom of the third, Reitcheck settled in after that and threw three scoreless innings, sending the game into the seventh with the score tied 2-2. With two outs in the seventh and a man on third, up stepped sophomore Sean Phelan for possibly the biggest at-bat of the weekend.
The Devon, Pa. native came through in a big way, knocking an opposite field double to give the Quakers a 3-2 lead they would never relinquish. When Cornell threatened to score in the bottom half of the seventh, it was Penn’s junior closer Billy Lescher who came on and shut the door on any semblance of a Big Red comeback.
The wins kept the Quakers into sole possession of first place, two games ahead of Columbia (14-21, 9-7). This makes this upcoming weekend’s series with Lions vital — split the series with two wins out of four, and the division title is theirs.
And with a performance like this weekend’s, there are not many who would bet against them.