Just a few inches short.
After dropping two of three to Cornell last weekend, Penn baseball came in to this weekend needing a lot of help to earn a spot in the Ivy League Championship Series. To take advantage of that help, the Quakers first had to take care of their own business by earning a three-game home sweep of second-place Columbia. They would then need Yale to drop two of their final three games next weekend to clinch a spot. It never got that far, as after winning the first two games of the series, Penn dropped a pivotal game three to end its season.
“The odds were really stacked against us coming into the weekend, but the guys came ready to play” coach John Yurkow said.
The Quakers (23-18, 11-10 Ivy) came out firing in game one, as first inning back-to-back home runs from sophomore left fielder Eduardo Malinowski and senior designated hitter Sean Phelan gave the Red and Blue an early 3-0 lead. The Penn offense remained productive; before the game had reached the fourth inning Penn would hold an 8-0 lead.
After entering the game in the third, junior pitcher Christian Scafidi ensured the Quakers maintained their early advantage. Penn took game one, 13-1.
Scafidi’s performance also began an unusual trend for Penn pitching this weekend, as the team's three main starting pitchers, Scafidi, junior Mitchell Holcomb, and junior John Alan Kendrick all entered the game in relief after a reliever opened the game by facing the first few opposing batters.
“We’ve had a couple late really tough losses” Yurkow said. “I just felt like if we tried an opener and got some guys out there early it would be a change of pace ... for the most part I though it worked out.”
“Relief pitching is still pitching, you still have to prepare the same way. Anytime I can get out here and fight for this team it's a blessing,” Holcomb said.
Game two was a much more even matchup with both teams stranding runners and squandering scoring opportunities. Holcomb worked his way out of a jam in the sixth with
the bases loaded and nobody out to keep the Quakers within one. Columbia pitcher Dan Harrington navigated himself through a similar jam — two men on and one out — an inning later.
With the Red and Blue trailing, 2-1, the Quakers were in desperate need of momentum. They would find their spark on the defensive end. Columbia sophomore Jack Chernow ripped a ball towards right-center field that seemed destined for extra bases before junior right fielder Peter Matt made an over the shoulder catch at full extension to end the inning.
Matt would then stroke a lead-off double in his next at bat. A few batters later, senior catcher Matt O’Neill launched a two-run homer over the right-center field wall to cap a four-run eighth and give the Red and Blue a 5-2 lead. That score held for one more inning as an emotional Holcomb finished his dominant relief outing with a strikeout.
“This team played their hearts out every step of the way, we have always fought for each other and we did that again today,” Holcomb said.
The second half of the double-header saw Columbia jump out to an early 2-0 lead on a pair of singles before Kendrick could enter the game. While the Quakers were able to get to Columbia senior Ethan Abrams, they once again failed to convert, stranding all seven runners who reached base. Penn came very close to getting on the board — O’Neill drove two different balls to the warning track, as did McGeagh — but were ultimately shutout by the Lions, 4-0.
“That’s baseball, sometimes it's just not your day,” O’Neill said. “The baseball gods didn’t have it out for us today, but we still competed.”
Emotions were high in the Penn dugout as many of the seniors finished their final game in a Penn uniform. One warning track fly out needed a few more inches to earn the Quakers the sweep. Instead, both Penn and the fly out fell just short.
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