After winning every Ivy League series last year, Penn baseball dropped its first conference series of the new season in deflating fashion.
Despite elite pitching from Penn's starters, the Quakers (10-9, 1-2 Ivy) dropped two of three games against Harvard (4-15, 2-1) — their first conference series loss since 2019. It was both teams' start to Ivy play, and each program had high hopes for Ivy League supremacy.
“Our starting pitching has been really good,” coach John Yurkow said. “Our three guys have given us six to seven innings, so we really haven’t had to bring out the bullpen early. I'm impressed with those guys overall.”
In game one, senior left-handed pitcher Owen Coady started on the mound, and he more than delivered. Coady held the Crimson to no runs while striking out seven, but the Penn bats were only able to secure one insurance run with an early sacrifice fly from freshman infielder Davis Baker.
With only a one-run lead, senior left-handed pitcher David Shoemaker came in for relief in the eighth and quickly let up two runs. With the pressure of losing by one flipped onto the Quakers, the Red and Blue were able to answer immediately with a run of their own in the bottom of the eighth. It wasn’t enough, though, as the match went to extra innings. In the top of the 10th, a Harvard solo home run proved to be the fatal blow — securing a Crimson win.
Penn’s bats fell silent in spite of the team's dominant pitching, as only two Quakers recorded more than one hit. With the series now tipping in Harvard's favor, Penn would have to pull off a reverse sweep in Sunday's doubleheader to secure a successful Ivy opener.
With the series on the line, Penn's bats woke up just in time for a dominant game two. Led by senior catcher Jackson Appel, the Quakers romped the Crimson to the tune of 8-2. Appel went 4-4 on the day and singlehandedly outscored Harvard with three RBIs. The Quaker bats were backed by yet another phenomenal pitching performance, this time from the arm of junior right-hander Cole Zaffiro — who held Harvard to one run through six innings of work.
“Zaffiro was great [Sunday],” Yurkow said. “He, along with our other guys, have been really good. [Zaffiro] made them work for it.”
Through the first two games, Harvard had not found its hitting stroke — going 16-for-69 at the plate. Penn took advantage of this in the second match, but with the series tied one-one, it would come down to game three's rubber match to decide the series.
But just as Penn's bats finally woke up in game two, Harvard's did the same in game three. With sophomore right-handed pitcher Ryan Dromboski on the mound for the start, the Crimson were quick to rack up five hits, four runs, and three walks — all in the first three frames.
“[Dromboski's] mechanics were off today,” Yurkow said. “I feel like he’s got to spit it out, and he threw a lot more balls.”
Penn kept pace, though, as freshman infielder Ryan Taylor smacked a two-run home run off the batter’s eye in the second inning. Despite hot hitting from the bottom of the lineup, the Quakers left two batters stranded and took a 4-2 deficit into the fourth.
“It felt like any other home run — nothing special,” Taylor said. “But for our batting overall, we just need to stay confident, forget about the past and keep hitting.”
Following a pair of impressive pitching performances by Shoemaker and junior right-hander Edward Sarti, senior first baseman Ben Miller's one-run blast down the right field line — bringing the team within two — energized the Quaker bench. Two-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week Baker stepped up to the plate with hopes of continuing the rally, but fell on strikes — watching the last pitch go by on a contentious strike call. With the next batter grounding out, the Quakers had only one opportunity left to snag the win.
But the Quakers let up two runs in the top of the ninth, stretching Harvard's lead to four — an insurmountable margin for the Penn bats that had cooled off since game two.
“I’m a little disappointed, I feel like we had the same opportunities in the third game as we did before,” Yurkow said. “We just haven’t done a great job putting bats together in bunches. On top of that, we struggled with swinging at balls outside the strike zone, we need to fix some things offensively.”
While the series didn’t end like they wanted it to, there was a lot of promise found from individual Quaker performances. The pitching showed off their elite talent, and younger bats on the team have begun to find their stride at the plate.
Penn plays next at Lafayette on March 28, looking to bounce back from a weekend of mixed performances.