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A huge three-run home run from sophomore catcher Matt O'Neill was the spark that Penn baseball needed to finish off a sweep of Harvard.

Credit: Nick Buchta

If every journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step, then every championship season must begin with a single victory. Or in Penn baseball’s case, two.

After rain postponed Saturday’s would-be Ivy opener against Dartmouth, attention turned to Sunday’s home doubleheader with visiting Harvard. The Crimson (10-12, 0-4 Ivy), although not a perennial Ancient Eight power, were not going to be pushovers. Just one weekend prior to Sunday’s slate against the Red and Blue, Harvard had won three of four against Army, outscoring them 46-26 in those games.

With that potent offense posing a serious threat, the Quakers (11-9, 2-0 Ivy) knew they needed to stifle them right from the beginning. For that, head coach John Yurkow had to look no further than the arm of pitcher Jake Cousins. Cousins suffocated Harvard with a strong outing, allowing only three hits and six base runners on the afternoon.

“I don’t even think Jake had his best stuff today with his fastball control,” Yurkow said. “But it’s great that even when he’s not at his very best he can still be effective.”

Possibly even more importantly, Cousins threw six of the seven innings, allowing Yurkow to rest his relievers for upcoming games on Monday and Tuesday. Five games in three days might overwork some pitching staffs, but Yurkow is confident that the performance of his hurlers today, and specifically Cousins, will lighten that load.

“I don’t think we’ll be too overworked at all,” Yurkow said. “Especially with how deep our starters went today, we should be set going into tomorrow.”

In a game where not many runs were required, a big first inning hit from Chris Adams put the Red and Blue up 2-0 to give them a lead they would never relinquish. Another two runs in the sixth inning padded the victory, which ended with a 4-0 score line.

For game two of the doubleheader, Yurkow sent starter Adam Bedlay to the mound. Bedlay gave up three quick runs in the first inning, digging the Quakers a 3-0 hole before their first at-bat. However, the Panama City Beach, Fla. native recovered nicely, giving up only one run in the following five innings and working his way out of a tough jam in the sixth.

“I think our rotation is very deep and it showed today,” Yurkow said. “Adam displayed a lot of poise coming back from that first inning to throw a really nice game.”

In the meantime, it was Penn’s offense that took over. A huge three-run homer from Matt O’Neill gave the Quakers a 4-3 lead in the second inning. Harvard eventually would push a run across to knot the score at four, and with the game heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the score remained tied at 4-4. A few Penn batters later, Peter Matt stood poised to score at third with one out.

Step up, Matt Tola.

Although not one of the team’s most prolific hitters, the sophomore came though when it mattered most, poking a single up the middle of a drawn-in Crimson infield and scoring what would prove to be the winning run.

“I came to the plate and knew I just had to make contact,” Tola said. “Especially going down two strikes, I just focused on getting my bat to the ball, and I knew it had a good chance to get through their infield.”

Two more runs would follow, opening up a 7-4 lead that the Quakers would not surrender. Near-perfect relief innings from Grant Guillory and Billy Lescher closed the door on any potential Harvard comeback and sealed a 2-0 start to conference play.

Next up for the Quakers is tomorrow’s rescheduled doubleheader with Dartmouth.

“No matter who you’re playing, every conference game is important,” Yurkow said. “I’m not even thinking past tomorrow. I told the guys they only have a short time to celebrate this one and then it’s on to Dartmouth.”