In a film all too familiar to what happened in last year's Ivy League Championship, Penn baseball ensured this version would have a different ending.
On Friday afternoon, the Quakers exacted revenge against an old Ivy League foe, downing Columbia 10-6 in the first round of the Ivy League Tournament. Despite being forced to pull senior left-handed pitcher Owen Coady just two outs into the game due to injury, the Quakers weathered the storm and delivered a complete effort, moving one step closer to a conference championship.
“It’s not often you have to pull your starter after a couple hitters,” head coach John Yurkow said. “We were not expecting that. But credit to [senior right-handed pitcher] Brian Zeldin, who gave us some innings, and credit to the rest of the bullpen.”
Penn entered the weekend as the conference’s top dog after winning the regular season title. Playing at home and occupying the No. 1 seed, a Quaker victory was far from unexpected — but this is a position the team has seen before.
A season ago, it was the Lions who spoiled Penn’s chance at championship glory. After the Quakers won the Ivy League regular season title, they trounced Columbia 13-4 in game one of the championship series, putting them just one win away from a storybook ending. But the Lions rebounded to win games two and three, killing Penn's championship dreams. This year, things were different.
“We definitely want to beat these guys,” Zeldin, who relieved Coady, said. “I was out last year and it definitely hurt being on the sidelines, seeing the loss.”
After felling Columbia’s first two batters, Coady allowed a dribbler down the first base line, and followed it with balls on his next three pitches. Yurkow attributed Coady’s overall “fatigue” to the decision to pull him, ultimately resulting in a radical adjustment for Penn before the game had truly begun.
It was in that moment, as Coady strode to the dugout, that Penn’s season hung in the balance. A perfect plot seemed to fracture, as the Red and Blue were faced with the prospect of once again faltering on the grandest stage. Would history repeat itself?
But in one loud voice, the Quakers responded that it wouldn't. Not against this team. Not like this.
After Zeldin survived and stranded two in the top of the first, the Quakers’ blazing bats got to work. Junior third baseman Wyatt Henseler, who recently broke the program record for career home runs, got things started with a two-run beam to left field.
While Penn’s offense was busy producing, Zeldin ensured their work did not go to waste. In the face of enormous pressure, the right-hander allowed just one run and two hits in about three innings of work. Zeldin’s slider, the primary weapon that he used to cut through the Lions lineup, was particularly effective.
“That’s one of the luxuries in having a senior thrust in there,” Yurkow said of Zeldin’s performance. “He’s got some moxie, he’s experienced. It’s good he was able to come in there and keep them at bay.”
Penn’s bats stalled during the middle innings, but five runs over the course of the seventh and eighth were enough to salt the game away. Despite the burden of history, despite the adversity of losing their starting pitcher, the Quakers triumphed.
With the win, Penn will move on to play No. 2 seed Harvard Saturday at 3 p.m. The Crimson sat atop the Ivy League standings for much of the season before being overtaken by Penn on the final weekend. Harvard also defeated Penn in two out of their three regular season matchups, setting the stage for another chance at revenge.
“We were a lot different back then,” Yurkow said of Penn’s regular season series against the Crimson, their first of the Ivy League season. “We were looking for an identity on offense, our bullpen hadn’t been locked in yet…They’re a good team — they’re well-coached, they’ve got some really good arms. It should be a good, fun game tomorrow.”