In the regular season, Penn baseball edged Harvard by just one game to win the Ivy League title. And in a pivotal postseason matchup, the Quakers and the Crimson were again separated by the thinnest of margins.
In their second game of the Ivy League Tournament, the Red and Blue defeated Harvard 10-7, clinching a spot in the championship round. In a game where both teams had chances to seize control, it was ultimately the Quakers who won the day, emerging battered and bruised, but victorious.
“Excitement,” freshman right fielder Jarrett Pokrovsky — who finished the game with three hits and two RBIs — said when asked how Penn stayed locked in during such a back-and-forth game. “The nerves were going, definitely. We just wanted it more than them.”
On the box score, Sunday’s game reads like a dominant day for Penn. The Quakers outhit Harvard 15-8, and committed just one error to the Crimson’s four. But on the field, Penn’s victory was one decided by a gap no greater than that of a shortstop reaching out to tag an advancing runner.
The Quakers jumped on the Crimson early, as they have done to so many teams this season. A four-hit first inning gave Penn a 3-0 advantage before Harvard could blink, and from there, the burden fell on sophomore right-handed pitcher Ryan Dromboski to keep the lead intact.
In a superb season for the 6-foot-2 hurler, the Crimson were his kryptonite. Arguably the worst outing of Dromboski’s Ivy League Pitcher of the Year campaign came against Harvard on March 26, when they peppered him for five hits and four runs in just three innings of work, his shortest outing of the season.
Sunday’s game was even more brutal for the conference’s most dominant pitching force. Dromboski walked four batters and allowed six hits in 4.1 innings, both his most in any game this season. That stretch coincided with a rare lull for Penn’s bats, allowing Harvard to jump ahead 4-3 in the top of the fifth.
“There were a lot of mistakes made, a lot of opportunities for both teams,” coach John Yurkow said. “My biggest disappointment was how many guys we walked and hit. We gave them way too many freebies.”
With their backs against the wall, the Quakers faced a familiar position in the bottom of the fifth: bases loaded, two outs. In the third inning, Penn left three runners on base in the same scenario, squandering a massive opportunity. Now trailing in the fifth, the stakes only grew.
After the Quakers knotted the game at four, sophomore designated hitter Asa Wilson strode to the plate with the chance to break the game open.
With two strikes, Wilson drove the ball to Harvard shortstop Gio Colasante, who appeared to have Pokrovsky dead to rights as the freshman eyed third. But with a spinning dodge Pokrovsky avoided the tag, keeping the Quakers alive and giving way to an inning for the ages.
“I made the mistake of almost running into an out, so I had to put my body on the line somehow,” Pokrovsky said. “I tried to dodge it anyway, and I ended up sliding into the grass a little bit. I was just trying to avoid the tag and put my body on the line for my boys, and it actually worked out.”
Thanks to a combination of blazing bats and Harvard miscues, the Quakers rattled off five hits and six runs in the fifth, storming ahead 9-4 — and ensuring they would not fail to capitalize again.
“The more balls you can put in play in tight games and put pressure on teams, the more you’re gonna have opportunities to score,” Yurkow said.
Harvard faced a situation of identical weight in the sixth, when the Crimson loaded the bases with two batters already gone. Penn junior right-handed pitcher Edward Sarti entered the game and threaded the line between defusion and disaster, walking a batter and forcing in a Harvard run, but following it with a critical strikeout to end the inning and protect a 9-7 Penn advantage.
Yurkow called Sarti’s play “the key part of the game,” and credited the reliever with helping Penn “settle into the game” after such a wild back-and-forth. From there, Penn added an insurance run in the seventh before blanking Harvard the rest of the way, allowing zero hits over the final three innings.
“We kind of stopped them right in their tracks,” Yurkow said.
Penn will face off against Princeton tomorrow at 11 a.m. with a championship on the line. Since the Red and Blue have yet to lose in the tournament, a Quaker victory in that game would earn the program its first conference championship since 1995. But if Penn falls in Monday’s matchup, it would set up a winner-take-all clash for the Ivy crown — and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. That game would be played immediately after the first.
“We’ve been in this situation before, heading into the championship game,” Yurkow said. “I just told the guys, you gotta take a business-like approach. It’s a great win, but we know what our ultimate goal is.”
No matter what, the Quakers are just one win away.