NEW YORK— Even after giving up a six-run lead in the bottom of the seventh that handed the win to Columbia, Penn baseball head coach John Yurkow seemed confident in his team’s ability to bounce back the following day.
“This team’s pretty resilient," Yurkow said. "I’m not really worried about it, to be honest with you. Any time you lose a tight game like that late, it stinks, but tomorrow’s a new day.”
Then on Sunday, less than 18 hours after fumbling a 10-4 lead, Yurkow was proven correct as the Quakers jumped out to a 9-0 lead by the top of the third inning and held on for a 13-7 win over the Lions (7-12, 1-2 Ivy).
The win clinched the series for the Quakers (14-6, 2-1), who won the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader 10-5 and then split the next two.
After that first-game win, where both teams played through the rain for several innings, the Red and Blue looked poised to repeat the win after leading in the second game 10-4 during the bottom of the seventh inning. With the Columbia crowd resigned to the impending loss, senior pitcher Joe Miller gave up a home run in the seventh and an RBI double in the eighth, putting the Lions down just four.
Miller was taken out and senior reliever Brendan Bean took his place in the game. Bean then immediately gave up a three-run home run to Anton Lazits to make it a one-run contest.
After Penn struggled to get out of the inning with the lead still intact, Yurkow left Bean in for the ninth, a decision that came back to bite Penn, as the Lions hit two consecutive home runs to secure the shocking 11-10 victory. The Columbia players stormed the field and moshed the walk-off home-run hitter Austin Mowrey at the plate, while the Penn players left their dugout for their bus.
A lesser team might have been too dejected after such a loss to rebound the next game, but the Quakers were, as Yurkow emphasized, resilient, and proved their mental fortitude in a blowout rubber match win.
“We talked about it on the bus yesterday,” Yurkow said postgame. “It was a tough loss, and I told the guys, ‘We’re going to find out a lot about our team with how we respond to that tough loss yesterday,' and I thought the guys did a great job. We started banging the ball around pretty early, and we got a well-pitched game.”
The game was highlighted by several home runs, including two from senior centerfielder Tommy Courtney – who was named Philadelphia D-I Player of the Week on Monday – and one from junior catcher Jackson Appel. Each player was strong through the series, batting 8-for-17 and 6-for-13 across all three games, respectively.
While Penn's resilience was most evident Sunday, Saturday’s doubleheader opener provided one particular Quaker with an opportunity to come back from a difficult hit.
During the sixth inning, junior second baseman Cole Palis managed to reach second base after getting walked. While a dead ball was in effect, the ball was thrown towards the second baseman, but instead of landing in his glove, the ball took a bounce and landed directly in one of Palis’ … sensitive areas. Palis looked to be grimacing in pain for some time after the hit.
“That’s just one of those things, it’s like ‘oof,’” Yurkow said. “Not a good day to do something like that, but he’s a tough kid, and he had a couple good at-bats after that.”
He didn’t manage to score during that inning, but Palis returned to the plate later in the game to notch an RBI walk, and, even later on, a hit which led to him scoring a run. The opening matchup finished with Palis setting a career-high RBI total (four), and the Garnet Valley, Pa. native finished the series with eight RBIs overall.
“I was struggling early on in the year, but our coaches were really helpful with me these past couple of weeks, just making minor adjustments, and it finally paid off,” Palis said.
Senior pitcher Kevin Eaise also held a valuable role in the first game, pitching five scoreless innings before giving up two runs in the second and being taken out.
“Kevin threw really well,” Yurkow said. “His velocity is starting to come back up, which is great.”
During the second game, Miller took the mound with a Seattle Mariners scout in attendance to observe him. The pressure was on for the starter, and though it took some time early on for him to gain his composure, Miller finished with career-highs 7.2 innings and 10 strikeouts.
“I thought Joe battled,” Yurkow said. “It’s a tough park to pitch at because the dimensions are so crazy. He hung in, he gave us a chance to win. I mean, we had the lead when he came out of the game.”
In the third game, sophomore Cole Zaffiro took the pitching reins for just his third career start, giving up two runs over four innings, a solid performance, especially considering how much the Quakers led by when he was subbed out (12-2).
Zaffiro was replaced by junior Owen Coady, who lost control during the seventh inning, giving up five runs. Despite the lapse, Coady pitched four scoreless innings, securing the win for the Quakers.
Outside of Courtney, Appel, and Palis, senior shortstop Craig Larsen and junior leftfielder Seth Werchan set standout hitting performances. Larsen notched eight hits over 16 at-bats, and extended his hitting streak to 12 games and his RBI streak to a whopping nine games. Werchan, on the other hand, batted 5-for-11 and showed strong poise and control in the batter's box, securing four walks during Saturday’s doubleheader alone.
The series also marked the first time Penn baseball faced an Ivy League opponent since May 4, 2019, almost three years ago.
“First experience for an Ivy League season, it was just great to be out here again,” Palis said. “Can’t really ask for anything else. It was a great experience to finally be back.”
Whether or not the Quakers can use this Ivy League series win as momentum for the rest of their conference season remains to be seen. The Red and Blue certainly have their work cut out for them, as the program hasn’t won an Ivy League Championship since 1995.
Penn baseball will be back in action on Tuesday against Lafayette (7-18), and then over the weekend, the Quakers will have another three-game Ivy League series, this time against Dartmouth (9-9, 2-1).